Wi-Fi 6: What You Need to Know

Girl using a smartphone with new wifi 6 on the screen.
Wi-Fi 6 is a new technology. Read on to learn what it is and whether you should get it right now.

The first thing you need to know about Wi-Fi 6 is that it doesn’t have a long name filled with numbers, letters and decimal points. The second is that it is better than its predecessor, Wi-Fi 802.11ac.

Wi-fi 6 didn’t get much attention initially until the new generation of smartphones was announced earlier this year. A chosen few of the new smartphones, starting with the Samsung Galaxy 10 series, will support it.

So what is this newer, simpler, cooler sounding Wi-Fi, that my iPhone does not support right now? This is exactly what we will be discussing today.

What’s in the Name?

Wi-Fi 6 refers to its generation. You can also refer to it by its version number, 802.11ax, but this won’t typically be used now that the generation naming convention is taking over.

Until now, Wi-Fi versions were named after their respective standard e.g. 802.11n or 802.11ac. As you might have noticed these aren’t user-friendly names and that’s one of the reasons this change is welcomed.

The other reason is that the old naming convention didn’t logically follow any order which made it hard to guess which one came first, or which was faster. Now, we can clearly look at the generation and know what kind of Wi-Fi we’re dealing with.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is officially rebranding standards 802.11n, 802.11ac and 802.11ax to generations 4, 5 and 6 respectively.  Older generations won’t be referred to officially but you can figure out their corresponding versions pretty easily if you need to.

Why Is It Required?

The standard Wi-Fi devices being used at the moment are pretty fast. The current generation’s max data rate is 3.5 Gbps (note that it is a Gigabit per second speed not a GigaByte). This is an outrageous speed that isn’t utilized by most public Wi-Fi providers. The current generation’s 3.5 Gbps speed, although theoretically possible, still seems practically unreachable by a long shot.

So did we really need a newer standard?

The thing is, speed is not the only factor that the Wi-Fi standard deals with. It also deals with concurrent connections, security, and how data is sent in an efficient manner. Wi-Fi routers are not usually used for a single user environment. They tend to be serving homes and social places where multiple devices will be connected. Couple this with the projected increase in the number of IoT devices in the coming years to an average of 50 per U.K. household, and Wi-Fi 5 starts looking pretty inadequate.

How Does It Help?

Designed by keeping evolving technology in mind, Wi-Fi 6 does a lot that translates into more efficient and effective Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi 6 is:

  1. Faster

It has a speed of 9.6 Gbps which is almost three times faster than its predecessor. Although all that extra speed may not be utilized, when multiple users are connected with the same Wi-Fi router they will experience faster speeds individually.

  1. Able to Handle More Devices

With the “multiple users, multiple input, multiple output” (MU-MIMO) technology, Wi-Fi 6 can handle more devices at the same time. It can send and receive data to and from up to eight different devices at the same time, which is double the previous version’s four.

This is the result of having eight MU-MIMO channels. MU-MIMO is an improvement on the older MIMO technology, where devices could only send or receive data at any one time. MU-MIMO does both simultaneously.

  1. Efficient & Powerful

The multiple device communication ability is further enhanced by a new technology called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). To put it simply, through OFDMA, a single transmission carries data for more than one device.

It is like a cargo ship with 70 percent of its cargo headed for one destination and the rest for another. Through OFDMA, the transmission becomes more efficient and with the help of Special Frequency Re-use, more powerful.

The Wi-Fi device will ignore weaker signals from interfering devices and focus on the powerful one. This way instead of waiting for clearance in the presence of a weak signal, it simply ignores and transmits data, decreasing latency.

  1. Expected to Improve Battery Life

Target Wake Time (TWT) is specially designed with IoT devices in mind. Through TWT, Wi-Fi devices will be able to schedule wake up and sleep timer for their data transmission.

Imagine your smartphone having the ability to automatically turn off Wi-Fi whenever there is no data traffic going on. That would save a lot of battery life.

Prepare to See Some Branding

Samsung Galaxy s10
You will see that newer devices, just like the Samsung Galaxy 10, will be marketed as compatible with Wi-Fi 6.

Until now, Wi-Fi versions were almost irrelevant, unless you were in IT support looking for compatible devices. But, that’s changing.

You will see that newer devices, just like the Samsung Galaxy 10, will be marketed as compatible with Wi-Fi 6. Similarly to make matters less confusing, devices supporting older versions will be branded according to their respective Wi-Fi generation.

Why is it important to look for the generation?

Mostly because of the new WPA3 security protocol. Wi-Fi 6 certification will only be given to devices which follow it. The protocol will make devices more secure from password hackers on shared Wi-Fi networks.

This does not completely secure the data though. Security and privacy-conscious users should look for a good VPN and an antivirus program.

Should I Be Running out to Buy One Right Now?

Not really, no.

All these benefits seem amazing on paper. But, the technology is not backward compatible. You need all pairing devices to be Wi-Fi 6 enabled. So while it may seem like you can’t live without this new tech, don’t rush out for a new Galaxy 10 device just yet.

The technology will replace the current generation in time, so let your devices be gracefully degraded before replacing them with the new Wi-Fi 6 enabled ones.  If you want to start right now, start off with a router.

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