If you’re one of us teckie folks you probably think of WiFi flavors in terms of their IEEE Standards name, like 802.11b/g/n or more recently 802.11ac. The latest standard is 802.11ax and as I describe below it’s expected to be pretty important.
To help with the adoption of this new standard the Wi-Fi Alliance has given it the more consumer-friendly nickname of WiFi 6. They’ve given names to some of the previous standards, like WiFi 4 and 5, but those nicknames never caught; at least not in the crowd I hang with. But like the standard itself, this one might catch on.
Why Does it Matter?
Wi-Fi is poised to get its biggest upgrade in 20 years as the FCC announced that it would be opening up the 6 GHz section of the Wi-Fi spectrum to unlicensed use. This means that soon there will be a lot more Wi-Fi to go around, a move that is set to improve both the speed and reliability of Wi-Fi connections for next-generation devices.
What Benefits Does Wi-Fi 6 Bring With It?
This announcement represents the biggest spectrum addition since 1989 when the FCC first cleared the way for Wi-Fi. The change was prompted, at least in part, by the FCCs desire to make it easier for Americans to work and stay connected in the age of social distancing.
Opening up the 6 GHz portion of the Wi-Fi spectrum frees up nearly 4 times more space for routers and other devices, a move that will lead to less interference and more bandwidth to go around. Devices are expected to begin supporting 6 GHz Wi-Fi by the end of 2020, which means that users will be able to take advantage of the change sooner rather than later.
Will This Make My Connection Better?
Though technically 6 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi have the same theoretical top speed (9.6 Gbps), ordinary devices used in real-world settings rarely achieve that sort of speed. However, being able to access new airwaves should help improve Wi-Fi speed.
Currently, there isn’t a whole lot of space available, forcing telecoms to keep Wi-Fi signals artificially small. This change means that if routers broadcast at the new maximum allowable channel, users should enjoy faster connections, with smartphone connections as fast as 1 or 2 Gbps.
Wi-Fi 6 is Less About Faster Connections & More About Improving Reliability
While a faster connection is never a bad thing, the real benefit of Wi-Fi 6 is improved reliability. Routers can only communicate with so many devices at once, so every new device on the network means slower and less reliable service for everyone. When Wi-Fi 5 first came out, the average American household had roughly 5 devices. That average is now 9, and several firms have predicted that an average of 50 devices per home won’t be unreasonable in a few years.
Wi-Fi 6 relies on new technologies to help mitigate this issue by letting routers communicate more easily with multiple devices at once, allow routers to send data to multiple devices using a single broadcast, and allows Wi-Fi devices to schedule check-ins with the router. Working together, these new features should produce stronger and more reliable connections, even as the average device per router ratio climbs.
In addition to faster and more reliable internet connections, Wi-Fi 6 offers a variety of other benefits. These include:
- Longer battery life for Wi-Fi 6 devices connected to Wi-Fi 6 networks as devices.
- Higher data rates with peak Gigabit speeds.
- Higher performance levels in denser environments such as office buildings and urban environments.
- More robust outdoor network operations.
- Increased capacity with reduced latency due to improved MAC control signaling.
- OFDMA uplink and downlink modulation scheme, resulting in increased efficiency and lower latency.
Making Wi-Fi Better for Everyone
Since newer devices and routers will be able to take advantage of the new space on the spectrum that should free up space in the 5 GHz and 2.4GHz bands for older devices, much like creating a new highway can discourage people driving through from using smaller local roads and making everyone’s commute faster.
However, your top speeds will still be limited to what your home or office internet provider offers. Assuming they make the switch, you should be able to enjoy significantly faster and more reliable Wi-Fi, even if not all of your devices can take advantage of Wi-Fi 6 directly.
Reliable broadband is a lifeline for many Americans, particularly those in rural and isolated communities. Opening up the spectrum means that smaller organizations, or those that still rely on older technology that isn’t able to take advantage of Wi-Fi 6, will still enjoy an improved Wi-Fi experience even if they aren’t planning on upgrading their infrastructure in the near future.
Want to know more about how design and infrastructure can impact performance, let me know.