Best WiFi 6 Access Points For Enterprise WLAN

Last updated on July 6th, 2021

In this article we are comparing top WiFi 6 access points from leading Enterprise WLAN vendors including Aruba, Ruckus, Cisco, Meraki, Extreme Networks, Juniper, Fortinet, Cambium, Ubiquiti etc. This can provide a quick glimpse of best options available for Enterprise customers who want to start their journey with the paradigm shift in WiFi communication technology.

In this article:

Should you upgrade to WiFi 6 Access Points now ?

802.11ax is a standard that works with both the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz unlicensed bands. Moreover 802.11ax will be compatible with the upcoming 6 GHz band that is getting unlicensed across major markets around the world. Wi-Fi 6 is the marketing name given to products and networks that support 802.11ax standard by Wi-Fi Alliance, a body which certifies WiFi products and devices. Similarly, Wi-Fi Alliance has renamed 802.11ac as Wi-Fi 5 and 802.1n as Wi-Fi 4.

If you are on the verge of deciding access points for your organization that has a hardware refresh cycle of 4-5 years or longer, it would be very reasonable to consider WiFi 6 right now. Or even better, you can wait for WiFi 6E access points that are expected by the end of 2020 or early 2021.

WiFi 6E has almost arrived

After USA and UK de-licensed 6 GHz spectrum either partially or fully, other major markets in the world are following suit. WiFi 6E access points will be operating in the 6 GHz spectrum that can be initially expected to be free of congestion from other WiFi networks. Combined with the high efficient 802.11ax standard, WiFi 6E could provide excellent user experience for a long time into the future. And all certified access points are backwards compatible. So there will be no problems in accommodating legacy clients. But yes, it may take a couple of years or more to see wide-spread availability and adoption of WiFi 6E laptops and phones to fully realize the capabilities of a 6 GHz Enterprise WLAN.

WiFi 6 compatible client list is growing

WiFi 6 WLAN experience will only be complete with the presence of WiFi 6 clients that can fully utilize the upgrades offered by the new standard. Through efficient operations made possible by the new standard, WiFi 6 clients would also leave the spectrum de-cluttered for other legacy devices to operate. This would make the whole WLAN more robust.

WiFi 6 clients are expected to flood the market in the coming months. And before one realizes, a considerable portion of WLAN users may be using WiFi 6 compliant devices. The latest iPhone 12 series, iPhone 11 series, Samsung S10 & S10E, Dell XPS 13 laptop, HP Spectre X360 laptop etc., all support WiFi 6 and the list is only growing by the day.

wifi 6 clients 2020
Fig. WiFi 6 clients are growing in 2020

802.11ax is a huge evolutionary step forward in the life-cycle of WiFi. It would be advisable not to miss any opportunity to upgrade to this standard. 802.11ax should not be assumed to be a marketing gimmick by the hardware vendors.

IEEE 802.11ax New Features

Some notable features introduced in IEEE 802.11ax standard are:

  • Uplink and Downlink OFDMA
  • Uplink MU-MIMO
  • 1024 QAM
  • Target Wake Time (TWT)
  • Spatial Re-use

In an earlier post, we have covered the top features of 802.11ax standard that can be referred for a more detailed technical description of the above properties.

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ Overview

WiFi Alliance is the body that certifies WiFi products for quality. “Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ is an internationally-recognized seal of approval for products indicating that they have met industry-agreed standards for interoperability, security, and a range of application specific protocols”.

WiFi Certified 6™ certification by the Wi-Fi Alliance ensures that the following features are available in the access points launched in the first wave of WiFi 6.

Notable Features of WiFi 6 Certified Wave 1 Access Points

  • OFDMA Uplink + Downlink
  • Downlink MU MIMO (4 SS and above)
  • Transmit Beamforming (4 SS and above)
  • Target Wake Time (TWT)
  • 20,40,80 MHz channel width on the 5 GHz band
  • 1024 QAM
  • WPA 3 Encryption ( Non-802.11ax feature)

Expected Features of WiFi 6 Wave 2 Access Points

  • 160 MHz channel width on 5 GHz band
  • Uplink MU MIMO
  • OFDMA + MU-MIMO Combining
  • Spatial Reuse (BSS Coloring)

Some of the wave 2 features mentioned above are also found in wave 1 access points launched by a few vendors. Many wave 1 products in the market have been certified as WiFi 6 without them. IEEE Standards or WiFi alliance certifications do not have this concept of ‘waves’ as such. Wi-Fi Alliance certifies access points for 802.11ax, 802.11ac etc, without description of any waves. Products containing chipsets which are released in the earlier stages of a standard are referred to as Wave 1 in the market. Products launched later with additional features incorporated from a standard are referred to as Wave 2.

WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 Comparison

The table below shows the additional features added in WiFi 6 when compared to its predecessor WiFi 5 (802.11ac) wave 2.

PropertyWiFi 5 Wave 2WiFi 6 Wave 1
OFDMANot AvailableYes (Uplink and Downlink)
MU-MIMOOptional FeatureYes (Downlink)
Target Wakeup Time (TWT)Not AvailableYes
Modulation256 QAM1024 QAM
Transmit BeamformingOptionalYes (4 SS and above)

So should you upgrade to WiFi 6 access points now ?

Do consider upgrading to WiFi 6 if any one or a combination of below conditions apply to you.

You expect steady growth of users/applications

WiFi 6 is better positioned to serve crowded environments than its predecessors. OFDMA is specifically targeted at use cases with high density of stations like corporate offices where a lot of people will be using data light applications like email and web browsing. Such users will be better served with OFDMA technology due to its multi-user capability.

