When WiFi arrived in homes in 1997, it boasted the blazing-fast speeds of two megabits per second (Mbps). In 1999, it was upgraded to 11 Mbps.
Flash-forward to today and Wifi 6 is about to roll out. This upgrade promises even faster speeds, which were unimaginable in the late 1990s.
In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you can expect with the latest, greatest version of WiFi.
What Is Wifi 6?
As we’ve already noted, the history of new WiFi technologies is long and varied. You can actually trace the development of the technology back to 1971. The Hawaiian islands connected with an early version of Ethernet.
WiFi as we know it today developed in the 1990s and first became available to consumers in 1997. Since then, it’s been upgraded a few times.
The next version will soon be available. Businesses and consumers alike are expected to start adopting it in 2019.
With this latest version comes a rebranding. Until now, versions of WiFi have been labeled with different letters. The frequency is 802.11, and each version has had letters appended to the end.
This resulted in alphabet soup because no one knows exactly what the letters mean. WiFi 6 is formally 802.11ax. Other versions include 802.11g and 802.11ac.
You can see why this causes problems. Is the 11g variant better than 11ac? If WiFi 6 is 11.ax, where does 11g fit in this mess?
The W-Fi Alliance decided to simplify things. WiFi 6 replaces WiFi 5. WiFi 5, in turn, is faster than WiFi 4.
The Speed of WiFi 6
The centerpiece of any WiFi upgrade is usually faster speeds. We’ve come a long way since the two Mbps speeds of 1997. WiFi 5 runs at 1.3 Gigabits/second (Gbps).
One of the big improvements was the introduction of a 5GHz band for transmitting signals. The 5GHz band allows for much faster speeds than the previous 2.4GHz band.
WiFi 5 landed in 2009, so it’s time for an upgrade. WiFi 6 promises speeds of up to 4.8 Gbps over the 5GHz band. At peak performance, WiFi 6 will be four to 10 times faster than WiFi 5.
You’re definitely going to notice a difference. It will be especially clear when you’re streaming video or music.
New Tricks for Version 6
Speed upgrades aren’t the only thing coming down the pipeline with WiFi 6. One of the most anticipated features is support for multi-user, multi-input, multi-output technology.
What does MU-MIMO mean for the average user? Before, WiFi access points divided their bandwidth among simultaneous users. The more people using the network, the more the bandwidth was divided up.
In plain language, that means the network was slower.
MU-MIMO allows the same access point to deliver the same speed to eight users at the same time. Instead of dividing up 1.3 Gbps among eight people, those users will all receive 4.8 Gbps on WiFi6.
WiFi 6 is also taking some cues from the carrier-driven half of the world. OFDMA technology is used to subdivide channels. With OFDMA, WiFi 6 will be able to divide each of its eight channels, so it can serve dozens of people at the same time.
The new technology even includes quadrature amplitude modulation encoding. This allows more data to go in each packet that crosses the network. This means fewer packets and less congestion on the network.
In plain terms, you can say goodbye to public WiFi networks bogging down in high-traffic situations.
Better Battery Life and Security
The new WiFi standard does more to protect your devices too. For some, it will improve battery life. The ability to plan communications reduces the amount of time antennas are on.
A feature called Target Wake Time makes it possible. Routers can schedule check-in times with devices. Some devices benefit more than others though.
A laptop, for example, needs almost constant access. It likely won’t use this feature much.
A clock or sensor using an analog input, on the other hand, should get more mileage. This useful info explains why your device might use this type of input.
WiFi 6 is also getting a security makeover. The new WPA3 protocol makes it harder for hackers to crack passwords. It also makes some data less useful.
WPA3 has been around for a while, but it’s been optional. The Wi-Fi Alliance is going to require it before they’ll certify a device as WiFi 6 compatible.
The Market Is Ready
Samsung rolled out its Galaxy S10, announcing it as a WiFi 6 device. Many vendors have already brought WiFi 6-capable machines to the market.
The problem has been a delay in IEEE approval of the standard. Full ratification is expected in 2019. If that happens, it’s likely mass uptake of the new standard will start in 2020.
The process of introducing a new WiFi standard is a lengthy one even at the best of times. The IEEE releases draft standards first. Chipsets then follow.
Consumer and enterprise access points are next. The endpoints are often the last piece of the puzzle. Even after IEEE ratification, it will likely take some time before WiFi 6 endpoints are widely available.
Another reason adoption takes some time is because users have to upgrade. Like most new technologies, WiFi 6-compatible devices are currently expensive. This poses a barrier for people when it comes to upgrading.
As prices fall, more people will adopt WiFi 6. Others will adopt the technology as they need to replace older devices.
Full Speed Ahead
Once the IEEE approves WiFi 6, the way will be clear for even faster wireless Internet. As users adopt new devices, WiFi 6 will become the standard, replacing older versions.
WiFi 6 isn’t the only new technology you need to keep up with. If you’re looking for more great articles about technology, you’ve found the right place. Check out our blog for more technological insights.