WiFi 6: Is it the End-All Be-All of Connectivity?

Originally appearing in iotforall.com, January 22, 2021
By Tantiv4

It can often feel like even the fastest network speeds aren’t enough to run all your devices. While the struggle is more visible in places that share a lot of bandwidth, like office buildings, malls, and cafes, users can also feel that they use a lot of heavy data like live video producers and PC gamers.

With current network policies already struggling to keep up with connectivity demands, the world needs a new WiFi standard.

What is WiFi 6?

IEEE 802.11ax, or WiFi 6, is the new specification standard post IEEE 802.11ac (or WiFi 5), promising better connectivity, higher speeds, and increased support for several high-bandwidth devices. The IEEE 802.11ax standard was first proposed in 2013 by the IEEE High-Efficiency WLAN Study Group. Their goal was to improve spectrum efficiency in places with multiple competing routers like apartments and malls. They eventually reached a breakthrough in 2018, and it was certified by the WiFi Alliance in late 2019.

How Does It Work?

WiFi 6 routers operate between 2.4 and 5.9 GHz. It also assures better router protection through WPA3 WiFi security. For larger networks, this means better encryption and more thorough security support.

The WiFi Alliance has outlined a couple of key features that are responsible for WiFi 6’s increased connectivity. Including:

Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) and multi-user multiple inputs, multiple outputs (MU-MIMO), separate each spectrum per frequency and support multiple devices simultaneously. This means that more devices can connect without affecting their connection quality.

The 160 MHz channel utilization capability is responsible for increasing the overall bandwidth available. Plus, the transmit beamforming used to signal transmission improves WiFi 6’s range by sending the signals to clients directly, rather than over a broad spectrum. With WiFi 6, you won’t have to worry about stealing bandwidth from other devices, allowing you to run high-data applications like 4K videos and 3D games without worrying about everyone else’s network speed. The impact of the shared medium is mitigated up to a point but not

How Fast Does It Go?

WiFi 6 is capable of speeds up to 9.6 Gbps. That’s a big leap from WiFi 5’s 3.5 Gbps. Modern modems and routers make full use of PCBs with complicated transmission lines and terminations to aid in transferring data, much in the same way cables deliver the power needed to operate our lights and appliances. Then again, WiFi 6 routers have the added perk of being 5G enabled, which results in even higher throughput and lower latency across big spaces.

But innovation doesn’t stop there. Manufacturers are now developing WiFi 6E routers, which are essentially WiFi 6 but are equipped with the chips to operate at 6 GHz. Channels on the 6GHz band are expected to be 160 MHz each in size. That’s enough to transfer virtual reality, augmented reality data, and robotic signals from the comfort of one’s home.

Make The Most Of It

Of course, not all devices are equipped to tap into such high frequencies. Consumer technology like smartphones and IoT first have to be WiFi-6 enabled. Many smartphones from 2019 and beyond, like the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S20, for example, are all WiFi 6 enabled. Newer laptop models like the Dell XPS (2020) and Lenovo Yoga c940 can also tap into WiFi 6 frequencies.

To make the most out of your WiFi 6 connection, choose a plan that’s more tailored to your location. For example, a 2.4 GHz band can cover big spaces and transmit data at a slower rate. The opposite is true for those operating at 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz. They can only cover small locations but transmit data at faster speeds. Theoretically, however, the consistent speed of WiFi 6 ensures that even a 2.4 GHz band can provide exemplary network connectivity.

Secure Good Connections

The short answer is no. It may operate at higher speeds and have some other bells and whistles, but devices will still have a shared medium. And once the data usage goes over the band’s capacity, even WiFi 6’s OFDMA and MU-MIMO won’t be enough to secure stable connections preferred applications all day. This would be a problem in a dense urban environment like apartments, large homes, offices, stadiums, and other establishments that allow multiple devices to connect on a shared medium (i.e., air) will feel the strain. This will also not mitigate the problem in the rural environment due to larger distances and weaker signals. To this end, it still helps to have programs that can prevent network congestion with application awareness.

The lack of application awareness has been one of the main problems that WiFi Forum has been unable to address. It came up with the WMM for bandwidth fairness, but that has so many issues.

Upgrade To WiFi 6

WiFi 6 has many perks, but it’s best to wait until more devices that can support it are released — hopefully by the end of 2020. If you’re eyeing the WiFi 6E routers, know that it’s still in its early adoption, so it also might be best to wait it out until other consumers have reviewed it.

Shamima Paurobally