Throughout our long careers at Intel, my colleague, Omri Barkay, and I have watched the workforce become highly mobile, both on and off campus, inside and outside, within a single building or across a huge campus. Wireless technology has become an integral part of life at Intel. Wireless enterprise use cases have multiplied dramatically—75 percent of Intel’s employees now use the wireless local area network (WLAN) for a majority of their work. That means employees need reliable connectivity any place, any time, with any device to do their jobs. After a ten-year evolution, wireless technology can now serve most enterprise use cases at Intel.
For example, Intel IT first adopted Wi-Fi in 2003 to enable mobility in the U.S. Although it was a breakthrough technology at the time, it did not support Voice over IP (VoIP), and when compared to today’s technology, it was rather slow. By 2009, Wi-Fi supported voice, and as the technology continued to evolve, we upgraded our wireless network along with it.
The WLAN provides many benefits to Intel and its employees, such as a ﬂexible work style that promotes collaboration and simpler conference room display connections, and support for work-from-home. However, until the arrival of Wi-Fi 6, there remained some enterprise use cases that we couldn’t transition to the WLAN, such as time-sensitive interactive design workloads and real-time (room-to-room) video conferencing. These use cases require a predictably low latency to run effectively. At any one time, Intel engineers may be running about 75,000 chip design interactive sessions. Transferring this use case to the WLAN will enable us to further reduce cabling and LAN ports, driving down costs. We expect that more than 90 percent of Intel employees will be able to use the WLAN for their work once we have deployed Wi-Fi 6 globally.
Working with several other Intel IT staff, Omri and I recently conducted a proof of concept (PoC) with Wi-Fi 6 that highlighted the benefits of this new technology. Across several metrics—including throughput, call quality, latency, delay, and error rate—we observed a 20 to 30 percent improvement with Wi-Fi 6, compared to Wi-Fi 5. Most importantly, the significant reduction in latency is paramount to transitioning time-sensitive workloads like interactive chip design to the WLAN.
Beyond mere performance improvements, we found that Wi-Fi 6 also improves network predictability. While Wi-Fi 5 provides a low-latency service, the load and traffic competition over the limited number of channels could suddenly degrade performance and leave employees with a dropped call, jittery sound, or other call-related negative effects. Through the use of Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), Wi-Fi 6 supports more concurrent spatial streams than Wi-Fi 5, so the network can reliably handle more clients at the same time. This is a very important element for enterprise deployments.
And the journey for Intel’s WLAN is not over. The Wi-Fi standard is already evolving again, with innovations such as Wi-Fi 6E, which provides more than double the spectrum. We expect to see many Wi-Fi reliability, stability, and security enhancements over the next five years. As they mature, we will roll them out to Intel’s WLAN and continually improve the wireless service.
For more information about how Intel IT is using Wi-Fi 6 to support more wireless enterprise use cases, read the IT@Intel white paper, “Building a Faster, More Secure Enterprise Network with Wi-Fi 6.”