The New Wi-Fi 6 Release Has Big Implications for IoT Performance and Power
Of its many new features, the protocol's update includes support for uplink.
When the IEEE 802.11ax standard (colloquially known as Wi-Fi 6) was released in 2019, it made waves in the industry. The new standard offered better data rates, increased capacity, and improved power efficiency—a step in the right direction to support modern connectivity challenges.
Wi-Fi frequency bands. Image used courtesy of Broadcom
In an effort to keep the 802.11ax standard up to pace with the demands of social media and billions of IoT-connected devices, Wi-Fi Alliance today announced the release of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2.
All About Circuits sat down with Kevin Robinson, Senior VP of marketing for Wi-Fi Alliance, to hear about the new release firsthand.
Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2 Ups Performance
Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2 comes with a variety of new features that work to deliver better performance and power management.
From a performance standpoint, one of the key new features coming to the second release is the introduction of uplink multi-user MIMO. Multi-user MIMO is a technology that increases the capacity of a Wi-Fi link by using multiple spatial streams, allowing multiple clients to send data streams simultaneously. This increases the overall capacity of the network.
While the first release of Wi-Fi 6 supported this feature for downlink streaming, the new release is introducing uplink as well—allowing for faster upload times for applications like IoT connections and social media use.
Wi-Fi 6E, which is affected by this new release, offers seven "superwide" 160 MHz channels. Screenshot used courtesy of the Wi-Fi Alliance
“Traditionally you had downlink to uplink ratios in the 10:1 range: for every ten bits that were coming down to the client devices on the network, there might be one going back up the other direction. That's changing,” Robinson explains. “Today we’re seeing ratios in the 6:1 range, and we're even seeing that trend closer to the 2:1 range.”
With uplink multi-user MIMO, the Wi-Fi Alliance is hoping the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2 will help support this shift in uplink traffic.
How the New Release Targets Power Efficiency
From a power perspective, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2 is chock full of new features for power savings, one of the major ones being broadcast target wake time.
Broadcast target wake time is a feature that builds upon a Wi-Fi 6 feature called target wait time. This technology allows a device like a sensor to sleep for extended periods of time while agreeing with the network or access point when that device is going to wake up. In this scheme, the device can efficiently and reliably fall asleep and periodically wake up to get its traffic and go right back to sleep again.
This maximizes power savings by minimizing the amount of on-time for a device. Broadcast target wake time builds on this by now allowing a network to coordinate this sleep behavior with multiple devices simultaneously within a wakeup window.
Target wait time brought power improvements to Wi-Fi 6. Image from Qorvo
This may not seem like a feat considering that MCUs and other devices have long included sleep modes to improve battery life. The difference, however, lies in the way the network responds to these sleeping devices.
Robinson explains, “The difference is the level of coordination happening between the network itself and the clients. In legacy approaches, when a device goes to sleep, the network might assume that the client device has gone somewhere else and left the network entirely. So that device might be disassociated, meaning that when the sensor wakes up, it has to now reassociate to the network, get security, get an updated key, get an IP address—all of these various things that need to happen to actually establish connectivity.”
He continues, “With Wi-Fi 6 features, the client devices are able to say, ‘Okay, I am going to sleep. You should expect that I might sleep for a day at a time.’ That means that the network can maintain that associated state so when a device does wake up, it's sending far less traffic before I would call management or administrative traffic.”
In this way, Wi-Fi Certified 6 Release 2 can provide even more power savings than legacy options—including previous generations of Wi-Fi.
Industry Support for Release 2
Major semiconductor players have already voiced their support of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2, including Broadcom, Infineon, Intel, NXP, onsemi, and Qualcomm. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance press release, this new protocol is geared to smooth connectivity for streaming services, video conferencing, uploads, and gaming.