What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi (often incorrectly written as wifi or WiFi) is actually not an acronym. The Wi-Fi Alliance coined the term based on the IEEE 802.11 standard. It defines the protocols that enable communications over wireless routers and access points and is continuously updated to respond to increased demands on the network.

Wi-Fi Connectivity Explained

Wi-Fi connectivity allows Wi-Fi devices like laptops, cellular phones, sensors, and equipment like printers and video cameras to interface with the internet via a wireless router or access point, between APs (mesh), or between client devices (ad hoc). Wireless routers are typically found in homes, provided by your cable/internet provider, and combine the capabilities of a router with a wireless access point.

What are Wi-Fi access points (Wi-Fi APs)?

Wi-Fi access points provide wireless LAN network connectivity and can be characterized as indoor, outdoor, hazardous location, or hospitality/remote work.

The major components of an AP are:

  • CPU and chipset: the ‘engine’ of the AP
  • Memory/Flash: the storage for the AP. Flash stores the OS, memory is where it runs
  • Trusted platform modules: contain and store security credentials (recommended)
  • Wired network interfaces: how the APs physically connect themselves to the wired network
  • Radios: wireless transmitters and receivers of the AP
  • Antennas: ‘shape’ the RF energy from the radios to the clients, as well as allowing the AP to ‘hear’ the clients

What is 802.11?

802.11 is the standard defined by IEEE and includes amendments to support technology advancements.

What is Wi-Fi Certification?

Completing the certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance, an independent industry organization, signifies that the product has been thoroughly tested and meets the all the requirements associated with a specific Wi-Fi standard. Wi-Fi certification ensures that devices and access points (APs) from different vendors interoperate reliably, securely, and according to the standard such as Wi-Fi 6.

What are the key Wi-Fi use cases?

  1. Mobility: Wi-Fi allows for greater mobility across client devices such as laptops and cellular devices. In the past, many campus users relied on wired connections which tether users to their desk and limit the mobility needed for effective collaboration.
  2. IoT onramp: Wi-Fi can be used as an IoT transport platform, eliminating the need for overlay gateways. APs are typically located on the ceiling, providing an ideal vantage point for IoT communication whether it is via Bluetooth (BLE) or 802.15.4 (Zigbee).
  3. Cellular offload: With the introduction of 5G, the use of Wi-Fi as a cost-effective way to offload cellular communications is increasing. Solutions like Air Pass that use Passpoint technology provide a seamless handoff from cellular to Wi-Fi networks without requiring additional logins or click throughs. This use case is increasingly important as 63% of enterprise cellular traffic is offloaded to Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi Alliance).

How can I secure my Wi-Fi network?

To strengthen your security posture, leverage both Wi-Fi 6/6E capabilities and role-based access controls. WPA3 and Enhanced Open are capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) that enhance user and guest encryption. Policy Enforcement Firewalls use role-based access control and deep packet inspection to isolate and segment traffic as part of a Zero Trust Network and SASE framework.

IEEE Classification

802.11 AmendmentIEEE Clasifications for 802.11Wi-Fi Alliance Name

a, g

Non-HT (Non-High Throughput)

None

n

HT (High Throughput)

Wi-Fi 4

ac

VHT (Very High Throughput)

Wi-Fi 5

ax

HE (High Efficiency)

Wi-Fi 6

ax in 6 GHz

HE (High Efficiency)

Wi-Fi 6E

be (Future)

VHE (Very High Efficiency)

Wi-Fi 7

Wi-Fi New Technology Adoption

Enterprise adoption of new standards varies. Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E adoption has been faster than previous technology introductions due to the perceived value of the enhancements in Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E to support increasing numbers of client and IoT devices and to meet user expectations for performance.

Wi-Fi 6E gaining traction, Wi-Fi, 802.11n, 802.11ac, 802.11ax, Wi-Fi 6Enterprise adoption of new Wi-Fi standards
Source: 615 Group

Wi-Fi Trends

Although Wi-Fi is widely used in enterprises, there are several Wi-Fi trends that have implications to how organizations deploy and refresh their wireless infrastructure and network management solutions:

  • Hybrid Work and Work from Home: 50% of employees will work remotely at least some to the time (IDC, 2021). This shift is driving an expanded use of low-latency, high-bandwidth video conferencing applications that place additional demand on the campus and/or branch network.
  • Hyper-aware Facilities: The number of IoT devices connecting to the enterprise infrastructure is expected to reach 15 billion by 2029 (Gartner, 2021). Wi-Fi can act as a secure transport gateway to support growing numbers of devices to ensure safety, compliance, and operational efficiencies.
  • Location-aware Applications: The market for Indoor Location Services is expected to grow at 22.9% CAGR From 2021 to 2026 (MarketsandMarkets, 2021). Wi-Fi can be used to provide situational awareness to power new and existing indoor applications with 1-2 meters accuracy using APs with embedded GPS receivers and fine time measurement (802.11mc).

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