CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again


Get ready for Wi-Fi that doesn't crap out with lots of devices

The Wi-Fi Alliance expects to improve how well wireless networks cope with the explosion of gadgets in our lives.


Every device these days depends on Wi-Fi, and a new standard the Wi-Fi Alliance is working on should make it more reliable.


For years, the engineers developing new versions of Wi-Fi have focused on making the wireless network technology faster. But you could benefit from a different new priority that might be more important these days: reliability.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry consortium that helps smooth the arrival of the 802.11 family of wireless networking engineering standards, is working on technology that will help Wi-Fi work better despite modern-day challenges. In conjunction with this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the alliance is touting those efforts.

That means you can expect fewer problems when you're ambling around the house on a internet-connected phone call or maxing out your network equipment with a slew of PCs, TVs, phones, tablets, doorbells, security cameras, cars, washing machines and other devices that all are fighting to send and receive data in your home.

"There are already more than eight devices in the average US home" using Wi-Fi, said Kevin Robinson, vice president of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance. For that reason, future developments like the new 802.11ax core Wi-Fi standard are focused on "increasing the overall capacity of the network."

Among the developments:

  • The current 802.11ac standard introduced some features to divvy up network capacity between different devices, but the 802.11ax will take that ability a step further and while also accommodating devices that don't need to max out data-transfer speeds, Robinson said. The first 802.11ax chips should arrive this year, but mass adoption will occur in 2019, he added.
  • In olden days, most of us got by with one Wi-Fi access point beaming data around our house, and tough luck if your bedroom happened to be too many walls away to get a good signal. Now multiple routers are more common, and the Wi-Fi Alliance has begun work to let multiple network devices cooperate automatically so the data gets where it needs to be without our having to manually link this phone to that router and that light bulb to that one.
  • A technology called Wi-Fi Vantage will be better at managing connections when there're multiple network access points. That'll mean, for example, that you can maintain a voice-over-internet call as you walk from  one access point's domain to another, whether in a train station or your own home.

Wi-Fi has become a backbone to our digital lives, and improvements are key as networks struggle to handle online gaming, conversations with digital assistants, streaming TV to multiple screens, social networking and other duties. 802.11ax should help in congested situations, though, with its ability to manage more connections more intelligently.

802.11ax networks should be able to pump four times as much data as today's 802.11ac networks to each device in crowded situations, National Instruments estimates, in part by beaming data toward specific phones, PCs and other devices instead of bathing an entire room with radio signals. That should help networks particularly in crowded areas.

And even though total network capacity is a major focus of 802.11ax, the peak speed should improve, too -- from 433Mbps for 802.11ac to 600Mbps with 802.11ax, NI said.

Analyst firm IHS Markit forecasts 802.11ax-enabled device shipments will increase from a relative trickle of 116,000 units in 2019 to a flood of 58 million in 2021. "As a greater number of Wi-Fi-enabled devices are added into homes and enterprises, the 802.11ax standard will gain more prominence in the marketplace," analyst Christian Kim said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance won't have a giant booth at the CES show like some big tech companies. But with more than 800 members across the tech industry, the alliance's work is well represented.

"In a way, CES is our booth," Robinson said. 

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

Special Reports: CNET's in-depth features in one place.