WiFi 6: What Is It?
Wi-Fi is all geared for a major improvement in speed and efficiency with it’s latest upgrade; Wi-Fi 6. An updated naming system and better performance, but what exactly is it and what can you expect?
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 is quite literally the name that has been assigned to the next generation wireless standard; also known as 802.11ax or ‘high-efficiency wireless’.
Wi-Fi 6 is a major update in comparison to its predecessor (802.11ac, or now, Wi-Fi 5), supporting more capacity upon the same channels as well as noticeably faster data transfer speeds. Indeed, this new wireless network connects to both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies that we are used to, whilst Wi-Fi 5 only worked on the 5GHz frequency.
So what does this mean?
- Faster data transfer speeds
- Better performance in congested areas
- Improved efficiency
#1: Faster data transfer speeds
The clear advantage of Wi-Fi 6 is the improved speed upon which it works. As stated, this is achieved in large due to the fact that the wireless network fully combines both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands simultaneously. In comparison, both Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5 worked on the two bands separately.
Alongside this, Wi-Fi 6 also has significantly more efficient data encoding support, which means that more data can be packed into the same radio waves. These encoding and decoding chips are significantly more powerful than those within Wi-Fi 5 and can therefore handle considerably more data.
In theory, if you’re using a particular Access Point with a single device, then data rates should be up to 40% higher than that of 802.11ac, or Wi-Fi 5. Theoretical network speeds are currently listed at around 10Gbps and 12Gbps at the absolute extreme, over short distances and so offer a significant improvement to current speeds of Wi-Fi 5.
#2: Better performance in congested areas
We’ve all been there; battling for connection in sports arenas, concerts and other large complexes. Well, another handy upgrade of Wi-Fi 6 is its ability to operate within significantly congested areas.
You see, Wi-Fi 6 supports multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-out (MU-MIMO) technology, which means that any given access point can receive data from eight different devices at the same time and at the same speed all at once. Previous generations could only handle traffic from a maximum of four devices and divided their bandwidth among users simultaneously. In more simple terms, Wi-Fi 6 is able to work by dividing a channel into a large amount of subchannels, each of which carries intended data for a different device.
Many reports claim that the average household will have around 50 connected devices by 2022 in comparison to an average of 25 today. Smart speakers, door locks and speakers are among many devices to be added to wireless networks and so Wi-Fi 6 will aid hugely in the performance of these.
#3: Improved efficiency
Wi-Fi 6 comes with support for Target Wake Time technology which enables different devices to adjust how and when they wake up to send and receive data. Indeed, the wireless network utilises policies based on expected traffic activity between Wi-Fi 6 devices and Wi-Fi 6 access points, to ascertain scheduled activation times for each device. As such, 802.11ax could in theory sleep for large periods at a time, conserving battery considerably.
Alongside this, by improving the sleep and wake efficiency of devices, congestion will also be reduced on crowded networks.
Similarly, Wi-Fi 6 supports up and downlink ‘Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access’ (OFDMA), which is essentially a multi-user version of OFDM that is found on Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5. This significantly reduces the time between data transmissions, allowing your access point and devices to use bandwidth more efficiently. As a consequence, more bandwidth is available for other devices, enabling as many as 30 users to share a channel at once.
Why Is the Wi-Fi Alliance Using Numbers?
The Wi-Fi Alliance has departed from it’s standard ‘802.11ax’ format to Wi-Fi 6 for one simple reason; ease for consumers.
Numbers are now used to quickly inform which network is newer and faster whilst devices are connected, as well making it easier for the standard user to ensure that they have the compatible kit set up.
Notably, the Wi-Fi Alliance has expressed a desire to see this new branding extend beyond hardware. In this way, when you connect to a particular Wi-Fi network, a device should be able to inform you of the Wi-Fi version that you’re connected to. Consequently, if two different Wi-Fi versions are available then each user has the option to connect to a newer and faster network.
When Can We Expect to See Wi-Fi 6?
Now, with such a big shift you might imagine that Wi-Fi 6 might take a while to roll out properly. The first Wi-Fi 6 devices are starting to appear in the market, however it could be months or years before this is adopted on mass.
What Devices Will Wi-Fi 6 Work With?
If all of your devices are currently designed with support for Wi-Fi 4 or 5, then don’t worry too much. The Wi-Fi Alliance has reassured that the new network is compatible with devices dating back to the early noughties and so you won’t have to upgrade just yet.
That said, during CES 2019, many Wi-Fi networking vendors announced a host of new products that support the Wi-Fi 6 standard. It’s important to note that whilst older devices will be able to connect to Wi-Fi 6, they won’t necessarily see the full benefits. Instead, these products must be Wi-Fi 6 compliant.
Will Mobile Phones Support Wi-Fi 6?
5G and improved connectivity is currently a hot topic of discussion in the smartphone world and so it’s only a matter of time before we see mobile devices that come with support for the latest Wi-Fi standard.
Indeed, many rumours have suggested that the Samsung Galaxy S10 will be one of these first devices, after FCC confirmation. However, of course a compatible wireless router is necessary for this to work.