The sixth-generation Wi-Fi—the 802.11ax standard from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)—is being rolled out in 2019. And while it’s sure to be faster overall, there are other much-needed updates to wireless networking that the new version will provide.
Termed “Wi-Fi 6” by the Wi-Fi Alliance, 802.11ax is already present in routers from leading brands like Cisco and NETGEAR, and the first smartphone to support the new Wi-Fi is the Samsung Galaxy S10. Of course, other devices like the iPhone are next.
Check out an overview of Wi-Fi 6 and what changes it will bring to wireless networking:
The internet of things (IoT) is one major factor in necessary improvements to Wi-Fi. According to Statista data, there will 26.66 billion IoT devices worldwide in 2019 and this number will increase to 75.44 billion by 2025.
As more and more devices are trying to connect to the Internet every day, routers struggle to keep up with the demand for wireless networking to evolve. Applications on these devices are requiring more bandwidth and reliability of wireless networks is now more important than ever. The use of IoT devices is increasing within hospital networks and smart cities, for example, so it’s crucial that coverage never drops or slows and that these devices maintain their connection.
Wi-Fi 6 builds upon Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and improves the ability of networks to support more complex applications that require flexibility. More bandwidth can be supported by the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels that routers now use and there’s less interference between them. Access points (APs) in Wi-Fi 6 will also have higher performance when there’s lots of signal congestion, so connections will be more reliable.
Thus, while speed is a key factor in Wi-Fi 6, it will, more importantly, improve the ability of networks to support many devices at once.
Wi-Fi 6 also improves the efficiency of devices and routers, saving battery life. The new version helps devices and routers “plan out” communications so that antennas don’t have to continuously search for signals with their power on.
Target Wake Time is the technology behind this improvement, which coordinates scheduled “check-in” times between routers and devices. This benefit will impact smaller devices, like smart home equipment and wearable sensors, the most.
Of course, the new Wi-Fi will be faster overall. IDG’s Network World says it’s 4x to 10x faster than Wi-Fi 5. While most users don’t need more than the average download speed (72 Mbps), the fact that the new Wi-Fi has a much higher speed limit means that the maximum could be spread out over various devices connected to a network, so each one has more speed potential.
What this also means is that 802.11ax will be able to offer more channels and wider channels, increasing throughput. The new Wi-Fi is also set to support 8K video streaming and faster data transfer speeds.
The technology updates that are driving these improvements include the following:
Multi-user, multiple inputs, multiple outputs (MU-MIMO) is a technology that’s already been integrated into routers as well as devices. MU-MIMO gets an upgrade in Wi-Fi 6, allowing routers to communicate with up to eight devices at a time, an increase from four.
Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) is another technology that’s being updated in Wi-Fi 6. One transmission will now be able to deliver data to multiple devices at the same time.
These changes to OFDMA and MU-MIMO, and their use together, create increased network capacity while improving coverage and performance in even the densest of environments.
Yes, Wi-Fi 6 will be faster. But the most significant changes will be added, simultaneous support for multiple devices under a WLAN. This is crucial as more and more devices require high-performing, reliable connections in our modern world.
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