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Application Guide

Wi-Fi

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Wi-Fi Overview

Wi-Fi gives people and their devices the option to untether – to connect to networks and the internet without being plugged into an ethernet port. Globally, more than 9 billion Wi-Fi-enabled devices are already in use. As a new wireless standard – IEEE 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) – moves into the mainstream to support faster connections for many more devices at once, the number of wireless devices will continue to grow.

Wi-Fi is the name given to IEEE 802.11 wireless protocols, first launched in 1997. They specify what’s needed to implement wireless LAN networks and connect endpoint devices to them. The technology utilizes the unused spectrum within the UHF band, as well as unlicensed 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz bands. (In the United States, the 6 GHz band was recently added to the list of unlicensed bands.) Each band utilizes different IEEE 802.11 technology for a unique purpose.

Over the years, as updates to IEEE 802.11 are released, the standard has continually improved. Each generation brings faster speeds, lower latency and better user experiences.

Explore WiFi Application

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Evolution of the Technology

Wi-Fi began in 1997 with data speeds of 2 Mb/s in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz unlicensed bands. At this time, the IEEE 802.11 committee was developed to define standards for wireless local area networks (WLANs). Most devices utilized the 2.4 GHz band to minimize circuitry complexity and maximize WLAN reach.

As more users and devices utilized WLANs, Wi-Fi advances were needed. Initially, added features and distance coverage were necessary to support faster speeds and new modulation schemes (like orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing [OFDM]).

As more devices utilized the unlicensed band, throughput became slower. This lead to the need for improved efficiencies in transceiver-to-receiver communication (multiple-input multiple-output [MIMO]) and greater use of the 5 GHz band. The evolution is best seen in the design of wireless routers; the list of supported technologies started with IEEE 802.11a and 802.11b and now support IEEE 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac and 802.11ax. The Wi-Fi Alliance’s naming convention utilizes Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 to identify equipment and devices compatible with these technologies.

Recently, in the United States, a new, unlicensed spectrum opened up in the 6 GHz band. This band is four times as large as those in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands combined. The intention of this new band is to allow IEEE 802.11ax to thrive in an uncongested frequency band without having to be backward compatible with previous technologies.  The standard that incorporates 6 GHz will be called “Wi-Fi 6E” (the “E” stands for “extended”).

New Wi-Fi standards will become instrumental as wireless connections and bandwidth requirements continue to grow. Today, the average user brings up to three devices with him wherever he goes: a smartphone, tablet and smartwatch, for example. These will all connect to a network the minute this person walks through a building’s doors (or even outside). These devices continuously download updates, receive emails and social media updates, and sync to cloud-based storage. As a result, according to Dell’Oro, wireless LAN active users are outpacing wired LAN users.

More devices are also connecting to enterprise networks as a result of Internet of Things (IoT), VoIP phones, IP surveillance cameras, lighting systems and building controls are all connecting to networks to transfer data, receive data and adjust performance in real time.

These increases in network users and wireless devices also call for more wireless access points (WAPs). (These devices connect to enterprise networks, too.)

Other Wi-Fi Technologies:

Along the way, other Wi-Fi technologies were added to serve WLAN needs and support applications with low data rates at far distances and high data rates at close distances.

In 2014, long-distance connectivity in the Sub-1 GHz band was added. Utilizing unused spectrum in the UHF television band is IEEE 802.11af (White-Fi), followed by IEEE 802.11ah (HaLow) in the unlicensed 915 MHz band. These two technologies provide WLAN connectivity with several-hundred megabits of throughput at distances of up to 1 km.

In 2016, short-haul, high-throughput connectivity was added in the 60 GHz range. IEEE 802.11ad (WiGig) offered a throughput of 6.7 Gb/s. Improvements to this technology were added in IEEE 802.11ay (Next-Generation or NG), offering up to more than 20 Gb/s of throughput and superseding 802.11ad technology.

