With the introduction of concepts like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and the Internet of Things, you have more appliances needing the internet than ever before.
Apart from IoT devices, many people possess VR devices that require high internet connection speeds.
The present generation Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) should be enough to cater to all these demands, but there is always room for improvement.
This improvement is in the form of the next generation of Wi-Fi technology, known as 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6.
Deciphering Wi-Fi’s unusual naming pattern
Until as recent as 2018, Wi-Fi generations had a unique naming pattern such as 802.11n, 802.11ac, and so on.
It was a challenge to understand whether 802.11n was faster than 802.11ac or the other way round.
802.11n was released in 2009 and 802.11ac in 2014. Today, you have another name to contend with, 802.11ax, released in September 2019.
It can get a bit confusing to remember these numbers. Hence, the Wi-Fi Alliance came up with the idea of allotting numbers.
Thus, 802.11n became Wi-Fi 4, and 802.11ac became Wi-Fi 5. The latest generation, 802.11ax, is also referred to as Wi-Fi 6.
Just for the sake of academics, there have been three earlier versions of Wi-Fi.
- 11b, released in 1999 is Wi-Fi 1
- 11a, released in 1999 is Wi-Fi 2
- 11g released in 2003 is Wi-Fi 3
The numbering makes it easier to remember and understand.
Higher the number, faster is the speed
Even a child can say that Wi-Fi 6 is faster than Wi-Fi 5, just as Wi-Fi 5 is than Wi-Fi 4. However, let us see how fast Wi-Fi 6 is.
In simple terms, Wi-Fi 6 has a speed of 9.6 Gbps.
That is considerably faster than Wi-Fi 5 that has a speed of 3.5 Gbps.
However, the real question is whether you need this speed when the typical download speed in the US is 72 Mbps.
Thus, you can see that it is not even 1% of the theoretical maximum speed. (1Gbps = 1000Mbps)
Does speed matter at all?
Wi-Fi 6 is not only about speeds alone. The fact that one can connect a whole lot of household and other appliances to the Wi-Fi sets Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 apart from the rest.
At the time of the introduction of Wi-Fi 5 in 2014, the average US household had around five Wi-Fi devices. Today, the average is about nine.
With improving technology, it will not take much time for the numbers to rise exponentially. Hence, you need enhanced Wi-Fi speeds that Wi-Fi 6 can provide.
The more the number of devices you connect to your Wi-Fi router, the higher is the load on it. Hence, you experience a slow down in the overall network performance.
Wi-Fi 6 comes with state-of-the-art technology that enables the user to add more than a dozen Wi-Fi accessing devices on a single network.
Wi-Fi 6 allows the routers to communicate with more devices at a time. It also will enable routers to send data to multiple devices on the same broadcast.
Wi-Fi devices can also schedule check-ins with the router. All these factors help to keep the connection going strong even as you have more devices demanding data from it.
How do you compare the speeds?
If you connect a single laptop to a Wi-Fi 5 network and compare it by connecting to a Wi-Fi 6 network, there will not be much of a noticeable change in the speed.
However, the real worth of a Wi-Fi 6 router is visible when you start connecting multiple devices to it. The existing Wi-Fi 5 routers can get overwhelmed by requests from a multitude of devices.
Thus, you can have one person working on the PC, another playing a fast and action-packed game while a third member of the family watches the latest movie on Netflix. In between, you can keep your smartphones perennially online.
Besides, you can connect your light switches, home security systems, temperature sensors, and so on simultaneously without observing any drop in the performance levels.
How is Wi-Fi 6 better than Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4?
Data Transfer Speeds
When it comes to data transfer speeds, the Wi-Fi 6 router with a single attached device can be more than 40% faster when compared to Wi-Fi 5.
It is because of a highly efficient data encoding process. The powerful chips can handle the additional loads with ease.
Thus, you can experience higher speed even on the 2.4HHz networks. Anybody who has used the 5GHz network will certify that it does not work as efficiently if the signals have to penetrate solid objects like walls and ceilings.
The 2.4GHz networks are far better. The new standard ensures higher speeds for this network, as well.
Performance levels in crowded areas
Have you experienced a slowing down of the Wi-Fi speed in crowded places like malls, bus stations, and stadiums?
As more people connect to the Wi-Fi, the speed is naturally going to reduce. With Wi-Fi 6, these slow speeds will be a thing of the past.
Wi-Fi 6 incorporates new technologies that ensure high speeds even in such crowded places. Records say that the user can experience up to four times faster speed in congested areas, even with a multitude of connected devices.
One can experience the same at home, as well. Wi-Fi 6 works beautifully with multiple devices connected to it.
Better Battery Life
Wi-Fi 6 comes with a unique feature known as TWT or Target Wake Time. When communicating with a device, it can tell the device when to put its Wi-Fi radio to sleep and when to wake up for receiving the next transmission.
