WiFi is on the edge of getting a major update. The WiFi alliance — the organization responsible for deciding, developing, and certifying WiFi standards — has announced the next generation of WiFi, known as the WiFi 6. We are currently on the fifth generation of WiFi, also known as WiFi 802.11ac, which became the standard in 2014. Since then, there has been a big increase in the number of Internet users, devices, and connectivity requirements. All of this has been accompanied with the need for faster connectivity.
What is WiFi 6?
WiFi 6 is the next generation of WiFi standard, which is also meant to do pretty much the same basic thing — connect devices with the Internet. While speed is an obvious parameter of improvement in WiFi 6, the new standard is not just about better speeds. The WiFi alliance has included several other features including enhanced security, better battery consumption, lower latency, and increased efficiency and range.
WiFi 6 is also expected to work better in congested areas such as stadiums, public gatherings, and other crowded areas. Thanks to these new features, it is also going to be a solid choice for use cases such as IoT, smarthomes, and wireless network-based setups.
No more convoluted names
While WiFi is now used by a majority of users in one way or the other across the globe, only few can make sense out of the naming convention. The awkward naming of WiFi standards is very confusing and a real annoyance to the average person. Thankfully, the WiFi Alliance, aware of this situation, has also announced a new way of labeling WiFi standards.
Instead of the complex code appended after 802.11 to differentiate different generations of WiFi, the organization has decided to go with simple generation labels. While these naming conventions will be applied with the upcoming WiFi 6 (WiFi 802.11ax), the previous generations of WiFi might also be referred with these new names retroactively. According to this new naming convention, it would look like this:
- 802.11n, which was introduced in 2009 = WiFi 4
- 802.11ac, which was introduced in 2014 = WiFi 5
- 802.11ax, upcoming = WiFi 6
This is a much better and easier way to identify the WiFi standards supported by devices or network equipment. While there can be few products still labeled with their old codes, this will be resolved as the older product labeling is phased out.
The WiFi Alliance has also suggested that device makers and companies use new icons in the devices to help users easily identify the generation of WiFi they are using. Suggestions for these new icons include a circled number consisting of the generation within the WiFi signal symbol. However, we might have to wait until 2020 to actually see these new icons on our devices.
How fast is WiFi 6?
Theoretically, WiFi 6 is capable of achieving a top speed of 9.6Gbps, up from 3.5Gbps on WiFi 5.
These speeds mentioned above are theoretical maximums, and hardly any device will reach those transfer speeds in the real world. While it is also highly unlikely to use those speeds on a single computer, the speeds can be split across a whole network of devices resulting in potentially better speeds on each device using WiFi 6.
WiFi 6 is achieving these speeds because it is now capable of fully combining the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands. In the previous generations, namely in WiFi 4 and WiFi 5, the devices were forced to use only one of these spectrums at a time.
The technology behind it
While WiFi 6 is certainly faster than WiFi 5, these speeds might not necessarily affect a single user’s performance. Having that said, WiFi 6 is essentially meant to battle congestion by providing faster connection speeds on all the devices on busy networks.
WiFi 6 comes with orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) to divide a wireless channel into a large number of subchannels. Each of these subchannels can provide faster data speeds while carrying the data intended for different devices. Moreover, the WiFi access points on the upcoming WiFi 6 can stay connected or talk to even more devices at once.
As we mentioned, WiFi 6 gets its speed boost because it combines and operates across both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously. This is made possible using the improved multiple in/multiple out (MIMO) standard. Until WiFi 5, although access points were able to talk to multiple devices simultaneously, those devices connected to the network couldn’t respond at the same time. WiFi 6 addresses this issue and comes with an improvised multiuser MIMO that allows devices to respond to access points simultaneously. MU-MIMO technology will also be enabled for the uplinking of data along with the downlink data it already supports.
Key features and capabilities
While WiFi 6 will be an upgrade from the previous generation WiFi in terms of speed, there are also several other features and capabilities added to the new standard. One of the key features other than the increased speeds in WiFI 6 is its ability to manage network congestion.
Another interesting new feature is target wake time (TWT). This feature significantly improves the battery life in WiFi devices including IoT devices. This technology allows the devices to plan out the communication with the routers. This will help reduce the time the devices need to keep antennas powered up to transfer the data. In short, the TWT technology on WiFi 6 allows the devices to schedule their check-in time with the routers.
WiFi 6 comes with a 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM), which increases the throughput. This helps the devices connected with WiFi 6 bandwidth to have better stability even in bandwidth-intensive use cases or applications.
WiFi 6 is also expected to be future-ready in terms of security. Last year, WiFi standards received a huge upgrade in terms of security with WPA 3. WPA3 makes it very difficult for hackers to brute force into networks using WiFi as a medium. All WiFi 6-enabled devices are likely to be certified with the WPA 3 security standard, making them secure.
How do I get WiFi 6?
WiFi 6 is expected to arrive by the end of this year. Although there is no official date announced, we can expect to see the devices supporting WiFi 6 go on sale beginning in early 2020. While there are currently very few devices out there supporting WiFi 6, the count will eventually start to increase.
Currently, Qualcomm’s SnapDragon 855 mobile processor supports WiFi 6 and is seen in flagship-graded premium devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S10, OnePlus 7 Pro, Xiaomi Mi9, and a few others. WiFi Alliance also announced that there will be a launching event for WiFi certification event this fall, where the new standard’s compatibility will be announced and detailed. Until then, you’ll have to make do with the existing WiFi 5 — which in my opinion, is not bad after all.
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