The future of Wi-Fi will continue to advance the usage of WLANs in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands for extremely high throughput (EHT) around 25 Gb/s and play a role as a possible solution for in-building 5G off-loading. The technology contained in IEE 802.11ay, 802.11ad and 802.11ax meet ITU 2020 initiatives. The ITU initiatives are a set of requirements given to developers of radio access technologies that define 5G technologies.

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Aggregate Switch

An Aggregate switch (also known as a Distribution switch) is an important link between between the PoE switch and the Cloud. The Aggregate layer switch ensures the packets are properly routed between WAPs within the enterprise and to external addresses. Connections between the PoE switch and the Aggregate switch have a higher data rate than copper cabling can provide (including longer distances) which require multi-mode fiber cabling.

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PoE Switch

The PoE Switch can be located in a central location on each floor in a Telecom Room (TR) and is described as an intermediate distribution frame (IDF) which cross connects the cable to individual WAPs distributed throughout the ceiling. Alternatively, smaller (typically 8 port) PoE switches can be distributed throughout the ceiling. The PoE Switch is the last wired connection of power and data to wireless access points. The maximum distance of copper cabling from a PoE switch is 100m based on maximum length supported by TIA channel limits. The maximum power of the PoE switch is determined by the type of power the switch can provide and the required power needed by the WAP. To maximize both power and data delivery, Category 6A cabling is highly suggested.

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Zone Box

To support deployment of structured cabling in the ceiling, Zone Boxes can be used for grid cabling ceiling infrastructure. Grid cabling ceiling infrastructure consists of horizontal runs which are pulled to Zone Boxes. Within these Zone Boxes are panels with either populated REVConnect Jacks or Couplers.

Assemblies are deployed from these Zone Box panels to the wireless access points. Initial deployment can be made even faster using Pre-Terminated cables. Since moves, adds and changes (MACs) often occur for the changing needs within the Smart Building, only the assembly from the Zone Box to the new WAP location would need to be changed.

Zone Box

Access Point

Grid cabling ceiling infrastructure can be supported through a traditional methodology whereas a work area outlet containing a jack is connected to the WAP with a patch cord. A newer methodology is possible whereas the horizontal cabling (from the Zone Box or IDF) is terminated to a plug (or Flex-Plug) and directly connected to the WAP. Both methods are accepted by the standards and which one to use is entirely up to the system designer.

The cabling to connect data and power to the WAP in the Smart Building has moved to the ceiling. The air pace in the ceiling is typically an area that connects to the air space of the building. For this reason, we must be mindful of the cabling and components that connect to the WAP are plenum rated. For cabling, it must be CMP rated and for components, it must be UL 2043 rated.

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Challenges

There are several challenges facing wireless deployment. Interference can cause slow speeds and downtime, ultimately impacting the performance of connected devices. While interference can sometimes be caused by external factors, it can also be caused by poorly designed and manufactured cabling infrastructure. Although Wi-Fi is a wireless technology, cable infrastructure plays a crucial role in successful wireless network deployment. If the cabling infrastructure doesn’t function correctly, it can cause Wi-Fi to be spotty, connect/disconnect unexpectedly or to go down altogether. Wi-Fi applications face other challenges, too.

RF Interference

“Noise” is present in many environments, whether it’s an industrial plant (nearby machinery or equipment) or an office environment (fluorescent lighting, power cables, many cables in close proximity operating at different speeds, etc.) This noise can impact wireless cable and connectivity performance, data transmission and network traffic. Lower levels of category cabling are not designed to minimize this external noise (Category 5e, for example). Category 6A cabling is the only cable designed to lessen external noise without employing mitigation techniques. It supports full implementation (100 m channels in high-density applications) of Multi-Gigabit Wi-Fi and Ethernet uplinks from 1G to 10G.

