As the number of smart devices in our daily lives increase, so does the technical challenge of providing reliable wireless data to them. The new 802.11ax wireless technology standard -- also known as Wi-Fi 6 -- solves these challenges by supporting faster network speeds to multiple devices while also reducing power draw for smart systems across your home and office.
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 refers to a new generation of wireless technology that improves upon existing protocols such as 802.11n or 802.11ac. Realizing the confusion caused by this naming convention,The Wi-Fi Alliance rebranded them to clarify which technologies a specific system supports. 802.11n became Wi-Fi 4, 802.11ac is Wi-Fi 5, and the latest 802.11ax is now known as Wi-Fi 6. When shopping for new systems in the near future, looking for Wi-Fi 6 compatibility will ensure you’re running the latest and greatest.
Overall, Wi-Fi 6 will operate as previous Wi-Fi generations have: users will still sign on to their preferred Wi-Fi SSID in the same fashion as before, and should not see major changes in behavior. Wi-Fi 6 will make the wireless connection more efficient, and in many cases will reduce overall power use.
Top Speeds for Multiple Devices
Wi-Fi 6 boasts a theoretical top speed of 9.6Gbps, beating out Wi-Fi 5’s maximum of 3.5Gbps. Most systems aren’t capable of utilizing such high speeds through normal internet use: typical home download speeds are somewhere in the 70-100Mbps range, a small fraction of Wi-Fi 6’s cap.
The power of Wi-Fi 6 isn’t in single-system download speed; an individual system may not see significant improvements. The real benefit of the 9.6Gbps cap is the improvement in network communication when many devices are connected to the Wi-Fi at the same time. The average US household currently has somewhere around 9 wireless devices, but as reliance on smartphones, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles, smart thermostats, wireless security systems, and more continues to grow, that number is expected to reach 50 or more in coming years.
Having so many devices connected via Wi-Fi puts a tremendous burden on networks, and this problem worsens in dense environments with many overlapping Wi-Fi signals. Wi-Fi 6 technology is designed to alleviate this strain, delivering reliable high speeds to multiple devices simultaneously.
New and Improved Technologies
These improvements are possible through two different technologies: “multi-user, multiple input, multiple output” (MU-MIMO), and “orthogonal frequency division multiple access” (OFDMA):
MU-MIMO has existed in previous generations, but Wi-Fi 6 improves upon it, allowing the router to communicate with multiple devices at the same time rather than broadcasting to one, then the next, and so on in sequence. Previous generations enabled communication with up to 4 devices simultaneously, while Wi-Fi 6 boosts that number to 8.
OFDMA makes each of those transmissions more efficient by allowing them to communicate with multiple devices. If a data packet only contains a small amount of data for device A, for example, the rest of that packet can be filled with data intended for Device B. This reduces wasted time during transmission and makes each broadcast more efficient.
Wi-Fi 6 isn’t just about efficiency in data transmission. A new feature called “Target Wake Time” (TWT) allows wireless devices to schedule communications with the router. When the device is not due to check-in with the network, it can switch its antenna to a low-power mode, reducing power use and improving battery life. While this feature will be of limited use for systems like laptops (which need constant network connectivity when in use), it is perfect for digital thermostats, sensors, and other smart home devices that only need to update their status every so often.
Wi-Fi 6 is also moving to the new WPA3 security protocol, making it harder for hackers to crack your passwords and making data harder to read even if there is a breach. WPA3 is an optional feature on current devices, but Wi-Fi 6 devices will require it. This will improve the overall security of your wireless networks once Wi-Fi 6 is implemented at your facility.
How to Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6
Wi-Fi 6 is a new wireless standard that will ship with most devices later this year. It is not necessary to rush out and replace all of your current equipment; as systems are retired over the next few years, any replacement will likely include it by default.
The one device that will be required to take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6 is the wireless router or access point. Wi-Fi 6-enabled laptops, workstations, and devices will see no benefit connecting to an old Wi-Fi 5 router (though they will still be able to access the network as before). Conversely, Wi-Fi 5 devices connecting to a new Wi-Fi 6 router may see some improvement, as the router may still be able to communicate to multiple devices more efficiently.
Overall, Wi-Fi 6 is a technology your facility will end up adopting gradually as old devices are retired. If you’re noticing sluggish behavior on your wireless network (especially if you have many devices on your Wi-Fi), then it may be time to consider upgrading your router to a Wi-Fi 6-capable device.
If you have further questions about Wi-Fi 6 and how to configure an efficient wireless solution at your facility, reach out to Nodal! For more information on the technology behind the new standard, check out the official Wi-Fi Alliance page here, or these handy breakdowns by The Verge and Cisco Meraki.