OFDMA: the Heart of the Max WiFi Evolution

Wi-Fi innovation is an incredible success story, with each “generation” getting faster and faster. Max WiFi, built on the latest Wi-Fi standard, promises to give consumers even faster speeds and much more capacity. However, the real innovation in 802.11ax and Max WiFi comes from the fact that the Wi-Fi nuts-and-bolts have been completely revamped to make the best use of available spectrum. In order to accomplish this, the Wi-Fi world took a cue from the cellular world by introducing the concept of Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA).

So what is OFDMA? Imagine a two-lane highway. Previous generations of Wi-Fi, use the entire channel to transmit packets of information. When there’s a lot of data to transmit and one router (access point) and a limited number of clients, this works phenomenally well. The massive pipes allow data to move quickly, just like a few big trucks on a totally clear, two-lane highway. But when there are many access points and many devices, sending different sized packets of information in short bursts or sustained streams, the traffic gets congested. If there’s a blockage in the road—or a heavy stream of data—all traffic must come to a halt and wait for it to clear.

OFDMA changes the rules of the road; it increases the efficiency and capacity of the wireless network so several devices can communicate simultaneously because the spectrum is allocated according to the needs of the devices and traffic. Using OFDMA, Max WiFi ensures each device gets enough airtime and bandwidth. With OFDMA, our two-lane highway expands to add more lanes so that slow-moving vehicles do not block the faster ones, and the additional lanes facilitate smaller cars and buses carrying smaller packets of traffic at the same time as the larger trucks.

 

The benefits of OFDMA are instantly obvious in Max WiFi. In a network with a large number of IoT devices requiring short bursts of data, OFDMA lets that traffic flow simultaneously from multiple devices to the cloud in the “uplink” on the same frequency channel. And the same is true for data coming back from the cloud in the Wi-Fi “downlink.” This exponentially increases how much data one Wi-Fi network can handle, up to four times more than the best Wi-Fi available today can handle with the same number of routers and devices.

This means better Wi-Fi performance in our homes—with smart TVs, wireless doorbells, tablets and security cameras—and also stadiums and venues where many people want to use their mobile devices to upload pictures and livestream their experiences. And for those of us that spend time on the office Wi-Fi, we can cross one frustration off our lists.