WiFi 101: Applications, Working & WiFi-6

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What is WiFi?

Most of the world knows WiFi as a form of internet network to which one can connect their devices wirelessly. Yet, beneath this simplistic view lies a sophisticated paradigm of communications technology that is enabling transformation of millions of lives via superfast, reliable access to the digital world.

As per its definition, WiFi is a wireless local area network technology that uses radio waves to access or connect to a network. This may be used on a variety of devices such as computers, smartphones, televisions, video game consoles, and so on. Simply speaking, whether you are using a WiFi at home or outside, it provides a standard way to connect with wireless networking.

WiFi connections and WiFi networks are based on the 802.11 standards developed by IEEE. The term ‘WiFi’ is trademarked by the Wi-Fi alliance and used as a brand name for products using IEEE 802.11 WiFi standards.

What are WiFi networks?

There was a time when WiFi networks were only common at homes and offices. Now, it is difficult to imagine life without them wherever you are: an airport, a restaurant or even a sport stadium! But what are WiFi networks, exactly?

Simply put, a wireless network is type of internet connection created by a WiFi router (a wireless router) and shared amongst multiple devices at a location. For example, a wireless internet connection for home would be shared amongst the family members and their smart devices, and occasionally by any guests at home. Similarly, WiFi connections through employee devices at an office share the same wireless network.

The biggest advantage of WiFi networks comes in their flexibility of usage. Stay within the coverage area, and one can enjoy wireless internet without any hassles. If you think this is what ‘Wireless Fidelity’ is all about, then you would be mistaken. Amusingly, this purported abbreviation is often the standard answer to the question ‘what WiFi stands for’ – but that is not the case. WiFi is just a convenient name for the wireless network technology IEEE 802.11 and does not have any expanded meaning as such.

How does WiFi work?

Looking at your WiFi at home must have induced the question: how do WiFi connections work? The answer lies in the usage of WiFi technology, where signals are transmitted to various devices from the WiFi router via radio waves. The receiving device must also be configured to receive waves of a specific frequency.

The WiFi frequency range is 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, which is now improved up to 6 GHz by WiFi 6 – the latest standard in WiFi networks. This is a higher frequency than those used for walkie-talkies, mobile phones, and TVs, allowing signals to carry more data.

Let us explain the process of how WiFi really works:

  • A chord, usually a fiber cable or analog line, connects an internet source, like a broadband mode.
  • The WiFi router is the medium that receives the internet connection via a wide area network (WAN) port.
  • The WiFi router gives off wireless signals via radio waves to a card or an adapter in a computer, phone, or other devices to establish two-way communication.

Types of WiFi Deployments

Typically, there are three types of deployments of WiFi networks. It is important to understand the suitability of all the types of WiFi networks for effective deployment:

  • Centralized Deployment – When there is a cluster of buildings and networks that are close to each other, a wireless network system is deployed centralized. Because the controllers are situated in a central area, this configuration consolidates wireless networks. Centralized deployment is commonly used on campuses because it is easier to upgrade and enable enhanced wireless functionality from a single location.
  • Converged Deployment – A converged deployment uses an access switch to combine wired and wireless networks into a single device. The access switch serves as both a switch and a wireless controller, ensuring that users’ wired and wireless connections are consistent. These types of networks are typically used by businesses with branch offices.
  • Cloud-based Deployment – In a cloud-based deployment, the cloud is used to manage network devices. Users can manage devices in various places using dashboards. Due to the utilization of cloud services, all devices are visible to anybody with access to the dashboard.

At STL, we have developed the WiFi Service Management Platform as a future-ready platform that includes Authentication, Billing, Captive Portal, Location-aware Services, Subscriber Analytics, Mobile App, and Integration with Mobile Core. This solution caters to user-friendliness. It also enables new business models as well as a variety of ready-to-use use cases for smart cities and telecom carriers. These technologies have a significant presence among service providers and have been deployed in over 3500 WiFi networks in over 60 countries, including smart cities, hotels, airports, and other public WiFi hotspots.

WiFi networks have expanded their reach to clients in all categories with extensible services and the most recent business models. The extraordinary increase in data consumption has yielded proven results, demonstrating a strong ability to provide continuous connectivity and a seamless experience, everywhere and at any time. STL’s WiFi deployment solutions and the benefits can be read here.

What are the types of WiFi connections?

