It’s hard to imagine modern life without Wi-Fi. Over the last 20 years, this ubiquitous wireless technology has firmly entrenched itself into our homes, offices, and public spaces. But as our appetite for connectivity grows exponentially, you may ask is existing Wi-Fi good enough to keep up? With the onslaught of bandwidth-hungry technologies like 4K streaming, VR, autonomous tech, and the Internet of Things (IoT), we need really faster, more efficient wireless more than ever.
Here comes the concept of Wi-Fi 6 – the next-generation wireless standard that will shape the future of connectivity. In this post, we’ll see what makes Wi-Fi 6 special, how it works, and the new experiences it will enable down the road.
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What Happened to Wi-Fi 5?
First things first – why is the industry skipping over Wi-Fi 5 and jumping straight to Wi-Fi 6? Well, the answer lies in a change to the naming convention by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Previously wireless standards carried sequential version numbers, but moving forward the last two numbers of the IEEE specification will be used.
This corresponds to the year the standard was ratified. So what used to be called 802.11ac is now retroactively known as Wi-Fi 5, while the latest and greatest 802.11ax goes by Wi-Fi 6.
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the latest evolution in wireless networking standards. After the widespread adoption of Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Wi-Fi 6 builds on its predecessor’s foundation and introduces several key enhancements that collectively redefine the wireless experience.
One of the primary improvements of Wi-Fi 6 is its ability to handle a significantly higher number of connected devices simultaneously. As you know, in recent times of booming smart homes and the Internet of Things (IoT), where every gadget and appliance crave a piece of the bandwidth pie, this is a game-changer. With advancements like Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), Wi-Fi 6 efficiently divides channels into smaller sub-channels which allows multiple devices to communicate simultaneously without causing network congestion.
Moreover, Wi-Fi 6 introduces a technology known as Basic Service Set (BSS) Coloring, which differentiates between various BSSs operating on the same channel. This prevents interference between neighboring networks and provides a more reliable and stable connection. These enhancements collectively result in improved performance and reduced latency.
How Wi-Fi 6 Achieves Faster Speeds?
Speed is one of the most tangible and eagerly anticipated benefits of Wi-Fi 6. It leverages technologies like MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output) and Target Wake Time (TWT) to deliver faster and more consistent connections.
Upgrading from the Wi-Fi 5 standard, Wi-Fi 6 promises dramatically faster network speeds. We’re talking up to 40% faster than even top-end consumer-grade Wi-Fi 5 routers. These performance gains are vital for managing more devices and heavier traffic loads.
Wi-Fi 6 accomplishes this through smarter use of radio frequencies and more efficient data encoding. The Key technologies powering the speed boost include:
- OFDMA: Enables multiple devices to share a channel simultaneously, increasing total throughput. Less waiting around for your turn to transmit data!
- 1024 QAM: Packs more data into the same radio waves for quicker transfer rates. Just don’t ask me to explain quadrature amplitude modulation…
- Target Wake Time: Schedules when devices can transmit so they don’t all try accessing the network at once to save power.
Now you must be wondering – why do we need such blistering Wi-Fi speeds in the first place. Well, the average number of connected devices per household is expected to explode to 50 by 2023! We’re talking laptops, phones, TVs, smart home gadgets, digital assistants, and entertainment gear all fighting for bandwidth.
Wi-Fi 6 has enough headroom to support massive device density plus future technologies we can’t even imagine yet. We could see 1Gbps speeds over wireless one day! Furthermore, increased capacity means all your devices will perform better – no more lag or buffering during video calls and game streams even with lots of housemates online.
New Experiences Wi-Fi 6 Will Unlock
Of course, faster Wi-Fi speeds don’t mean much if we don’t have the applications to take advantage! Rest assured, next-gen wireless will catalyze all sorts of new experiences across entertainment, productivity, healthcare, transportation, and more. Imagine:
- AR/VR on-the-go: Lightning-quick data transfer is critical to resource-intensive augmented and virtual reality. Wi-Fi 6 finally makes complex AR/VR possible sans cables!
- 8K Streaming: What good are glorious 7680p displays if buffering issues persist? Smoother 8K video streaming improves immersion.
- Autonomous Vehicles: Self-driving cars generate terabytes of sensor data and require constant connectivity. Wi-Fi 6 offers robust, high-bandwidth vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to pull it off!
Wi-Fi 6 capable devices have already started hitting shelves, including smartphones like the iPhone 11 and Galaxy S10. On the router side, brands such as NETGEAR, Linksys, and ASUS either have released or will soon release 802.11ax models.
Also referred to as Next-Gen AC or High-Efficiency Wireless, Wi-Fi 6 hardware is backward compatible with older standards. So you’ll still enjoy speed boosts even if you don’t swap out all devices at once.
Enhanced Security Measures
Wi-Fi 6 introduces WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3), the latest and most robust security protocol for wireless networks. WPA3 brings significant improvements over its predecessor, WPA2, which provides enhanced protection against various security threats, including brute-force attacks.
WPA3 introduces individualized data encryption which makes sure that even if one device’s security is compromised, the others will remain unaffected. This is a crucial advancement, especially in environments where the security of sensitive information is important.
One of the most compelling aspects of Wi-Fi 6 is its ability to seamlessly integrate with the burgeoning world of IoT. The Internet of Things, characterized by interconnected devices communicating and sharing data, has the potential to revolutionize how we live and work.
Challenges of Wi-Fi 6 Rollout
Like any new technology update, Wi-Fi 6 does not come without its implementation hurdles. Here are some challenges facing consumer and commercial deployment include:
- Cost Concerns: Currently Wi-Fi 6 routers retail over $200 and devices carry a premium too. The upgrades require a significant investment. However, costs will fall over time as economies of scale kick in.
- Feature Confusion: Those unfamiliar may struggle to distinguish benefits versus older standards. Marketing teams need to educate consumers to drive adoption.
- Fragmented Device Support: We are still early in the device refresh cycle. For best results, all products in an ecosystem (router, phone, laptop, etc.) need updating.
- Network Congestion: While Wi-Fi 6 increases bandwidth per device, some worry excessive connections could still congest networks, especially in dense public venues.
- Security: With more devices comes a higher cyber-attack risk. Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) introduced with Wi-Fi 6 aims to lock things down but vulnerabilities still occasionally crop up.
Sooner than later, Wi-Fi 6 will touch every aspect of daily life. We can combine Wi-Fi 6 capabilities with emerging networking advances on various horizons like visible light communication, mesh architectures, and 6G cellular, which will be quite promising. For Wi-Fi 6’s benefits to fully permeate into everyday life, widespread adoption is really important.