On Monday, September 16th, the WiFi Alliance® announced the WiFi CERTIFIED 6TM certification program is now available. This news signals that WiFi 6, the latest wireless connectivity standard, is truly ready for prime time. WiFi 6 has been designed to provide faster and more efficient connections, particularly in device-dense environments such as homes and offices. While the technical specifications have been available to wireless device manufacturers for several months, companies that wish to officially certify their products as WiFi-6 compatible may now apply to do so. In recognition of the new release, we’re taking a moment to discuss some new features of WiFi 6 and how these changes will impact the lives of people who use these networks on a regular basis.
What’s in a name?
Before getting into the details let’s take a moment to agree on some terminology. WiFi is the consumer-friendly term for the IEEE 802.11 wireless connection protocol. WiFi 1 was technically referred to as 802.11a, and each generation of the technology bears some variation of that original name. The technical term for WiFi 6, for example, is synonymous with 802.11ax. For this article we’ll stick to the term WiFi.
If you’d like to learn more about the evolution of WiFi standards over the years, ActionTec has assembled a great article on the subject.
WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6: what’s changed?
WiFi network performance has improved substantially with each new iteration of the technology. In this case, better performance means more data, moving faster and more efficiently. In that respect, each generation has been a marked improvement over its predecessor. Today’s wireless networks also feature much better coverage. A wireless access point from the late 1990s would have a range of up to 150 feet, whereas today’s devices can reach access points nearly 300 feet away.
As you might expect, WiFi 6 is indeed faster and supposedly more reliable than WiFi 5. That said, what makes the new protocol such a marked improvement is its ability to efficiently serve environments with a high density of wireless devices. According to the WiFi Alliance press release, WiFi 6 is meant to “enable substantially greater overall Wi-Fi® network performance in challenging environments with many connected devices such as stadiums, airports, and industrial parks.” WiFi 6 is clearly designed with the future in mind, and we believe that is welcome news to consumers and businesses living in an increasingly connected world.
Think about how many wireless devices are connected to your home internet network. Add up every smart TV, phone, gaming console, smart thermostat and anything else that depends on your wireless router for internet access. According to ECN, the average household has more than seven active devices in use each day, and we can expect this number to triple as adoption of IoT devices for the home becomes more commonplace. That is a lot of data and connections to handle, and WiFi 5 simply wasn’t designed for such an environment. Routers overloaded with too many connections tend to work slowly and even drop connections when too congested. On the other hand, routers and wireless devices built to the new WiFi 6 standard should respond admirably to this kind of challenge.
Businesses have plenty of reason to get excited about WiFi 6 as well. Today’s offices are brimming with wireless devices that require dependable connectivity. The office of tomorrow will likely feature even more devices, and a greater proportion of them will be wireless. WiFi 6 will ensure data moves more efficiently between those devices and reduce the chances any one connection is dropped.
WiFi 6 Specifications & Features
Some of the key capabilities of WiFi 6 according to the WiFi Alliance:
- Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) effectively shares channels to increase network efficiency and lower latency for both uplink and downlink traffic in high demand environments
- Multi-user multiple input, multiple output (multi-user MIMO) allows more downlink data to be transferred at one time, enabling access points (APs) to concurrently handle more devices
- 160 MHz channel utilization capability increases bandwidth to deliver greater performance with low latency
- Target wake time (TWT) significantly improves network efficiency and device battery life, including IoT devices
- 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM) increases throughput for emerging, bandwidth-intensive uses by encoding more data in the same amount of spectrum
- Transmit beamforming enables higher data rates at a given range to increase network capacity
Now that the certification standard is available, you’re soon likely to see products emblazoned with the WiFi 6 certification badge. However, if you buy a wireless device and don’t see the WiFi 6 badge, don’t fret. It is common practice for manufacturers to build their devices to work with a new wireless spec, but not actually submit the design to the WiFi Alliance for official certification, as the submission process inflates manufacturing costs unnecessarily.
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