As the number of Internet-connected devices grows, the speed and reliability of Wi-Fi need to expand as well. Wi-Fi 6 promises not only an increase in performance but an overall boost in the ability to handle the load of multiple home Wi-Fi devices. If you are not aware of the name changes of Wi-Fi versions, let me quickly bring you up to speed. In the past, Wi-Fi versions were merely classified with odd names such as 802.11 and 802.11n. Thankfully, a new method of branding has been introduced which allows the numerous Wi-Fi versions to be renamed. The following are both the past and current versions of Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999)
Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999)
Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003)
Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009)
Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)
Now that is out of the way, let’s talk about Wi-Fi 6. Starting to arrive this year, Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi, is suspected to boost speeds from 3.5 Gbps (Wi-Fi 5) to around 9.6 Gbps. While these numbers are obviously theoretical and not a good depiction of real-world use, it is still quite the upgrade. Since the average download speed in the US is around 72Mbps (less than 1% of the theoretical maximum speed), I’d say we are in dire need of some assistance.
How Will Wi-Fi 6 Boost Speed?
OFDMA and MU-MIMO are two of the essential technologies that are responsible for Wi-Fi 6’s speed advancements. OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) allows a single transmission to be delivered to multiple devices at once, such as with a router. MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output), while already in use with some devices, comes with many updates with Wi-Fi 6; this technology allows the communication between up to 8 devices at the same time, much different than talking to each device, one after another.
It is important to note that the real power of Wi-Fi 6 won’t necessarily be the increased speed of a single device; instead, the increase of speed of all devices on the network is the factor to be excited about.
While speed is generally the most attractive aspect of Wi-Fi generations, the most significant benefit of Wi-Fi 6 is undoubtedly the ability to provide these faster speeds to multiple devices, thus increasing the potential speed for each device, not just a single computer.
The number of internet-connected devices in our home or office is growing at a staggering rate. Pretty much everything nowadays seems to be able to talk to the internet, from our thermostats to our baby monitors; this rising number of devices creates a more demanding load for our routers, as they can only communicate with so many devices before the overall network is going to suffer performance loss.
How Will Wi-Fi 6 Accomplish This Advancement in Multi-Device Networking?
Thanks to several new technologies, Wi-Fi 6 will be able to let routers communicate with more devices at once, allow these devices to schedule their own check-ins with the router, as well as enable routers to transmit data to numerous devices in the same broadcast.
Other Benefits of Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 can also improve battery life (by planning out router communications, thus reducing antenna usage), and boost security (by requiring WPA3).
Wi-Fi 6 is sure to be quite the upgrade to our current generation of Wi-Fi, but time will tell how well network devices will adapt and make use of the changes. Similar to many new advancements in networks, new devices will need to be purchased to have access to Wi-Fi 6. There are already Wi-Fi 6 enabled routers out there, but be prepared to spend a significant amount of money on them. For mobile phones, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 is among the first to include (potential) support for Wi-Fi 6, with many more models probably releasing as the year goes on. This Fall, the Wi-Fi Alliance will introduce its Wi-Fi 6 certification program, indicating that we are getting very close to the next generation of Wi-Fi’s evolution.