Several options spring to mind when we talk about the various types of WiFi connections. As you can imagine, all of them differ in terms of their usability as well as performance parameters. Nevertheless, these WiFi connections offer a lot of convenience to end users – whether they are at home, office or the public.

WiFi Hotspot

A WiFi hotspot, as the name suggests, is often a single device or location that allows users to connect to the WiFi and the internet when they are out and about. WiFi hotspots come in a variety of forms.

  • The most easily identifiable one is the mobile hotspot, which allows users to turn their smartphones or tablets into a temporary WiFi router. Mobile hotspots use cellular data to provide a speedy internet connection.
  • Portable hotspots or jetpacks are small devices that provide a dedicated WiFi internet connection on the go. They latch on to the nearest cellular signals to accomplish the same.
  • Public WiFi hotspots are fixed locations in public spaces – such as parks, bus stops, airports, restaurants, etc., – that enable you to connect to a WiFi internet connection. However, these hotspots are often unencrypted, meaning you should avoid sending sensitive data over such connections.

4G LTE Home Internet

Often found in remote and rural areas where, 4G LTE Home Internet is a reliable WiFi connection if you require a regular high-speed internet of up to 25 Mbps download speeds. Such a WiFi connection is powered by cellular towers in the vicinity and is often a more viable option than satellite internet.

5G Home Internet

The rampant rise of 5G has given birth to 5G Home Internet (Fixed Wireless Access). Such a WiFi network utilises the enhanced speed, bandwidth and latency capabilities of 5G radio frequencies to deliver a state-of-the-art, IoT-ready internet experience. Users can experience speeds greater than 1 Gbps without any hassle and also enjoy an interruption-free, lag-free internet connectivity.

Wireline/router

This is the most common type of WiFi connection, often found at home setups and offices. A WiFi router connects to your wired internet connection via a modem and provides wireless coverage within a limited range. However, it is prone to bandwidth congestion due to too many users, limited range and speed and occasional electromagnetic interference.

What is WiFi 6?

As far as WiFi connections and WiFi networks are concerned, a new paradigm of technology is ready to take internet connectivity by storm.

Enter Wifi 6 – the newest standard in WiFi.

This latest version of WiFi standards is 802.11ax (WiFi-6) and is an upgrade over the previous standard, which is 802.11ac (WiFi-5). The idea behind the upgraded standard is simple: Wifi 6 is mainly for compatible devices (like WiFi routers) to transmit WiFi signals more efficiently. Wifi 6 was built in response to the growing number of devices in the world, and to improve performance in high network densities like apartments with multiple routers or outdoor stadiums.

Much like the term ‘WiFi’, the term Wifi 6 was coined by the WiFi Alliance as an industry designation and seen as a consumer-friendly name over its industry-standard name of 802.11ax.

How will WiFi 6 improve WiFi networks?

With a plethora of high-performance WiFi 6 routers flooding the market, we must ask: what advantages does WiFi 6 bring to the table over other WiFi networks. For starters, it is the next iteration of WiFi technology standards, promising improved speeds, bandwidth and latency. All in all, WiFi 6 is pegged to improve existing WiFi networks via:

  • Higher bandwidth – WiFi 6 allows greater bandwidth support to users across broader 80 MHz and 160 MHz channels. Enhanced network capacity also comes in the form of 29×40 MHz and 60×20 MHz channels. Compared to previous WiFi networks, this ability greatly enhances data transfer rates and, consequently, download TATs for users. 
  • Serving more simultaneous device connections than before – One of the key advantages of WiFi 6 is its deployment of 8×8 multi-user multi-input, multi-output (Mu-MIMO). What this essentially does is enable more number of devices to connect seamlessly to the WiFi router simultaneously.
  • Being energy efficient – Last but not the least, WiFi 6 is much more conservative in terms of energy use! This is a big win in sustainability and energy efficiency conversations – a quality that allows the WiFi 6 router to ensure better battery life for client devices. The key mechanism that makes it possible is upgraded Target Wake Time that ensures more control for devices to decide when and how frequently they engage in data reception and transmission.

How are 5G and WiFi 6 combined?

Given the boost in network performance attributes that WiFi 6 brings, it is impossible to not compare it with the rise of 5G. In fact, 5G and WiFi 6 perfectly complement each other in this hyper-connected era.