Another multi-user technology of MU-MIMO is now mandatory (Downlink) in WiFi 6. This again will help to serve multiple users simultaneously, especially when they are using bandwidth intensive applications with large downloads.

BSS Coloring (available in select models now) is another feature that will help speed up transmissions. Especially in high and very high density spaces with lots of overlapping access point cells.

wifi 6 802.11 ax BSS coloring image

You have IoT plans

Being a High Efficiency standard, many features of WiFi 6 are bound to help IoT deployments to a great extent. The OFDMA feature can reduce latency for low data transmission requirements, including IoT. This feature can also improve the total number of IoT devices that can be accommodated , as multiple clients can now be served in a single transmission. In this regard, 802.11ax will be the best bet when compared to previous standards that do not have OFDMA technology.

OFDMA, by using smaller sub-channels for communications, will also lower power required for transmissions, thus helping with battery conservation of IoT devices.

Another feature that can help IoT deployments is the Target Wake Time (TWT). This feature helps clients to save battery by waking them up on a schedule. The devices can sleep and conserve their batteries otherwise.

BSS Coloring (available in select models) too is going to help IoT transmissions in crowded environments with heavy deployment of access points.

WiFi 6 Access Point WLAN market

Enterprise WLAN is a $ 6 billion market, where Cisco is the leader of the pack. In 2nd quarter of 2020, WiFi 6 access points have taken an impressive 28.9% revenue share, up from 21.8% in 1st quarter of 2020. This shows that WiFi 6 access points have started driving the market and are making a deep impact on Enterprise WLAN investments.

WLAN market 2Q20 IDC
Fig. 2Q20 Enterprise WLAN market. (Image credit: IDC)

WiFi 6 Access Points Mega Comparison Chart

We have considered 16 vendors for comparing indoor and outdoor WiFi 6 access points. The last few years of Gartner Magic Quadrant reports were heavily referred for vetting the vendor list.

Total number of spatial streams (SS) has been used as the single parameter to box the indoor access points into various throughput/speed performance categories. Entry level access points start at 4 SS, followed by moderate (6 SS), High( 8 SS), Very High (10 SS), Mega (12 SS) and Ultra (16 SS).

For the time being, outdoor access points have not been categorized. As more outdoor access points comes to the market from more number of vendors, we will categorize them into similar performance categories as well.

Please Note: Not all the products in the below table might have WiFi 6 Certification. Few might have been certified and their details could be reflecting on Wi-Fi Alliance website. Some of the products could be undergoing certifications. There might also be products which are not WiFi 6 certifiable at all due to chipset deficiencies. Please check with local representatives of the vendors for latest information about certification status.

>Related Post< Top WiFi 6 Outdoor Access Point Models 2021

WiFi 6 Access Points Vendor Comparison Table (Spatial Streams)

Access PointsEntry
(4 SS)
Moderate
(6 SS)
High
(8 SS)
Very High
(10 SS)
Mega
(12 SS)
Ultra
(16 SS)
Outdoor Access Points
Cisco9105 AXI, 9105 AXW9115 AXI, 9115 AXE, 9120 AXI, 9120 AXE, 9120 AXP 9117 AXI, 9130 AXI/9130 AXE9124 AXI,
9124 AXD,
9124 AXE
Aruba (HP)AP-505, AP-504AP-515,
AP-514
AP-535,
AP-534
AP-555
UbiquitiU6-LR
Ruckus (Commscope)R550R650R750R730, R850T750
Huawei5760-105760-22W5760-516760-X1, 6760-X1E, AP7060DN8760-X1-PRO6760R-51,
6760R-51E,
8760R-X1,
8760R-X1E
Cisco MerakiMR36MR44MR45, MR46, MR46EMR56MR76, MR86
Extreme NetworksAP 305C, AP 305CX, AP 310i, AP 310eAP410C,
AP410i,
AP410e
AP505i, AP510i, AP510e, AP510C, AP510CX, AP650, AP650XAP360i, AP360e, AP460C, AP460i, AP460e, AP560h, AP560i,
Mist (Juniper)AP12AP32, AP33AP43AP63
Fortinet231-F431F,
433F
U431F,
U433F
CambiumXV2-2XV3-8
AristaC-230, C-230E,
O-235, O-235E
C-260
Lancom SystemsLW-600LX-6400, LX-6402
H3C WA6320/HWA6330,
WA6622
WA6628, WA6638WA6630X
RuijeRG-AP820-L(V2), RG-AP180RG-AP840-IRG-AP880-IRG-AP680(CD)
Alcatel-LucentAP1311AP1320AP1360
TP-LinkEAP620 HDEAP660 HD

>Related Post< WiFi 6 Access Points For Small Enterprises Comparison Chart

Summary

WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E are paradigm shifts in WLAN technology. They have been built with the intent to make WiFi a highly efficient and effective communication medium for all kinds of data, voice and video applications. And specifically for the next generation of applications in AI, AR, VR etc. that will be at the bleeding edge of the expanding technology landscape. So it would be reasonable to upgrade to WiFi 6 access points if the justifications matches with those discussed in this article. Or even otherwise, if one simply wants to implement the best available wireless technology in their premises with a high return on investment, WiFi 6 will not disappoint.

 

Note: All product/company/standards names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.The product features mentioned in this article are not exhaustive. For the full list of features and capabilities, kindly contact the manufacturer or its local representative in your region.