Thus, all your connected devices end up conserving power because the Wi-Fi radio spends more time in sleep mode. It translates into extended battery life. This feature also works with the low-power IoT devices that connect to it.
With more devices capable of accessing the internet, cybercriminals get a free hand to display their talents.
There have been instances of hackers penetrating Wi-Fi networks and compromising with confidential data. Wi-Fi got its latest security update, WPA3, last year. This security protocol makes it tougher for hackers to crack passwords.
As on date, the routers and devices support WPA3, but it is optional. Wi-Fi 6 makes it compulsory for a device to support WPA3 for any device to get certification from Wi-Fi Alliance.
What makes Wi-Fi 6 as fast as it is?
Wi-Fi 6 comes equipped with two technologies that help to boost speed.
- MU-MIMO – This feature, ‘Multiple User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output,’ is already available in the modern-day routers and devices. Wi-Fi 6 provides valuable upgrades to it. As on date, MU-MIMO allows for the routers to communicate with a maximum of four devices. Wi-Fi 6 will let eight devices to interact with it.
- OFDMA – OFDMA stands for Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access. This feature allows one transmission to deliver data to multiple devices. It helps the user to get more out of every transmission.
The Wi-Fi 6 routers also have multiple antennas like the Wi-Fi 5 routers.
The Wi-Fi 5 routers allow the access points to talk to different devices at the same time, but the devices cannot respond simultaneously.
Wi-Fi 6 enables this feature where a device can respond to the access point at the same time.
Wi-Fi 6 has just started arriving
Wi-Fi 6 routers are now available in the market. However, they are comparatively expensive to the Wi-Fi 5 routers.
Intel has introduced the latest generation CPUs, the 10th gen chips, that are compatible with Wi-Fi 6. It will take time before you get the 10th gen CPUs on desktop PCs.
As far as smartphones are concerned, Samsung S10 comes with the Snapdragon 855 processor. This processor can support Wi-Fi 6
How will you identify Wi-Fi 6?
As explained earlier, one does not have to remember complex numbering like 802.11ax, and so on. You can easily look out for Wi-Fi 6 or the Wi-Fi 6 certified logo on the devices. These logos look like circled numbers within the signal.
As time progresses, almost all Wi-Ri enabled devices will come with this technology.
Point to remember
You should be aware that both the receiver and the sender should support Wi-Fi 6 to take full advantage of the technology.
Thus, if you need Wi-Fi 6 on your latest smartphone, you should have a Wi-Fi 6 router at home and a smartphone, compatible with Wi-Fi 6.
If you link your laptop that supports Wi-Fi 5 to a Wi-Fi 6 router, the connection will operate in the Wi-Fi 5 mode. At the same time, a compatible Wi-Fi 6 smartphone will use Wi-Fi 6.
As on date, you have Wi-Fi 6 operating over 2.4GHz or 5GHz. There is a new technology in the offing known as Wi-Fi 6E that will work over 6GHz. The hardware supporting Wi-Fi 6E will start arriving after Wi-Fi 6.
Wi-Fi 6 Vs. 5G
Today 4G is the standard. However, 5G is just around the corner. Let us now compare 5G with Wi-Fi 6.
- Cellular technologies work on LTE. Though LTE is secure, it is vulnerable to cyberattacks, including data interception and device tracking. 5G proposes to improve upon the existing LTE security by using multiple authentications and better key management methods.
- On the other hand, Wi-Fi 6 will come with the latest security protocol WPA3 that makes it more secure.
- 5G can offer macro-area coverage and high-speed mobility that Wi-Fi cannot.
- However, Wi-Fi is better from the lifecycle cost perspectives because 5G requires to manage SIM cards and subscription costs.
Both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are highly reliable when used correctly. Macro 5G is deployed using a licensed spectrum, whereas Wi-Fi can operate on an unlicensed spectrum.
One has to agree that the licensed spectrum has lesser interference in comparison. However, that does not always translate into higher levels of reliability.
5G is excellent for business apps that require macro coverage and high-speed mobility. Wi-Fi 6 is a reliable, secure, and cost-effective technology for enterprise applications.
Wi-Fi 6 is the new technology that can transform the way you access the internet. Along with speed, you will be able to connect multiple devices to Wi-Fi 6 routers.
With more people adapting to IoT devices at home, Wi-Fi 6 should be the ideal solution to cater to all your connectivity requirements.
The day is not far away when all devices will start supporting Wi-Fi 6. That will make the world a genuinely connected place.
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Srinivasa is Vsbytes’s Editor-In-Chief. He Is A Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert And Has Been Interested In Computer Hardware, Software, And Gaming Right Since The Time He Was A Child.