Wi-Fi 6 is the name given to the IEEE 802.11ax standard by the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry organization that provides thought leadership, spectrum advocacy, and industry collaboration. The new numbering makes it easier to distinguish between the different Wi-Fi generations. Wi-Fi 6 is designed to improve efficiency with up to 4x faster speeds and more capacity than Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). It also offers stronger guest and password security.
Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, expands on the 802.11ac standard. Wi-Fi 6 provides increased speed, flexibility, and scalability to support growth in the number of IoT and client devices, increased use of cloud, and digital transformation initiatives. It enables IT to keep pace with increased demand for Wi-Fi leveraging the same 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands as Wi-Fi 5.
Why Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)?
The demand for wireless access is dramatically increasing, and the number and variety of devices and applications continues to grow. Wi-Fi 6 helps accommodate the growing number of mobile and IoT devices by increasing network efficiency and speed to better meet IT and business requirements. 15B+ IoT devices are expected to connect to enterprise infrastructure by 2029 (IDC, 2021).
How Is Wi-Fi 6 Different?
Wi-Fi 6 is a substantial upgrade over previous generations, though the differences may not seem immediately obvious to the average user. These changes might not dramatically change the way we use wireless routers or wireless networking but instead consist of many incremental improvements that stack up to be a substantial upgrades.
The first big change is that Wi-Fi 6 allows for potentially faster connection speeds.
Faster Wi-Fi means better upload and download speeds (or throughput) due to the increased bandwidth afforded by Wi-Fi 6. This is becoming increasingly important as file sizes continue to increase, along with the higher data demands of streaming high-quality video and communication-heavy online gaming. Playing a multiplayer game while also streaming requires large amounts of bandwidth and a reliable and stable connection.
What Makes Wi-Fi 6 Faster?
Most homes today have significantly more Wi-Fi enabled devices than they did even five years ago. From smartphones and tablets to televisions and IoT devices like thermostats and doorbells, just about everything can connect to a wireless router. Wi-Fi 6 communicates better with multiple devices that need data simultaneously, and more efficiently prioritizes traffic across those devices.
- Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) is one of the ways this is achieved. OFDMA works by subdividing channels into subcarriers and allowing for transmission to multiple endpoints (devices) at the same time. A Wi-Fi 6 router can send different signals in the same transmission window. This results in a single transmission from the router being able to communicate with multiple devices, instead of each device having to wait its turn as the router serves up the data across the network.
- Overlapping Basic Service Sets (OBSS) is another Wi-Fi 6 feature that can help to improve network congestion. With older versions of Wi-Fi, devices trying to connect to a network using a “listen before talk” process, which meant they had to “listen” for any noise on a channel before transmitting. If there was any noise on the channel, even if it originated from a distant network, they would have to wait until the channel was clear before transmitting in order to avoid potential interference. OBSS enables the access point to use a “color” in order to uniquely identify the network. If other traffic is detected on the channel, but it is not the same color of the local network, devices can ignore it and continue transmission. This can help increase reliability and improve latency. Working together, OFDMA and OBSS allow for more effective communication on crowded networks. As more and more of our devices utilize Wi-Fi, this will help preserve the speed and stability of our connections.
- Beamforming is another technology that Wi-Fi 6 improves in order to achieve higher speeds. This futuristic-sounding data transmission method is actually relatively simple. Instead of broadcasting data in all directions, the router detects where the device requesting the data is located and transmits a more localized data stream in that direction. Beamforming isn’t new to Wi-Fi 6, but its efficacy has been improved in this generation.
Network Benefits Beyond Speed
Speed is probably the most important thing to the average user, especially for gamers, but there’s more to a wireless network. Wi-Fi 6 also promises improvements in security.
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is a common Wi-Fi security protocol that uses passwords for encryption. Anytime a password is required to sign into a Wi-Fi network, that’s WPA in action. WPA2 has been the standard for a long time, but that’s changing with Wi-Fi 6.
One of the biggest improvements is the implementation of increased password security via the Dragonfly Key Exchange system, also called SAE or Simultaneous Authentication of Equals. This authentication method helps make passwords harder to crack by using a more sophisticated method of establishing the handshake with the Wi-Fi network. This added layer of security, coupled with stronger encryption, means Wi-Fi will have more robust security options than ever.
This extra layer of security is a great example of how Wi-Fi 6 changes things for the better without negatively impacting the user experience.
Battery Life and TWT
Another forward-facing development incorporated into Wi-Fi 6, Target Wake Time (TWT), has the ability to potentially increase battery life on some devices.
This technology allows for more efficient communication between your router and device regarding when to sleep or wake up. By effectively communicating with the device’s Wi-Fi radio and only activating it when it needs to be awake, your device will spend less time and energy searching for a wireless signal.
This can enhance battery life.