Wifi 6 what is it? Why does it matter?

April 13th, 2019 by Stephen Jones Leave a reply »

Wireless speeds will soon get a lot faster thanks to the introduction of Wi-Fi 6 later this year.

Wi-Fi 6 is the next evolution of wireless local area network (WLAN) technology and it will improve upon older Wi-Fi standards, especially with the coming release of 5G wireless technology. With Wi-Fi 6 and 5G emerging onto the market at roughly the same time, it would make sense that they’re somehow related; while both promise similar improvements, they’re distinctly different technologies.

The name Wi-Fi 6 is part of a new naming convention the Wi-Fi Alliance to make these more easily understood by Wi-Fi users, making it much like the 3G/4G/5G naming convention used by cellular data networks. Behind the Wi-Fi 6 name is the latest version of the 802.11 wireless networking standard: 802.11ax. This new Wi-Fi standard is reportedly up to 30% faster than Wi-Fi 5,. Speed hasn’t been the main benefit touted by the Wi-Fi Alliance and other industry experts; Wi-Fi 6 also brings lower latency, more simultaneously deliverable data, and improved power efficiency.

Latency is a significant problem especially for mobile, internet and cloud users i.e. just about everyone. Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), h is an improvement on Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM). OFDM is used by Wi-Fi 5, 4, and older standards to encode and transmit data form multiple clients or access points (APs) and to contend for the ability to transmit data; once the network is idle, data can be transmitted. OFDM is a popular and reliable way to decentralize access, but it has a major problem in that it can lead to serious latency.

OFDMA, makes a major change and puts the transmission coordination in the hands of 802.11ax APs. The AP centrally schedules data transmission and is able to further divide frequencies so as to transmit data to/from multiple clients at the same time. The aim is to reduce latency and increase network efficiency—especially in high-demand environments like stadiums, conference halls, and other public spaces. OFDMA broadcasts multiple signals at the same time, and can also increase the unit interval, which means outdoor Wi-Fi deployments will be faster and more reliable.

Wi-Fi 6 will extend the capabilities of Multi-User Multi-Input/Multi-Output (MU-MIMO). MU-MIMO was previously available only for downstream connections and allowed for a device to send data to multiple receivers at the same time; Wi-Fi 6 will add MU-MIMO capabilities to upstream connections to allow more simultaneous devices on one network. MU-MIMO, is already in use in modern routers and devices, but Wi-Fi 6 upgrades it. The technology allows a router to communicate with multiple devices at the same time, rather than broadcasting to one device, and then the next, and the next. Right now, MU-MIMO allows routers to communicate with four devices at a time. Wi-Fi 6 will allow devices to communicate with up to eight. As an analogy compare adding MU-MIMO connections to adding delivery trucks to a fleet, You can send each of those trucks in different directions to different customers. “Before, you had four trucks to fill with goods and send to four customers. With Wi-Fi 6, you now have eight trucks.

Extending the truck analogy OFDMA allows one truck to carry goods to be delivered to multiple locations. The network look at a ‘truck’ and see that it has only allocated e.g. 75 percent of the load capacity of that truck and this other customer is on the same route, so it fill up that remaining space with a delivery for the second customer. In practice, this is all used to get more out of every transmission that carries a Wi-Fi signal from a router to your device.

How fast is it?

– The short answer: 9.6 Gbps. compared to 3.5 Gbps on Wi-Fi 5.

– The real answer: both of those speeds are theoretical maximums that you’re unlikely to ever reach or need in real-world Wi-Fi use. The typical download speed in the US is just 72 Mbps, or less than 1 percent of the theoretical maximum speed. The fact that Wi-Fi 6 has a much higher theoretical speed limit than its predecessor is still important because that 9.6 Gbps can be split up across a whole network of devices which means both more devices or more potential speed for each device.

When Wi-Fi 5 came out, the average US household had about five Wi-Fi devices in it. Now, homes have nine Wi-Fi devices on average, and various firms have predicted we’ll hit 50 on average within several years. Those added devices take a toll on your network. Your router can only communicate with so many devices at once, so the more gadgets demanding Wi-Fi, the more the network overall is going to slow down. At first, Wi-Fi 6 connections aren’t likely to be substantially faster. A single Wi-Fi 6 laptop connected to a Wi-Fi 6 router may only be slightly faster than a single Wi-Fi 5 laptop connected to a Wi-Fi 5 router. Devices are more likely to maintain fast speeds on busy networks

As more and more devices get added onto your network, current routers might start to get overwhelmed by requests from a multitude of devices, Wi-Fi 6 routers are designed to more effectively keep devices up to date with the data they need. Each of device;s speeds may not be faster than they can reach today on a high-quality network, but they’re more likely to maintain those top speeds in busier environments. In a home where one person is streaming Netflix, another is playing a game, someone else is video chatting, and a whole bunch of smart gadgets — a door lock, temperature sensors, light switches, and so on — are all checking in at once the top speeds of those devices won’t necessarily be boosted, but the speeds you see in typical, daily use will get likely be better. Exactly how much fast will depend on how many devices are on your network and just how demanding are those devices. In a cloud world working on html 5 pages rather tcpip protocol, and with growing use of social media, digital storage, streaming video, AI, and querying data lakes its essential that the underlying infrastructure keeps up. We are seeing similar evolution with databases, chips and memory.

