Research Hub > The ABCs of Wi-Fi 6 for Manufacturers
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The ABCs of Wi-Fi 6 for Manufacturers

The latest standard in wireless networking can relieve performance problems at production facilities and warehouses.

In recent years, manufacturers have added countless new sensors and devices to their IT environments, but wireless networks haven’t always kept up. A common scenario: Employees will pick products from shelves and scan them in, only to find out at the end of a batch that the transmissions haven’t gone through. They are then forced to complete the process all over again, sapping productive time and potentially even delaying shipments.

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Many organizations have tried to solve problems like this by increasing the density of their wireless access points, but poor radio-frequency design and tuning often ends up creating a “noisy” environment where devices still can’t perform at their best.

Usually, trouble with wireless devices and networks comes down to the efficiency of radio transmissions, not speed. Fortunately, products that implement Wi-Fi 6, the IEEE’s 802.11ax wireless networking standard, are well positioned to alleviate the performance problems that plague manufacturers. Most of the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 can be explained through three simple abbreviations. At first glance, these may seem like alphabet soup, but the features they represent offer significant improvements to organizations that deploy Wi-Fi 6.

MU-MIMO Boosts Wireless Efficiency

This stands for “multi-user, multiple input, multiple output,” and it’s at the heart of why Wi-Fi 6 will solve many of the performance problems manufacturing companies currently experience with their wireless networks. The feature allows a wireless access point to communicate with multiple devices at the same time, rather than broadcasting to devices one after another.

Conveniently, the metaphor most commonly used to explain MU-MIMO has to do with delivery trucks. No matter how fast a truck is, it can deliver only one shipment at a time. Experts liken MU-MIMO to expanding a delivery fleet, rather than buying a faster truck. Again, the problem with most wireless networks is efficiency, not speed, and MU-MIMO aids in improving wireless network efficiency.

OFDMA Increases Access to Wireless Channels

The technology here is different, but the effect is largely the same: more devices that can communicate more quickly. While MU-MIMO allows for multiuser access by using different spatial streams, orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (mercifully shortened to OFDMA in common use) allows for multiuser access by subdividing a channel.

Here again, the truck metaphor is apt. Regardless of a truck’s top speed, it is going to be delayed if it has to wait in traffic; similarly, wireless applications see performance degradation if information packets have to wait in line to be sent. By incorporating OFDMA, Wi-Fi 6 essentially creates a highway with more lanes.

TWT Reduces Energy Consumption

Many wireless devices in manufacturing facilities are Internet of Things sensors that need to be active only when they’re collecting or transmitting information. In the past, many IoT devices experienced battery life problems because they needed to stay active as they waited their turn to transmit data to wireless access points. That’s where Target Wait Time comes in. TWT allows access points and stations to “wake up” at negotiated times, helping to preserve battery power.

Wi-Fi 6 is still in its infancy. But by utilizing the new wireless standard, manufacturers can plan out networks that will support smart solutions, such as robotics and artificial intelligence, that will help them optimize their operations for the future.

Charles Lewis

Charles Lewis

CDW Expert
Charles Lewis is a senior enterprise wireless field solution architect. Charles has been with CDW for eight years, first as a wireless engineer and now as an enterprise wireless field solution architect assisting clients with complex wireless initiatives.