Wi-Fi 6 is the next-generation (6th) wireless standard that’s faster than 802.11ac. It is emerging as the latest industry Wi-Fi standard. More than speed, it will provide better performance in congested areas, from stadiums to your own device-packed home.
Let’s start with the basics — what is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax if you want to be technical about it, is the newest version of the 802.11 standards for wireless network transmissions that people commonly call Wi-Fi. It’s a backward-compatible upgrade over the previous version of the Wi-Fi standard, which is called 802.11ac.
Wi-Fi 6 isn’t a new means of connecting to the internet like fiber — rather, it’s an upgraded standard that compatible devices, particularly routers, can take advantage of to transmit Wi-Fi signals more efficiently.
What is Wi-Fi 6? (also known as AX WiFi)
Wi-Fi 6 is the next-generation standard in WiFi technology. Wi-Fi 6 also known as “AX WiFi” or “802.11ax WiFi” builds and improves on the current 802.11ac WiFi standard. Wi-Fi 6 was originally built in response to the growing number of devices in the world. It’ll still do the same basic thing — connect you to the internet — just with a bunch of additional technologies to make that happen more efficiently, speeding up connections in the process. If you own a VR device, multiple smart home devices, or simply have a large number of devices in your household, then a Wi-Fi 6 router might just be the best WiFi router for you. In this guide, we’ll go over Wi-Fi 6 routers and break down how they’re faster, increase efficiency, and are better at transferring data than previous generations.
HOW FAST IS IT?
The short but incomplete answer: 9.6 Gbps. That’s up from 3.5 Gbps on Wi-Fi 5.
The real answer: both of those speeds are theoretical maximums that you’re unlikely to ever reach in real-world Wi-Fi use. And even if you could reach those speeds, it’s not clear that you’d need them. The typical download speed in the US is just 72 Mbps or less than 1 percent of the theoretical maximum speed.
But the fact that Wi-Fi 6 has a much higher theoretical speed limit than its predecessor is still important. That 9.6 Gbps doesn’t have to go to a single computer. It can be split up across a whole network of devices. That means more potential speed for each device.
HOW DO I GET WI-FI 6?
You’ll need to buy new devices. = A WI-FI 6 ROUTER IS REQUIRED
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.
To be clear: this is not something you’ll want to run out to the store and buy a new laptop just to get. It’s not that game-changing of an update for anyone’s device.
Instead, 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, though: a new router. If your router doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, you won’t see any benefits, no matter how many Wi-Fi 6 devices you bring home. (You could actually see a benefit, though, connecting Wi-Fi 5 gadgets to a Wi-Fi 6 router, because the router may be capable of communicating with more devices at once.)
Again, this isn’t something worth rushing out and buying. But if your home is packed with Wi-Fi-connected smart devices, and things start to get sluggish in a couple years, a Wi-Fi 6 router may be able to meaningfully help.
Wi-Fi Has Version Numbers Now
Yes, Wi-Fi now has version numbers! Even those old confusing Wi-Fi standard names like “802.11ac” have been renamed to user-friendly names like “Wi-Fi 5.”
Here are the versions of Wi-Fi you’ll be seeing:
- Wi-Fi 4 is 802.11n, released in 2009.
- Wi-Fi 5 is 802.11ac, released in 2014.
- Wi-Fi 6 is the new version, also known as 802.11ax. It was released in 2019.
The Wi-Fi Alliance also announced would like to see these numbers appear in software so you can tell which Wi-Fi network is newer and faster while connecting on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. You may be seeing Wi-Fi numbers on your phone, tablet, or laptop soon.
Older versions of Wi-Fi aren’t widely in use and aren’t officially being branded. But, if they were, here’s what they’d be called:
- Wi-Fi 1 would have been 802.11b, released in 1999.
- Wi-Fi 2 would have been 802.11a, also released in 1999.
- Wi-Fi 3 would have been 802.11g, released in 2003.
WHAT MAKES WI-FI 6 FASTER?
