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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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New Wifi protocols on the way

28 November 2018

Wifi is cool tech.

I still recall the days when all our computer peripherals had to be connected via cumbersome cables and connectors. Who else remembers the Centronics printer interface with its plethora of conductors and inflexible cabling?

Today of course, most peripherals use wireless connectivity and as often as not, that wireless tech is based on wifi.

How practical would our smartphones be without wifi? Imagine relying on your 3G/4G data allowance to provide data comms to your phone... you'd be broke in no time.

Many people never plug a damned thing except power and the line-cable into their home broadband router -- relying solely on wifi to provide house-wide distribution of data.

So why the need for new wifi protocols?

Well it's simple... today's wifi standards have some rather annoying limitations.

Although (in theory) you can have multiple devices connecting to your router via wifi and each of those devices will have a high-bandwidth connection to the internet and each other, the reality is not always so rosy.

Although many routers can handle it, most wifi-enabled devices are incapable of supporting multiple, simultaneous wifi connections with other devices. I get intensely annoyed that when I want to use my smartphone to control one of my HD action cameras, it has to drop the connection to my router before it will start a conversation with that camera.

Even my Spark-provided UFB router isn't really very good at supporting multiple devices and it's not uncommon for the wife's Samsung smartphone to cause the YouTube player on the TV (via Kodi and a Raspberry Pi) to intermittently buffer if she's checking Pinterest or something.

Then there's the problem with neighbours.

If you live in an area with high density housing, odds are that the wifi spectrum will be quite noisy as each household's router battles for space on the band. Wifi devices here can "see" about half a dozen other wifi access points when searching and each of those points contributes to the noise against which my own router has to compete.

In order to get good coverage throughout the house I've had to be very careful about which channels our router uses and I've also had to adopt horizontal polarization of the signal (most people use the default vertical polarisation) to eek out the very best performance.

So what do new wifi protocols offer?

Well they do offer more speed but more importantly, they seem to be addressing the multiple-access and crowded spectrum issues.

Arstechnica has published a good article which goes into the details quite well for those who are interested.

I'd love to hear of readers' experiences with wifi. How effective is it in your household or workspace? Have you had to add range-extenders to get full coverage? Is there sufficient bandwidth for your needs? Do you have problems with neighbours or routers in nearby locations making it hard to find some clean space on the bands?

Do you miss those days when *everything* had to be hardwired to your computer? I'm betting the answer to that question is a big fat NO.

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