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Get Up to Speed on Wi-Fi 6

Get Up to Speed on Wi-Fi 6

Elise Silagy

July 6, 2020

Wi-Fi is getting its first major update in almost 20 years. On April 1 of last year, the FCC announced that they would be opening up more of the broadband internet spectrum to unlicensed traffic.
This is an exciting moment for Wi-Fi users everywhere, but before you start preparing to change over and fill your office with new Wi-Fi 6 devices, let’s discuss what Wi-Fi 6 is, what improvements it brings to the Wi-Fi experience, and when such devices will be available to general users.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

The 6 in Wi-Fi 6 refers to the area of the spectrum the FCC is opening up. Wi-Fi 6 will allow routers to broadcast their signal in the 6GHz frequency of the band, in addition to the 5GHz and 2.4GHz ranges already open to ordinary consumer devices.
This represents the biggest change in Wi-Fi since the FCC first cleared the way for Wi-Fi in 1989. By opening up the 6GHz area of the spectrum, there will now be more space for routers and other devices. This increased bandwidth space will reduce interference and improve the user experience for everyone. Even users without Wi-Fi 6 devices can benefit, as Wi-Fi 6 devices leave the 5GHz and 2.4GHz areas of the spectrum, freeing up more space for older devices.

Faster Wi-Fi At Your Fingertips

person texting on phone and holding coffee
Latency, the amount of time it takes for something to load, can be more than just a nuisance; it can also sap productivity and disrupt workflow. Your Wi-Fi connection can be slowed down by a number of factors, including how many devices are trying to connect at once and how strong your signal is. Opening up the spectrum will allow devices to spread out, much like widening a road reduces congestion, allowing all Wi-Fi traffic to move faster and more reliably.
These faster speeds are achieved using OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access), which lets routers split data into smaller packets and transmit information to multiple devices at a time. This is a significant improvement over the older OFDM method that earlier Wi-Fi versions use, which relied on a single queue system that required each device to patiently wait its turn to receive or transmit data to the router.

Increased Device Range

If your workplace is small enough that you only require a single router, you likely won’t notice a huge range difference between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6. However, larger workplaces that require multiple routers (and rely on a mesh system) will be able to take advantage of Wi-Fi 6’s faster speeds to place access points farther apart without sacrificing speed or signal strength. This will make Wi-Fi 6 ideal for workplaces where cabling is difficult or impossible.

More Battery Power

Connecting to Wi-Fi, and staying connected, can quickly drain your device’s battery, particularly if you are moving in and out of range. The increased range of Wi-Fi 6, coupled with its ability to comfortably support more devices at a time, will reduce demand on your device’s battery.
This is achieved using wake time targets (also called target wake times or TWT), which allows the device to “sleep” when it isn’t actively sending or receiving information. Traditional Wi-Fi required devices to stay on and wait for information, slowly draining the battery even when you aren’t actively using your device.

Wi-Fi 6 is a Boon to the Internet of Things

man listening to an ear bud
The IoT has revolutionized a lot of the things we do, but without a fast and reliable Wi-Fi connection, these connected smart devices can be incredibly frustrating to use. Wi-Fi 6 is perfectly situated to support IoT devices, since Wi-Fi 6 access points will be able to support more devices, without compromising connection speed or quality, than their 5GHz and 2.4GHz counterparts.
Though many individuals in the tech space are currently focused on how Wi-Fi 6 will benefit larger venues (such as large retail spaces, healthcare facilities, stadiums, and the hospitality industry), the IoT industry stands to benefit significantly. Some technology manufacturers are even already offering Wi-Fi 6 routers and other devices.
There are a few features the Internet of Things is particularly set to benefit from, including:

  • Speeds of approximately 10Gbps, or even 12 Gbps, over short distances.
  • MPTL (Modular Plug Terminated Links) offering faster device connections.
  • The ability to support 4x as many devices per access point.
  • More efficient data throughput, which is particularly useful for IoT devices and applications that rely on 4K video, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality.
  • Target wake times mean longer battery lives.

The Pace of Change

Though most home internet users and organizations won’t necessarily switch over right away, there are already several Wi-Fi 6 routers, access points, and other devices on the market, including products from big names such as Cisco and Mist.
Updating your current infrastructure to take advantage of Wi-Fi 6 may be a daunting proposition, and before you make any change you will need to make sure your new configuration is both secure and complies with all relevant security standards. Make sure you consult with knowledgable experts, including your MSSP, to help make your transition as smooth and secure as possible.

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