There are two key technologies speeding up Wi-Fi 6 connections: MU-MIMO and OFDMA.
MU-MIMO, which stands for “multi-user, multiple input, multiple output,” 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.
You can think of adding MU-MIMO connections like adding delivery trucks to a fleet, says Kevin Robinson, marketing leader for the Wi-Fi Alliance, an internationally backed tech-industry group that oversees the implementation of Wi-Fi. “You can send each of those trucks in different directions to different customers,” Robinson says. “Before, you had four trucks to fill with goods and send to four customers. With Wi-Fi 6, you now have eight trucks.”
The other new technology, OFDMA, which stands for “orthogonal frequency division multiple access,” allows one transmission to deliver data to multiple devices at once.
Extending the truck metaphor, Robinson says that OFDMA essentially allows one truck to carry goods to be delivered to multiple locations. “With OFDMA, the network can look at a truck, see ‘I’m only allocating 75 percent of that truck and this other customer is kind of on the way,’” and then fill up that remaining space with a delivery for the second customer, he says.
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.
Longer Battery Life – WI-FI 6 CAN ALSO IMPROVE BATTERY LIFE
Another new technology in 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 all possible because of a feature called Target Wake Time, which lets routers schedule check-in times with devices.
It isn’t going to be helpful across the board, though. 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).
Instead, this feature is meant more 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.)
A new “target wake time” (TWT) feature means your smartphone, laptop, and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices should have longer battery life, too.
When the access point is talking to a device (like your smartphone), it can tell the device exactly when to put its Wi-Fi radio to sleep and exactly when to wake it up to receive the next transmission. This will conserve power, as it means the Wi-Fi radio can spend more time in sleep mode. And that means longer battery life.
Better Performance in Crowded Areas
Wi-Fi tends to get bogged down when you’re in a crowded place with a lot of Wi-FI enabled devices. Picture a busy stadium, airport, hotel, mall, or even a crowded office with everyone connected to Wi-Fi. You’re probably going to have slow Wi-Fi.
The new Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, incorporates many new technologies to help with this. Intel trumpets that Wi-Fi 6 will improve each user’s average speed by “at least four times” in congested areas with a lot of connected devices.
This wouldn’t just apply to busy public places. It could apply to you at home if you have a lot of devices connected to Wi-Fi, or if you live in a dense apartment complex.
WI-FI 6 ALSO MEANS BETTER SECURITY
Last year, Wi-Fi started getting its biggest security update in a decade, with a new security protocol called WPA3. WPA3 makes it harder for hackers to crack passwords by constantly guessing them, and it makes some data less useful even if hackers manage to obtain it.
Current devices and routers can support WPA3, but it’s optional. For a Wi-Fi 6 device to receive certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance, WPA3 is required, so most Wi-Fi 6 devices are likely to include stronger security once the certification program launches.
WI-FI 6 IS JUST GETTING STARTED
Devices supporting Wi-Fi 6 are just starting to trickle out. You can already buy Wi-Fi 6 routers, but so far, they’re expensive high-end devices. A handful of laptops include the new generation of Wi-Fi, too, but it’s not widespread just yet. AirPro provides Fastest Wi-Fi 6 Router experience to the users.
Wi-Fi 6 will start arriving on high-end phones this year, though. Qualcomm’s latest flagship processor, the Snapdragon 855, includes support for Wi-Fi 6, and it’s destined for the next wave of top-of-the-line phones. The Snapdragon 855’s inclusion doesn’t guarantee that a phone will have Wi-Fi 6, but it’s a good sign: Samsung’s Galaxy S10 is one of the first phones with the new processor, and it supports the newest generation of Wi-Fi.
The inclusion of Wi-Fi 6 is likely to become even more common next year. The Wi-Fi Alliance will launch its Wi-Fi 6 certification program this fall, which guarantees compatibility across Wi-Fi devices. Devices don’t need to pass that certification, but its launch will signify that the industry is ready for Wi-Fi 6’s arrival.