For some of us, it is easy to remember when WiFi was relatively new. It was very limited in terms of range and speed, but everyone knew that this technology would be very important in the future. The ability to access the internet without being tethered to an Ethernet cable was a very important development, indeed. WiFi standards, of course, have not remained the same since then. As the technology improves, new protocols and software are developed to exploit those advances. To put it simply, WiFi 6 is just the latest evolution of wireless internet technology.
Why Haven’t I Heard Of This?
You probably didn’t even hear anything about the development of “WiFi 5,” let alone 4,3,2, or 1. That is because the naming standards have been changed fairly recently. This change was made in 2018, but a lot of people still haven’t heard the news. The most current version of WiFi is now called WiFi 6, with older versions mostly being referred to as WiFi 5 or WiFi 4.
In the old days, these sets of standards were given much less convenient names. In fact, they didn’t even really have names at all: Just alpha-numeric codes that were originally assigned by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). The whole scheme translates like this:
- Wi-Fi 6 = 802.11ax
- Wi-Fi 5 = 802.11ac
- Wi-Fi 4 = 802.11n
As you can see, the new system is definitely a lot easier to understand.
What Makes WiFi 6 Different?
The two most obvious differences are speed and range. These are really the two most important performance metrics for a wireless network, so that’s not surprising. However, it is surprising to see just how much faster WiFi 6 might be.
Before its release, WiFi 6 was claimed to be about 30% more efficient than WiFi 5. Although this figure may seem excessive, it may have actually been a little bit too low. Tests conducted by researchers at Cnet indicate an increase of about 40%, even when measured against the fastest WiFi 5 speeds.
WiFi 6 has another feature that may prove to be even more important. It is designed to help routers service a larger number of devices at one time. So, let’s say you’ve got one router in your home. Let’s say you have just two people in your home. How many WiFi-connected devices will that be? Well, let’s see…you have two smartphones (at the very least), along with any tablets, computers, game consoles, or IoT devices that either resident might own. If more than one or two of these devices is using the internet at the same time, there will be a reduction in speed.
It seems that the biggest objective of WiFi 6 is to allow routers to serve a greater number of devices and users with less reduction in network speed (i.e., less latency). This is done by allowing the router to transmit its information in larger increments. You see, WiFi works by using steady pulses of radio waves. If you can pack a larger amount of data into each pulse, it becomes much easier for the router to handle that extra traffic.
Do I Need To Get Any New Devices?
There is no real need to replace any of your network hardware or your end-user devices. One of the great things about WiFi 6 is the fact that it is backward-compatible. Even if your entire setup is meant to work with WiFi 5 or 4, these advances will not stop your hardware or software from working properly. At the same time, you will not reap the full benefits of WiFi 6 unless you get a router and a device that is compatible with the new standards.
Why WiFi 6 Is Capable Of Greater Performance
There are two basic technologies that underlie the development of WiFi 6. These are called:
- MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multi-Input, Multi-Output)
- OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access)
Although their names are not exactly catchphrases, these technologies are very important. MU-MIMO allows routers to communicate with multiple devices at the same time. Before this was invented, routers had to communicate with multiple devices sequentially (meaning one after the other in turn). As you might guess, this technology was present in WiFi 5. However, under the old standard, a router could only communicate with a maximum of four devices at one time. WiFi 6 allows the router to communicate with as many as 8 devices.
OFDMA is very similar, and it works in combination with MU-MIMO. OFDMA allows the router to send information to multiple devices with a single transmission. Thus, there is no further need for multiple radio pulses. In many ways, this is the key that allows WiFi 6 routers to transmit their data more efficiently and with fewer pulses. As a side effect, all WiFi 6 devices will probably experience an improvement in battery life.
Although you may not have heard about it, WiFi 6 has already been approved and rolled out. However, it might be a little while before you start seeing the effects. It will take time for all those older devices to be replaced, but we all know that network hardware tends to have a relatively short lifespan anyway. As such, it won’t be long before we see the full benefits of this new advancement.
Speaking of advancement, let’s talk about how we can help you to take advantage of WiFi 6. Acquiring competent small business computer support services is both easy and productive when you go with the experts at PCH Technologies. We offer local managed IT services in many areas, so don’t hesitate to call us at (856) 754-7500.