Why WiFi 6?

By Jon Gabay

WiFi has been shown to be versatile, fast, and easy for most consumers. It links computers, phones, tablets, televisions, alarms, and rudimentary home control. It is accessible at cafés and available in hotels and cruise ships. As a bonus, WiFi capabilities have steadily improved with each new generation of devices and routers.

Now, WiFi 6 (802.11ax) is the next upgrade for home and business routers, bringing impressive performance and specifications with it. The improvements include faster speed, more connected devices, lower latencies, better communications coordination, and lower power operations.

It is estimated that a device connected to a WiFi 6 network will communicate 40% faster and maintain higher connection speeds. While the commonplace WiFi 5 (802.11ac) can hit speeds of 6.9 Gbps, WiFi 6 can do 9.6 Gbps. And an extension to WiFi 6, WiFi 6e, has a new 6 GHz frequency band that creates an uncongested ‘fast lane’ for devices that take advantage of (or need) the faster speeds. It still uses the legacy 2.4 Ghz and 5 GHz bands and is backward compatible with older devices.

A key advantage of WiFi 6 is its ability to perform communications scheduling. A feature called Targeted Wake Time (TWT) allows devices to turn off WiFi circuitry and wake up when scheduled to communicate. This helps un-congest the network yielding faster throughput speeds and extending battery life for energy savings.

The WiFi 6 standard uses a more capable Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexed Access (OFDMA) and the Overlapping Basic Service Sets (OBSS) modulation encoding, which lets the router subdivide individual channels into 8 data streams. This allows a particular channel to send messages to multiple devices simultaneously instead of sequentially. And, because of the beam forming and steering technology first introduced with WiFi 5, the distribution of connected devices means better range and throughput.

While WiFi 5 uses the MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple Output) technologies for download, WiFi 6 uses both downloads and uploads to enhance multipath speeds. In addition to the bidirectional MU-MIMO, the added OFDMA technology with WiFi 6 provides four times as many devices to be connected to the wireless network simultaneously and in a full duplex.

The increased speed and decreased latency will only be evident if your endpoint devices can support WiFi 6, but many already do, and more will be coming. The projected increase in data speed requirements thanks to more VR and AR devices connected online will make the upgrade from WiFi 5 to WiFi 6 more palatable, even though the routers can be more expensive, especially the WiFi6e units. For example, the Netgear AX1800 essential WiFi 6 router will cost around $140.00, while the higher-end WiFi 6e Asus ROG Rapture will cost around $700.00.

These prices will surely come down as with any newer technology as time passes. And not everyone needs faster speeds. Most people don’t know how many Gbps they need and believe that faster is better—especially your ISP, who wants you to pay more for faster download and upload speeds. For reference, a 50 Mbps throughput will handle ten simultaneous Netflix streams. That is more than most households will need. Commercial establishments will want faster speeds and a more significant number of connected devices since they are the ones whose networks can bog down with large numbers of connected users. Commercial establishments will also like the more secure WPA 3 encryption to ensure more consistent security for mobile users.

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