Belden’s REVConnect 10GXW System offers outstanding balance with superior TCL and ELTCTL levels, which translates to superior noise immunity that’s critical to optimizing in-building wireless network performance. In other words: Data signals will reach endpoint devices without reliability issues like slow speeds or downtime.

Power Delivery

Many wireless devices – especially IoT devices such as cameras and wireless access points – call for data transmission and efficient power delivery. Many of these devices must be placed where power isn’t easily accessible (ceilings, high on walls, plenum spaces, etc.).

Power over Ethernet (PoE) transmits data and power over a standard Ethernet cable. It’s a cabling technology that lets you deploy devices at any location – even far from electrical outlets. It also gives each connected device a dedicated IP address for individual management and control.

When comparing category cabling options for Wi-Fi applications, Category 6A cable is the best option. It operates at frequencies of up to 500 MHz – twice that of Category 6 – and provides the most efficient power delivery to keep power waste to a minimum.

Heat Generation

Because power is transported over an Ethernet cable in most Wi-Fi applications, extra heat may be generated. When cables are bundled, heat can build up even more, negatively impacting cable performance. Some Category 6A cables have enough insertion loss margin to handle the extra heat generated from delivery of high power in tightly packed cables without impacting performance.

For example, Belden 10GXS Cable can handle the added heat while maintaining its full 100 m performance. It’s the only Category 6A cable that can make this claim. (Some cables quickly become an 85 m solution if the temperature increase is too high.)

Direct Connect (MPTL)

Many wireless and IoT devices are now being installed above the ceiling or on the wall for practicality and aesthetic purposes. This means that traditional network-connection methods need to change. A new topology known as “modular plug terminated link” (MPTL), or what we like to call “direct connect,” allows the horizontal cable to be terminated on one end to an RJ45 plug that connects directly to a device. This simplifies installation time and costs, promotes safety, creates a cleaner appearance and supports plenum applications.

Supporting the MPTL topology, the REVConnect Connectivity line uses a single termination process for every application. It offers a complete connectivity solution for Category 5e, 6 and 6A shielded and unshielded cable, allowing you to switch from a jack to a plug – or vice versa – without having to re-terminate.

Plenum-Rated Connectivity

Because many of these devices connect above the ceiling, the outlets, jacks and patch cords used in these applications must now be plenum rated. Belden’s REVConnect Connectivity Systems are UL 2043 rated for plenum spaces, giving you peace of mind that you’re using safe connectivity, regardless of device location.

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Things to Consider

There is no such thing as an “all wireless” network. The Wi-Fi infrastructure must connect back to a high performance, secure wired network. Wireless means better wire. Beneath any wireless system, however, is a wired infrastructure that must be able to support emerging wireless technology and the wireless access points, small cells, and devices that connect to it.  An enterprise wireless network is only as good as its cabling infrastructure (layer 0). As installation of access points and small cells increase to improve wireless coverage, the amount of pathway cabling required to support increased network capacity will increase, too.

To eliminate concerns about downtime, spotty connections or unreliable wireless service, how can you decide what type of cabling system foundation you need to support emerging wireless technology?

Ask yourself these questions:

Will this system support emerging wireless technology and wireless access points (specifically 802.11ac Wave 2 and Wi-Fi 6 devices)?

Next-generation wireless access points have Ethernet demands that exceed 1000BASE-T, requiring a Category 6A system.

Will there be several MPTL endpoint connections?

End-to-end system reliability and simplicity are key to connecting devices to the network.

What will happen if your wireless goes down due to a cable or connectivity issue? Or if a network-connected security system fails?

Most wireless applications can afford very little – if any – downtime and need cable and connectivity that ensure 24/7 reliability.

Is Power over Ethernet (PoE) involved in this application? (Will the system support power-hungry endpoint devices like security cameras, access control and building sensors?)

PoE relies on Category 6A 4-pair, balanced, twisted-pair cabling for best performance due to its ability to reduce resistance and power waste.

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