Wi-Fi or Wireless Fidelity is a form of wireless connection to the internet that has been around for several years now. In the past several years of its existence, the Wi-Fi standard has received several upgrades and new version have made the network faster and secure. Wi-Fi 6 is the latest generation of wireless connectivity and it is even faster than the current 802.11ac. The other more important improvement is with the performance in congested areas, this new standard can make it easier to access wireless internet at places like stadium and theatres.
Wi-Fi has been around for a very long time and the first generation was widely released in 1999 with the name 802.11b which will now be called as Wi-Fi 1. The second generation was again in 1999 with the introduction of a new “a” channel. The third generation, now called as Wi-Fi 3 was introduced in the year 2003 as 802.11g, the 802.11n channel Wi-Fi has now been renamed to Wi-Fi 4. In 2014, Wi-Fi received a massive upgrade to 802.11ac which allows transmission on the 5GHz band for higher speeds, this is now named as Wi-Fi 5 for convenience. The Wi-Fi 6 is scheduled for release in 2019 and uses the 802.11ax channel. The older versions were not officially branded, but if they were, they’d go as mentioned above.
The Wi-Fi Alliance also announced that these details should appear in the software, so the user can easily identify and tell which Wi-Fi network is newer and faster making it easier to connect on the smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
Improvements in Wi-Fi speeds
It is natural to expect a newer standard of Wi-Fi to perform better than the previous generations. Using a single device connected to the Wi-Fi router for data transfer can mean up to 40% higher speeds in Wi-Fi 6 when compared to Wi-Fi 5. This is mainly achieved by enhancing the data encoding and improving efficiency, this improvement in efficiency helps move more data into the same radio waves. This improvement is propelled by the improvement in the chips which can encode and decode the signals better and handle more data at the same time.
The new standard can also help improve speeds on the 2.4GHz networks which is a significant step. While most of the industry has already made the move to 5GHz, the older 2.4GHz band might still be better in many cases to penetrate solid objects. While the 5GHz band has always offered significantly higher transfer speeds, the 2.4GHz band of Wi-Fi has always had a better range and more object tolerance.
Better performance in highly crowded areas
As mentioned before, Wi-Fi 6 has improved the performance in heavily crowded areas, earlies Wi-Fi had a tendency to get bogged in crowded areas with more devices trying to connect. This has been noticed in Stadiums, Airports, Hotels, and malls with multiple devices connected to Wi-Fi. The new improved Wi-Fi 6 also labeled as 802.11ax implements several new technologies to help this situation. Intel proudly claims that with Wi-Fi 6 each user can potentially get an average speed of at least four times in congested areas when compared to the previous Wi-Fi standards.
This is significant with the rise of IoT devices resulting in more devices being connected to even a home network and generating data bottleneck.
How Wi-Fi 6 tackles congestion
Wi-Fi 6 now has the ability to divide a wireless channel into multiple large subchannels, each of which can carry data to a different device on the network. A new technology OFDMA or Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access is implemented to help here. This allows the Wi-Fi access points or routers to talk to more devices at the same time. The Wi-Fi 6 also has an improved MIMO involving multiple antennas. This again helps the access point to communicate with multiple devices at once. With Wi-Fi 5 the access point could still talk to multiple devices at the same time, but the devices couldn’t all respond at the same time. Wi-Fi 6 brings an improved Multi-User Multiple in/Multiple Out allowing devices to respond to the wireless access point at the same time.
In the older generations of Wi-Fi when wireless access points close in proximity to each other are transmitting on the same channel, the radio listens and pauses for a clear signal before replying. With Wi-Fi 6, wireless access points close in proximity to each other can be configured with a unique BSS(Basic Service Set) color. The color value ranges from 0 to 7. This way, if the device need not wait for the channel to be clear, if a transmission is observed with a weaker signal and a different color, this can be ignored, and the transmission can be resumed. This hugely improves the transmission in congested areas with multiple access points and is called “spatial frequency re-use”.
Improved Battery performance
Wi-Fi 6 has many new features to enhance the overall performance and efficiency, one such important feature is the “target wake time” or TWT feature that can help improve the battery lives on Smartphone, Laptop and other Wi-Fi enabled portable devices.
This works by allowing the access point and the device to communicate and inform each other the exact time that the Wi-Fi radio will be put to sleep and when it will be woken up again for the next transmission. This can help conserve a huge amount of power and the Wi-Fi radio can spend more time in sleep mode thereby improving battery life and longevity.
Identifying Wi-Fi 6 Devices
It is uncommon for an average person to dig through the specifications and understand the difference between Wi-Fi 802.11ac and 802.11ax while recollecting the newer variant of the two. The manufacturers are now suggested to name it either Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6 on the packaging.
Newer devices will also come with Wi-Fi 6 Certified logo on the devices suggesting that the devices have undergone a certification process from the Wi-Fi Alliance. This is an improvement over the Wi-Fi certified logo which conveyed no information on the version of Wi-Fi that the device is certified.
While we’ve already seen a few routers with the 802.11ax technology, the Wi-Fi 6 standard isn’t finalized yet and there are no Wi-Fi 6 client devices available either. The new standard is expected to be finalized sometime in 2019. Most major manufacturers will adopt the technology for newer smartphones, routers, laptops and other devices.