  • For starters, 5G and WiFi 6 are almost 10X and 3X faster than their predecessors respectively. Both technologies have been earmarked by businesses as the most critical tech stack improvements to focus upon in the coming years.
  • Both 5G and WiFi 6 offer upgrades in terms of security, efficiency and performance.
  • Ultimately, the convergence of 5G and WiFi 6 is inevitable, as both evidently solve the challenge of servicing growing digital consumers, data explosion, proliferation of IoT, and accelerated adoption of big data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and edge computing.

Since 5G network architecture favours modular design, it is entirely possible that networks other than cellular networks can serve as the RAN. This opens up many pathways for WiFi 6 to serve as RAN in a 5G network. As such, the 5G and WiFi 6 convergence gives rise to many exciting possibilities such as:

  • Seamless continuity between WiFi 6 and 5G when transferring calls from one to another.
  • Enhanced data routing through either WiFi 6 network or 5G network.
  • Pooling in the capabilities of WiFi 6 and 5G to ease congested networks and manage resources more efficiently.
  • Find and validate WiFi 6 networks using a device’s 5G identification data.

To conclude, we finally have a worthy WiFi network standard in WiFi 6 that can help maintain 5G’s quality of service.

How to get Wi-Fi at home

Today, having internet and WiFi at home is as indispensable as having a robust electricity connection – especially in urban areas. The unprecedented growth of social media, penetration of smart devices and rise in remote working and digitalisation of services means WiFi at home is your window to the world.

So, how to get WiFi at home? The answer to that question depends upon your home’s location. If it is in a geography that is serviced well by internet connectivity and availability, then getting a WiFi connection will not be a big deal. This is the case with many urban and suburban areas where service providers often give WiFi as part of any home broadband package deal. All you need to do if you have one such wired broadband connection at home is to connect the modem to a WiFi router.

But that is not all. To have a proper and stable wireless WiFi connection at home, you can implement the WiFi network much better:

  • Use WiFi extender devices that widen the range of your WiFi router and provide a uniform connection if your home is big, has multiple levels or has dead zones or concrete walls.
  • Upgrade your internet plans from time to time depending upon the increase in bandwidth demand, the number of users and number of devices in your home.
  • If WiFi 6 routers are available, try switching to them for the most advanced WiFi connection you can experience at home.
  • You can explore different types of WiFi networks at home as well, such as mobile hotspots, portable hotspots, 4G LTE Home Internet or 5G Home Internet.

FAQs

Is wifi 6 available in India?

Yes, WiFi 6 is available across many newly-launched routers in India. These WiFi 6 routers – although expensive – bring much faster, seamless network connectivity to users in the wake of the 5G launch in India. WiFi 6 offers greater bandwidth, streaming quality and downloads to users, thus enabling them to expand their digital horizon and experience the best of the IoT and smart devices era.

What is portable Wi-Fi hotspot?

A portable WiFi hotspot is a mobile data solution in the form of a pocket-sized WiFi router which one can carry and use anywhere. As the name suggests, portability is one of the biggest advantages of such a small WiFi router device, enabling users to set up a reliable 4G and even 5G hotspot connection at any location. A portable WiFi hotspot uses a SIM card to enable connectivity for users.

What is a wireless access point?

As the name suggests, a wireless access point (WAP) is the main networking device that provides internet access to WiFi devices. Such a device essentially transmits and receives wireless radio signals, thus allowing a WiFi-enabled device to form a connection with a wired network wirelessly. It is the hub of wireless connectivity at any spot. As such, a wireless access point is integrated inside routers and hotspots.

What is a wireless router?

A wireless router is essentially a WiFi router – the wireless counterpart of wired-in routers. It is often the key element of both a wired and a wireless local area network (WLAN). Typically, a wireless router acts as a router and a wireless access point combined, forwarding the internet network connection to WiFi-enabled devices via radio signals instead of wires.

What is a desktop Wi-Fi router?

A desktop WiFi router is simply a WiFi device that sits on the desktop or plain surfaces, enabling WiFi devices like smartphones, laptops, tablets, smart TVs, smart speakers, desktop computers, etc., to connect to the network wirelessly. It is not a portable router as it is connected to the modem via a cable.

What is a mobile hotspot?

A mobile hotspot is an internet hotspot that can be created at any location instead of being fixed to a place like a WiFi router. It is essentially a portable hotspot that is commonly found inside smartphones or in the form of portable WiFi devices. A mobile hotspot in a smartphone, for example, uses the smartphone data connection to provide wireless internet access to other WiFi-enabled devices.

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