Make Sure Your Cabling Plant is Ready for Wi-Fi 6

March 5, 2020 / General, 101 learning, Installation and testing, Upgrading and troubleshooting, Best Practices

Our last post covered the technologies for Wi-Fi 6 and 6E.  If you’ve decided that you want some of that good stuff in your network, you need to make sure your cabling plant is ready.

While the first wave of Wi-Fi 6 products may be supported by 2.5GBASE-T or 5GBASE-T, allowing the installed base of Category 5e and Category 6 to potentially provide support, it’s highly unlikely that these cable types will ultimately support the maximum throughput potential.

As the second and third wave of products hit the market and push speeds beyond 5 Gb/s, two 5GBASE-T connections at a minimum will be required to each wireless access point to support link aggregation. And as the technology continues to advance towards its maximum theoretical throughput of 10 Gb/s, each Wi-Fi access point is expected to require a minimum of two Cat 6A connections.

It’s not just speed you’ll need to worry about. Most access points today are powered using PoE, and the more complex processing that occurs within a Wi-Fi 6 access points will require higher levels of PoE than we’ve seen for previous generations that primarily operated within the 30W of Type 2 PoE. Higher-end access points that aim to support both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E may ultimately require 60 W Type 3 PoE.

To support maximum throughput and higher levels of PoE, most enterprise businesses are deploying two Cat 6A connectors to prepare for an upgrade to Wi-Fi 6/6E—even if the remainder of their cabling plant stays at Cat 5e or 6. In fact, industry standards specifically recommend two Cat 6/class EA connections for wireless access points. If you’re not planning to upgrade and are hoping to support the first wave of Wi-Fi 6 devices over existing Cat 5e or Cat 6, it’s important to understand that not all existing Cat 5e and 6 cable plants will support 2.5/5GBASE-T to 100 meters, and they will need to be tested to ensure compliance.

What You Need to Know about Testing

If you do choose to upgrade your cable plant to Cat 6A to support Wi-Fi 6, your testing considerations will be the same as they are for any 10GBASE-T and advanced PoE application. So yes, that means alien crosstalk testing is recommended. The good news is that you can conduct sample alien crosstalk testing of worst-case scenario short, medium and long disturbed links within the same bundle to help save time. And if decide not to test for alien crosstalk, you can always take a look at TCL and ELTCTL test results by choosing (+ALL) limits on the DSX CableAnalyzer Series tester.  These parameters only add about 6 seconds to your test times, and they are excellent indicators of whether a cable link will provide adequate alien crosstalk performance.

Due to the higher levels of PoE, choosing (+ALL) limits is also recommended since it includes measurements for DC Resistance Unbalance within a pair and DC Resistance Unbalance between pairs, as well as a limit for DC Loop Resistance. This will ensure that DC power is split evenly between each conductor of the pair and between multiple pairs for four-pair PoE applications. Because if it’s not, you risk the Ethernet signals transmitting to and from your access point becoming distorted and causing errors.

And once you’re actually ready to plug in your new Wi-Fi 6 access points, you can check how much power is available on the link using Fluke Networks’ MicroScanner™ PoE. Simply plug it into the end connection, and if the cable is connected to a PoE switch or other Power Sourcing Equipment (PSE), it will display the class (0-8) of power available on the link. You can then compare that to the requirements of your access point to ensure that enough power is available. Click HERE to learn more about PoE classes, types and standards.

And last but not least, the susceptibility to alien crosstalk and heat rise caused by delivery of PoE in cable bundles could very well mean that the cable plant for Wi-Fi 6 is specified as shielded Cat 6A. If that’s the case, we’ve got you covered in the case of an open shield—our DSX CableAnalyzer Series tester reports distance to shield integrity issues using a patented AC measurement technique.