Wi-Fi 6 | what’s New and Why you may have an interest
The latest generation of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, brings with it some significant performance improvements that aim to deal with limitations in older generations. While many routers and clients are already available with chips using the 802.11ax certification.
Wi-Fi 6 is simply beginning its rollout. It’ll become a part of the official IEEE specification in September 2020. This is often launching a wave of updated devices touting new wireless capabilities which will contribute toward next-generation networks with more speed and less congestion.
Before we get too far, it is vital to know that 802.11ax, also referred to as “high-efficiency wireless,” is that the same thing as Wi-Fi 6. It’s just easier to mention Wi-Fi 6 than 802.11ax.
This is a brand new naming standard set by the Wi-Fi Alliance, with previous generations now being called Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n). This labeling convention is predicted to look on devices as shown below.
Technically, Wi-Fi 6 encompasses a single-user rate that’s 37% faster than 802.11ac, but what’s more significant is that the updated specification will offer fourfold the throughput per user in crowded environments, also as better power efficiency which should translate to a lift in device battery life.
To achieve those improvements, 802.11ax implements a spread of changes including several multi-user technologies that are borrowed from the cellular industry – namely MU-MIMO and OFDMA – techniques that greatly improve capacity and performance by enabling more simultaneous connections and more thorough use of spectrum.
Home users who upgrade their hardware can forestall to some improvements from these technologies, especially over time because the number of devices per household increases – some estimates suggest there’ll be as many as 50 nodes per home by 2022.
While Wi-Fi 6 isn’t designed to spice up download speeds significantly, the new features will shine as device count in a neighborhood increases.
It’s a more nuanced approach that’s expected to bring move benefits over time. This may ultimately aid in laying a foundation for the number of nodes expected on upcoming smart infrastructure (e.g. Internet of Things devices).
Together with addressing overlapping coverage from the sheer number of devices and network deployments emerging as IoT rolls out, Wi-Fi 6 are equipped to handle the ever-increasing demand for faster multi-user data rates
Overall, Wi-Fi 6 builds on 802.11ac with quite 50 updated features originally proposed, though not all of them are included within the finalized specification.
Here are Wi-Fi 6’s main benefits:
- More overall bandwidth per user for ultra-HD and video game streaming
- Support for more simultaneous streams of information with increased throughput
- More total spectrum (2.4GHz and 5GHz, eventually bands in 1GHz and 6GHz)
- Said spectrum split into more channels to enable more routes for communication
- Packets contain more data and networks that can handle different data streams without delay
- Improved performance (as very much like 4x) at the most range of an access point
- Better performance/robustness in outdoor and multi-path (cluttered) environments
- Ability to dump wireless traffic from cellular networks where reception is poor
Released in 2013, 802.11ac (now also referred to as Wi-Fi 5) was standardized in 2013. While this specification is essentially adequate for today’s typical home usage, it only uses bands within the 5GHz spectrum and lacks the extent of multi-user technologies that may support a growing number of devices connected directly.
As a degree of reference for the changes coming in Wi-Fi 6, here is what 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) expanded on 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4):
- Wider channels (80MHz or 160MHz versus a max of 40MHz within the 5GHz band)
- Eight spatial streams rather than four (spatial streams illustrated)
- 256-QAM versus 64-QAM modulation (transmits more bits per QAM symbol)
- Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) on 802.11ac Wave 2, enabling four downlink connections without delay rather than only 1 on Single-User MIMO (still 1×1 on uplink)
The specification is backward compatible with previous standards, incorporating both 2.4GHz and 5GHz together with eventually expanding that spectrum to incorporate bands in 1GHz and 6GHz once they become available.
Perhaps more noteworthy than the inclusion of this extra spectrum are the technologies which will put this bandwidth to use. With more spectrum available, Wi-Fi 6 can split the bandwidth into narrower (more) sub-channels, creating more avenues for clients and access points to speak together with enabling support for extra devices on any given network.
Within the older 802.11n, you may essentially only have 3 separate channels going without delay since there was such a lot overlap.
This makes crowded areas like apartments a multitude since everyone’s router is stepping on one another. 802.11ac added extra space within the 5GHz band, but 802.11ax does a way better job of handling this.
Another area to appear at is multi-device performance on one network. This is often referred to as Multiple-Input Multiple-Output and allows one device to speak over multiple channels without delay. It’s basically like having several wireless adapters connected to the identical network.
The extension of this on the access point end is termed MU-MIMO or Multi-User MIMO. Because the name suggests, it allows an access point to attach to multiple users without delay through MIMO.
While Wi-Fi 5 can serve four users on downstream directly courtesy of MU-MIMO – a substantial improvement over the single-user MIMO on Wi-Fi 4 – this feature isn’t a requirement and was only added in newer 802.11ac devices. On paper, 802.11ax will increase that to eight users on both up and downlink, with the potential to deliver four simultaneous streams to one client.
However, uplink MU-MIMO isn’t likely to determine much use. Few if any current devices can enjoy four spatial streams, much less the eight supported on Wi-Fi 6, as most existing MU-MIMO-equipped smartphones and laptops only have 2×2:2 or 3×3:3 MIMO radios.
Wrap Up: A Sky-Level View of Wi-Fi 6
Meant to replace both 802.11n and 802.11ac as the next WLAN standard, 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6 will deliver considerable increases in network efficiency and capacity for dense population centers, with moderate improvements to peak data rates, which will be sustained better across more devices at once.
Or as Qualcomm likes to put it, “the problem isn’t how fast Wi-Fi can go, but if the Wi-Fi network has enough capacity to handle the growing demand for many different connected devices and services.”
There aren’t currently many Wi-Fi 6 clients, so the adoption will take a while. The improvements in this generation won’t be felt until a larger portion of devices uses the standard. As usual, Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible, but older devices won’t be able to take advantage of the newer features.
Contemplating Wi-Fi 6 more broadly, the boost in multi-user support and particularly the increase in simultaneous upstream connections are arriving alongside an accelerating demand for user data. This data is from IoT devices for machine learning, fueling artificial intelligence, the future of technology as a whole, and a growing digital economy.
As mentioned in the introduction of this article, routers are already available based on draft 802.11ax specifications. We’re currently working on an updated mesh roundup featuring the newest Wi-Fi 6 devices, so stay tuned for that.