Wi-Fi 6 introduces some new technologies to help mitigate the issues that come with putting dozens of Wi-Fi devices on a single network. It lets routers communicate with more devices at once, lets routers send data to multiple devices in the same broadcast, and lets Wi-Fi devices schedule check-ins with the router. Together, those features should keep connections strong even as more and more devices start demanding data.

Wi-Fi 6 will also:
• Increase the number of transmit beamforming streams to eight in order to increase network range and throughput;
• use both the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz bands simultaneously to greatly improve performance;
• use 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation (1024-QAM) to increase throughput for emerging use cases (Wi-Fi 5 uses 256-QAM);
• implement individual target wake time (TWT) to improve battery life and reduce power consumption for Wi-Fi devices;
• introduce spatial reuse technology that will allow devices to more easily access a Wi-Fi network in order to transmit data.

Wi-Fi 6 allows devices to plan out communications with a router, reducing the amount of time they need to keep their antennas powered on to transmit and search for signals. That means less drain on batteries and improved battery life in turn. This is a feature called Target Wake Time, which lets routers schedule check-in times with devices.
Your laptop needs constant internet access, so it’s unlikely to make heavy use of this feature (except, perhaps, when it moves into a sleep state). This feature will be more valuable for smaller, already low-power Wi-Fi devices that just need to update their status every now and then. (Think small sensors placed around a home to monitor things like leaks or smart home devices that sit unused most of the day.)

Wi-Fi generations rely on new hardware, not just software updates, so you’ll need to buy new phones, laptops, and so on to get the new version of Wi-Fi. new devices will start coming with Wi-Fi 6 by default. As you replace your phone, laptop, and game consoles over the next five years, you’ll bring home new ones that include the latest version of Wi-Fi. There is one thing you will have to make a point of going out and buying: a new router. If your router doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, then you won’t see any benefits, no matter how many Wi-Fi 6 devices you have. (You may however see a benefit, though, connecting Wi-Fi 5 gadgets to a Wi-Fi 6 router, because the router may then be capable of communicating with more devices at once.)

A new security protocol called WPA3. WPA3 makes it harder for hackers to crack passwords. For a Wi-Fi 6 device to receive certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance, WPA3 is required. (so be aware that it may not be included in uncertified devices.)

So where does 5G fit in ?
5G is the umbrella term for the fifth generation of mobile network technology, and it encompasses a lot of different elements. Cellular, or mobile networks, rely on licensed spectrum bands, auctioned off to the highest bidder. Carriers, like Verizon or AT&T, pay to use those bands. To roll out coverage they build a network of connected base stations capable of sending out a strong enough signal that it can serve multiple people (thousands in urban areas) at once. To recoup their investment, we pay them subscriptions.

Wi-Fi relies on unlicensed spectrum which is free to use, but the signal is relatively weak. We pay an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to deliver the internet to our door and then use a router to fill our house with Wi-Fi. We the same frequency band as our neighbors and that is a problem, when you live in a very densely populated area. The two frequencies that Wi-Fi uses are 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. The 2.4Ghz has a lower potential top speed but it penetrates better, so it has a longer range than 5Ghz.

(Note that that 5Ghz Wi-Fi has absolutely nothing to do with 5G mobile networks.)

In every day life, most of us rely on Wi-Fi both at home and in the office — or in coffee shops — and mobile networks when we step out the front door and move out of range of the router. (Though for security reasons I would never recommend anyone to se a public hotspot)

Smartphones switch automatically and we don’t have to give it any thought, we just want a good connection at all times. That will continue to be the case for the vast majority of people after 5G rolls out. The difference is that both mobile networks and Wi-Fi are going to get faster. The prospect of download speeds between 1Gbps and 10Gbps, and upload speed or latency of just 1 millisecond, has us excited about 5G. The reality is that we will not get anywhere near the theoretical top speeds. The speed of your 5G connection will depend on many factors including: where you are, to what network you connect, how many other people connect, and what device you use.

The aim is to achieve a minimum download speed of 50Mbps and latency of 10ms. That will represent a major improvement over current average speeds, but just as with 4G LTE, 5G coverage is going to expand slowly. It’s also going to work hand-in-hand, not just with Wi-Fi, but with earlier generations of mobile network technology, so 4G LTE will continue to be offered as a fallback and will continue to evolve and get faster.

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