What is Wi-Fi 6 (802.11 ax)? And how fast it really is?

What is WiFi 6 (802.11 ax)

The next generation of wireless standards is almost here, and it is called Wi-Fi 6. Have you heard anything about this version? Are you excited to know what new features this version brings? You should be because Wi-Fi 6 promises some never seen before features.

As the number of internet users increases exponentially, there is a high demand for faster internet. The new generation of Wi-Fi is built to cater to this. You will be surprised to know that Wi-Fi 6 has plenty of features other than speed boost.

What is WiFi 6 (802.11 ax)

What is WiFi 6 (802.11 ax)?

Wi-Fi 6 has a technical name – 802.11 ax. It is the successor of version 802.11 ac. It is just your regular Wi-Fi but connects more efficiently to the internet. It is expected that in the future, all smart devices will come with Wi-Fi 6 compatibility.

The etymology

You may wonder if this version is called Wi-Fi 6, what were the previous versions? Were there names for them as well? The previous versions have names too, but they were not user friendly. Therefore, many people were not aware of the names. With the latest version, however, the Wi-Fi Alliance has moved to give a simple user-friendly name.

Note: The traditional names given to the various versions were as follows – 802.11n (2009), 802.11ac (2014), and 802.11ax (upcoming). Now, the following version names are used for each version respectively – Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6.

Is Wi-Fi 6 here? Can you start using it?

To reap the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 to the fullest, one must have a Wi-Fi 6 router and Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices. Brands such as Cisco, Asus, and TP-Link have already started rolling out Wi-Fi 6 routers. However, Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices are yet to be released in the mainstream market. The Samsun Galaxy S10 and the latest versions of the iPhone are Wi-Fi 6 compatible. It is expected that laptops and other smart devices will soon be Wi-Fi 6 compatible too. If you only purchase a Wi-Fi 6 router, you can still connect it to your old devices. But you will not observe any significant change.

Purchasing a Wi-Fi 6 device

After the Wi-Fi Alliance launches its certification process, you will start seeing the ‘Wi-Fi 6 certified’ logo on new devices that are Wi-Fi 6 compatible. Up until today, our devices only had a ‘Wi-Fi Certified’ logo. One had to scout for the version number in the specifications. In the future, always look for the ‘Wi-Fi 6 certified’ logo while buying devices for your Wi-Fi 6 router.

As of now, this is not a game-changing update for any of your devices. Therefore, it is better not to start buying new devices just to make them compatible with a Wi-Fi 6 router. In the coming days, when you start replacing your old devices, you will start bringing Wi-Fi 6 certified devices. So, it is not worth it, to rush up and start replacing your old devices.

Recommended: What is a Router and How does it work?

However, one thing you can buy right now is a Wi-Fi 6 router. One benefit that you can see currently is that if you can connect a greater number of devices (Wi-Fi 5) to your new router. To reap all other benefits, wait for Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices to make their way into the market.

Attractive features of Wi-Fi 6

If top companies have already releasedWi-Fi 6 compatible phones and it is estimated that other companies will follow suit, there has to be a good number of benefits. Here, we shall see what the new features of the latest version are.

1. More bandwidth

Wi-Fi 6 has a wider channel. The Wi-Fi band which was 80 MHz is doubled to 160 MHz. This enables faster connections between the router and your device. With Wi-Fi 6, the user can easily download/upload large files, comfortably watch 8k movies. All the smart devices in the home run smoothly without buffering.

2. Energy efficiency

The Target Wake Time feature makes the system energy efficient. Devices can negotiate for how long they stay awake and when to send/receive data. The battery life of IoT devices and other low-power devices is improved to a great extent when you increase device sleep time.

3. No more conflicts with other routers nearby

Your wireless signal suffers due to interference from other networks nearby. Wi-Fi 6’s Base Service Station (BSS) is colored. Frames are marked so that the router ignores neighboring networks. By color, we are referring to a value between 0 to 7 that is assigned to the access points.

4. Stable performance in crowded areas

We have all experienced the diminishing speed when we try to access Wi-Fi in crowded places. Its time to say goodbye to this issue! The 8X8 MU-MIMO in Wi-Fi 6 works with uploads and downloads. Until the previous version, the MU-MIMO worked only with downloads. Now, users can choose from more than 8 streams. Therefore, even if several users access the router simultaneously, there is no significant drop in bandwidth quality. You can stream, download, and even play multi-player online games without facing any issues.

