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04 February 2020

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5 key benefits of Wi-Fi 6 and how it can improve your construction site safety

With 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6 as it is more commonly known, now available across the UK, we look at the 5 key benefits and how it can make construction sites safer places to work.

WiFi city landscape

There have been many various wireless LAN standards since its first arrival in 1999, so keeping track since then can be difficult. Unsure which one was the fastest or the most secure? Worry no more, the industry has realised it had a bit of a naming problem so has given the latest version a somewhat more friendly sounding name.  Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Wi-Fi 6, or if you really must use its full name: IEEE 802.11ax.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Simply put, Wi-Fi 6 is the sixth generation of standard Wi-Fi technology.

The wireless standards have always been a bit of a mouthful, those in the know could impress those that weren’t with a quick referral to “802.11whatever” and that was it, your eyes glazed over, so here’s a quick summary before we get started with what’s new in Wi-Fi 6.

  • Wi-Fi 1  802.11b, circa 1999
  • Wi-Fi 2  802.11a, circa 1999
  • Wi-Fi 3  802.11g, circa 2003
  • Wi-Fi 4  802.11n, circa 2009
  • Wi-Fi 5  802.11ac, circa 2014
  • Wi-Fi 6  802.11ax, circa 2019

The industry has conveniently backdated the naming convention to figure out the 6th version could be called Wi-Fi 6 which is great but we all know that nobody will ever say they are still going to support Wi-Fi3, it’ll always be 802.11g, sorry you can’t rewrite history even if it’s to make it more convenient. But we digress, Wi-Fi 6 has some real benefits, its superfast, more efficient and allows for the density that industry requires today. Let’s dig in a little to see what it can do for construction sites today and in the future.

5 key benefits of Wi-Fi 6

There are a number of tangible benefits that Wi-Fi 6 delivers that will open up the possibility for enabling modern solutions to problems such as worker safety and construction efficiency, the increase in machine to machine connections through the use of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and the demand for fast access to streaming video is growing and Wi-Fi 6 brings advantages over the previous standards that support the ever increasing demand for fast, reliable, secure wireless connections.

1) Go faster solution

Is Wi-Fi 6 faster? The short answer is yes but that’s not telling the whole story. Its officially rated at 9.6 Gbps, a significant increase from the previous standard (that’s right – Wi-Fi5 if you are still keeping track) at 3.5 Gbps but will you really see a 3x increase in speeds from your device? Probably not is the real answer. What you will actually see is a lack of speed reduction as more devices come online. This was the issue with older generations of Wi-Fi, the bandwidth was shared so the more devices on the network the slower they all went. That won’t work today and Wi-Fi 6 does this in a couple of intriguing ways.

2) Fast even when congested

As device density increases the speeds reduce, at least that’s what usually happened, but Wi-Fi 6 leverages some clever technology called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) in order to split the load when a signal is sent. This means a single Access Point can talk to several devices at the same time. This is a major advantage when the density starts increasing.

3) Focussed Beams

To further take advantage of the lessons learned from earlier Wi-Fi standards, Wi-Fi 6 can even focus its signal towards the location of a wireless device to improve speed and reliability. Through the use of Beamforming, the signal is focussed in the direction of the device rather than being a consistent signal spread evenly across the location. This improves speed and reliability of the connection.

4) Improved Security

2018 saw the introduction of a new enhanced security protocol called WPA3 and so wireless networks were able to start taking advantage of it new features. It’s a big step up in secure wireless networking but its optional to use in older Wi-Fi networks. The introduction of certifications from the Wi-Fi Alliance actually enforces its use and so provides a more secure arrangement overall. It’s still the same user experience but if you delve into how it works there are improvements in the ability to stop hackers in their tracks, better encryption and most importantly for sites looking to use IoT – a new standard to securely onboard those devices.

5) Increased battery life

Have you ever had battery anxiety or been forced to switch Wi-Fi off to keep your device going? It’s not a great situation to be in. It’s annoying and it would indeed be better to reduce battery usage for those personal devices but there are some other major advantages to using less power over Wi-Fi. The construction industry must progress towards a more connected, secure, safe and efficient environment and it can now do that by taking advantage of the lower power requirements of Wi-Fi 6 and accelerate the use of small IoT sensors. These devices don’t have the battery capacity of larger personal devices and can take advantage of Wi-Fi 6’s more efficient power standards that utilise fixed scheduled communications through the use of Target Wake Time (TWT.)

TWT is a new Wi-Fi 6 feature that enables devices to actually schedule when they will communicate with the wireless network. They can turn on their radio interfaces only when expected to communicate with the network and turn them off again once this is complete. This sort of feature is crucial to the low power requirements of IoT devices and opens up a whole new range of small devices that can be exploited to improve many aspects of a construction site.

The Smart Construction Site

In order to see what this all means for the construction industry we need to take a step back and look at what smart technology can actually do. New technology such as drones and wearable IoT sensors at first glance look out of place when discussing construction sites but as the industry changes to meet the new demands of the 21st century it starts to become clearer what they offer. Construction sites are dangerous places – safety is paramount but its typically process driven, could technology aid in this critical area?

Here are some ways in which construction sites can take advantage of up and coming technology to make construction sites a safer place to work:

  • The use of drones for streaming high quality video from above the site could be viewed remotely by experts to minimise risk when planning for critical procedures
  • Vehicle with network connected reversing cameras could be linked to Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems and network connected vehicles to only permit a vehicle to move backwards if it’s safe to do so.
  • Wearable IoT devices showing workers vital signs such as heart rate could be monitored in real time to ensure the workers at height or in danger zones are operating within safe physiological parameters
  • Location tracking of workers by triangulation of Wi-Fi signals could ensure safety and enforce security, tracked via wireless devices back to cloud solutions that can alert the relevant teams if processes or standards are broken

These are only a few examples within the safety aspects of the modern construction site and they rely on fast, secure, stable wireless networks. Tomorrow’s construction sites will be safer, more efficient and more automated but that can only happen with fast, secure and reliable networks in place and now Wi-Fi 6 delivers just that. Look out for Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices from today.

Wi-Fi6 is an evolutionary step driven by the need for greater efficiency and capacity, and this is something that is getting pushed from every angle. Construction sites are digital with a growing number of devices than ever before! WiFi 6 will ensure all devices have a network that can be relied on

Chris Bower

Technical Consultant

UK Connect

UK Connect are dedicated to being at the forefront of technology for the construction industry. Interested to find out more? Call 0333 900 9850  or complete our contact form to find out how UK Connect can help your business today.

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