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Intel Tests Wi-Fi 6 In an Actual Office Environment During COVID Lockdown

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Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E (AX210) promise big improvements to office wireless networks—faster connection speed, better traffic prioritization and added security just to name a few. But how might such an upgrade impact operations in a highly dense environment like Intel’s? The COVID lockdown presented a unique opportunity to find out.

Busy IT environments are hardly conducive to experimentation with wireless networks, but with offices vacated due to COVID, Intel IT found itself with extra room to play. Partnering with Intel’s Client Computing Group under the expert guidance of Yaki Lanciano, Wireless Validation Architect, we conducted a series of tests in actual office spaces using laptops equipped with Intel® Wi-Fi 6E (AX210) network cards. We compared performance with laptops configured to operate in all of the following modes: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) with MU-MIMO and OFDMA disabled, and Wi-Fi-6 (802.11ax) with MU-MIMO and OFDMA . In each configuration, we evaluated performance while experimenting with the number of users per access point (AP), AP spacing, channel bandwidth and more.

We were particularly interested in learning what impact a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade might have on AP utilization, client throughput and the occurrence rate of negative issues such as jitter, increased latency and improper roaming.

Better Speed, Connectivity & Reliability In An Office Wireless Network

Overall, we found the test results quite encouraging. Some of our key discoveries included:

Improved AP Capacity. Since increased AP capacity directly impacts the cost of deployment, we were excited to discover that a fully enabled Wi-Fi 6 upgrade did, in fact, allow for more user connections per AP without compromising user service levels. We were able to increase the number of users per AP from 5 to 25 with only minor increases in latency.

It was a very different story when we increased the number of connections per AP while using Wi-Fi 5. Here, we saw significant reduction in throughput with fifteen users, and a problematic increase in latency and packet loss. We saw some throughput improvements with Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) with MU-MIMO and OFDMA disabled, but again saw significant degradation in performance once we increased the number of users per AP to fifteen.

Advanced Roaming Insights. 802.11k (Neighbor Reports) can be safely enabled, regardless of the roaming aggressiveness setting. However, using multiple radios on the same AP resulted in excessive 802.11v (BSS Transition Management Frames) forced roaming, raising the question of whether using two radios on the same band is desirable. Currently, a third radio is recommended for use in “monitoring only” mode until Wi-Fi 6E with 6 GHz is available.

Co-channel interference. We observed the impact of the co-channel interference when the non-overlapping channel list was around six channels. Fewer channels created a performance impact to our end customers. We concluded that the ideal environment should contain at least six non-overlapping channels for a dense WLAN enterprise deployment. The bandwidth will increase significantly with Wi-Fi 6E and the use of channel bonding, which is currently limited to 40 MHz.

Real-world insights like these help us plan more successful Wi-Fi 6 deployments and leave us better positioned to achieve our wireless infrastructure goals. For more information, read the IT@Intel white paper, “Wi-Fi 6: The Advantages Are Real.”

About the Author
Liran joined Intel in 2002, as an intern, and spent 2 years with IDC physical access security team. In 2004 Liran joined the IT network as a network engineer and led multiple engineering and operation projects. Today Liran is the WLAN network technology lead in IT, focusing on new technology integration, smart network implementation and collaboration with Intel WLAN business unit. Liran is certified as Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and holds BSc in Computer Science. In his free time, Liran likes swimming and spending time with his family