How does the system handle congestion?

Here we need to know about a technology called OFDMA – Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access. Through this, the Wi-Fi access point can talk with multiple devices simultaneously. The Wi-Fi channel is divided into several subchannels. That is, the channel is split into smaller frequency locations. Each of these small channels is called a resource unit (RU). Data intended for various devices are carried by the subchannels. OFDMA attempts to eliminate the problem of latency, which is common in today’s Wi-Fi scenario.

OFDMA works flexibly. Let us say there are 2 devices – a PC and a phone connecting to the channel. The router can either allocate 2 different resource units to these devices or divide the data required by each device between multiple resource units.

The mechanism by which the BSS coloring works is called spatial frequency reuse. This also helps in resolving congestion due to multiple devices connecting at the same time.

Why this feature?

When Wi-Fi 5 was released, the average US household had about 5 Wi-Fi devices. Today, it has increased to almost 9 devices. It is estimated that the number is only going to rise. So, it is clear that there is a growing need to accommodate a large number of Wi-Fi devices. Otherwise, the router will not be able to take the load. It will slow down quickly.

Keep in mind that, if you connect a single Wi-Fi 6 device to a Wi-Fi 6 router, you may not notice any change in speed. The main objective of Wi-Fi 6 is to provide a stable connection to multiple devices simultaneously.

Features of WiFi 6

5. Better security

We all are well aware that WPA3 was a huge update in this decade. With WPA3, hackers have a hard time continuously guessing the passwords. Even if they succeed in cracking the password, the information they get may not be of much use. As of now, WPA3 is optional in all Wi-Fi devices. But for a Wi-Fi 6 device, WPA 3 is a must, to obtain a Wi-Fi Alliance certification. Once the certification program is launched, it is expected that stricter security measures will be introduced. Therefore, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 also means, you have better security.

Also Read: How to Find My Router’s IP Address?

6. Reduced latency

Latency refers to the delay in data transmission. While latency is an issue in itself, it also causes other problems such as frequent disconnection and greater load time. Wi-Fi 6 packages data into a signal more efficiently than the previous version. Thus, the latency is brought down.

7. Greater speed

The symbol that transmits data is knowns as orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM). Data is divided among sub-carriers so that there is greater speed (it is 11% faster). Due to this, the coverage also widens. All the devices in your home, irrespective of where they are placed will receive strong signals due to the wide coverage area.

Beamforming

Beamforming is a process wherein the router focuses signals on a particular device if it finds that the device is facing issues. While all routers perform beamforming, a Wi-Fi 6 router has a greater range of beamforming. Due to this enhanced capability, there will hardly be any dead zones in your home. This coupled with ODFM makes it possible for you to connect to the router from anywhere in your house.

How fast is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 5 had a speed of 3.5 Gbps. Wi-Fi 6 takes it up a few notches – the expected theoretical speed sits at 9.6 Gbps. It is common knowledge that theoretical speeds are not reached in practical use. Typically, the download speed is 72 Mbps/ 1% of the maximum theoretical speed. Since 9.6 Gbps can be split up across a set of networked devices, the potential speed for each connected device rises.

One more thing to remember regarding the speed is that it depends on other factors as well. In an environment where there is a massive network of devices, the change in speed can be observed easily. Within the confines of your home, with few devices, it will be hard to notice the difference. The speed from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) limits the router from functioning at its best speed. If your speed is slow because of your ISP, a Wi-Fi 6 router cannot fix that.

Summary

  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is the next generation of wireless connections.
  • It provides plenty of benefits to the user – wider channel, the capability to support stable connection to multiple devices simultaneously, high speed, longer battery life for low-power devices, enhanced security, low latency, and no interference with nearby networks
  • OFDMA and MU-MIMO are the two main technologies used in Wi-Fi 6.
  • To experience all the benefits, the user must have both – a Wi-Fi 6 router and Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices. Currently, Samsung Galaxy S10 and the latest versions of the iPhone are the only devices with support for Wi-Fi 6. Cisco, Asus, TP-Link, and a few other companies have released Wi-Fi 6 routers.
  • Benefits such as change are speed is noticeable only if you have a huge network of devices. With a small number of devices, it is hard to observe the change.
Posted by
Elon Decker

Elon is a tech writer at TechCult. He's been writing how-to guides for about 6 years now and has covered many topics. He loves to cover topics related to Windows, Android, and the latest tricks and tips.

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