Welcome to Wi-Fi 6 – Wireless networking is about to get faster

March 14, 2019

Wireless networking is set for an upgrade, with Wi-Fi 6 set to start rolling out this year and the result will be greater download speeds and the capability of connecting more devices.

So, what exactly is Wi-Fi 6 and what further benefits will it bring?

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the next generation of Wi-Fi. In other words, it’s the newest version of how you connect wirelessly to the internet.

It’s set to deliver faster internet speeds and the ability to connect more devices to a network. It’s due to roll out from this year onwards meaning soon you’ll find Wi-Fi 6 in routers, laptops and internet-connected devices.

Wi-Fi now has versions

With the rollout of this latest Wi-Fi update, the Wi-Fi Alliance has also decided to implement version names. Previously, the different incarnations of Wi-Fi were denoted with some very non-memorable differentiators like 802.11n, and 802.11ac. In a bid to offer better clarity, the versions will be renamed as follows:

  • 802.11n (released in 2009) will be called Wi-Fi 4
  • 802.11ac (released in 2014) will be called Wi-Fi 5
  • 802.11ax. (scheduled for release this year) will be called Wi-Fi 6

As How-to Geek notes: “Older versions of Wi-Fi aren’t widely in use and aren’t officially being branded. But, if they were, here’s what they’d be called:

  • Wi-Fi 1 would have been 802.11b, released in 1999.
  • Wi-Fi 2 would have been 802.11a, also released in 1999.
  • Wi-Fi 3 would have been 802.11g, released in 2003.”

The Wi-Fi Alliance is also calling for devices to now include a Wi-Fi version label, so consumers know exactly what type of Wi-Fi their new devices support.

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi 6 won’t change how wireless internet is delivered but rather incorporates extra technology to improve the performance available, and it’s set to offer some very real benefits.

Major benefits

The major benefits of Wi-Fi 6 include improved download speed and better performance, and effectively it will allow users to connect more devices to a network without significant congestion.

Speed

Theoretically, Wi-Fi 6 is set to more than double the current speed of Wi-Fi 5, allowing a data transfer rate of 9.6 Gbps compared to 3.5 Gbps on Wi-Fi 5. But as The Verge explains these figures are based on a best-case scenario.

“Both of those speeds are theoretical maximums that you’re unlikely to ever reach in real-world Wi-Fi use. And even if you could reach those speeds, it’s not clear that you’d need them. The typical download speed in the US is just 72 Mbps, or less than one per cent of the theoretical maximum speed.”

Meanwhile, How-to Geek notes, in practical terms it will mean: “If you’re using a Wi-Fi router with a single device, maximum potential speeds should be up to 40 per cent higher with Wi-Fi 6 compared to Wi-Fi 5”.

More devices

It’s no secret we’re getting more connected every day. The Internet of Things means the average home now supports more connected devices on a wireless network than ever before, while public networks are also feeling the strain.

Wi-Fi 6 is designed to better support this increased use by talking to more devices while also offering improved speed to each.

It will do so via two key technologies known as MU-MIMO and OFDMA. In short, greatly simplified terms, OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) lets the router talk to more devices at once by dividing them into a series of sub-channels.

MU-MIMO (Multiple User - Multiple In/Multiple Out) then incorporates additional antenna so the router can acquire the response from the multiple devices at the same time.

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Less congestion

This upgrade will not only allow more devices to talk to the router at the same time, it will also reduce congestion, and that’s becoming increasingly important in business, in homes and in public networks.

Better battery life

An interesting benefit is that Wi-Fi 6 will likely improve the battery life of your devices, as How-to Geek explains:

“When the access point is talking to a device (like your smartphone), it can tell the device exactly when to put its Wi-Fi radio to sleep and exactly when to wake it up to receive the next transmission. This will conserve power, as it means the Wi-Fi radio can spend more time in sleep mode. And that means longer battery life.”

So how do you get Wi-Fi 6?

In short, you’ll need new devices and the first major acquisition will probably be a Wi-Fi 6 router. Then keep an eye out for the planned Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6 compatible label on laptops, smart phones and IoT devices.

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