WiFi 6 (802.11ax): How fast is it? How to get it? [Guide]

The next-gen WiFi 6 brings more than faster speeds to the table

by: - Last updated on: August 8th, 2020

We use WiFi all the time, but only a few of us are well-versed with its naming convention. For, there are too many versions of WiFi, and the naming scheme is utter technical jargon that is hard to understand and remember for those who are not closely involved with technology. However, that is about to change soon.

Wifi 6

Apparently, with WiFi Alliance (an organization that promotes WiFi technology and certifies WiFi products) adopting a new naming convention, it would be much easier for common people (with a limited understanding of technology) to comprehend and differentiate the different WiFi versions and help themselves make an informed decision when shopping for a networking device.

Until now, the WiFi naming convention has been based on the 802.11 protocol – a family of specifications for wireless local area networks (WLANs) developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). And therefore, the standards: 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac. Based on the current naming convention, the next generation of WiFi should have ideally been called 802.11ax. However, instead of denoting it 802.11ax, the WiFi Alliance has decided to call it WiFi 6, to avoid confusion and make it easier for common people to understand.

With the new number-based naming convention, the previous two standards, namely: 802.11n and 802.11ac, will now be denoted as WiFi 4 and WiFi 5. Although, this naming convention does not extend further back to the earlier standards, but to make some sense, here’s how the entire lineup looks like under the new naming convention-

  • 802.11a – Wi-Fi 1
  • 802.11b – Wi-Fi 2
  • 802.11g – Wi-Fi 3
  • 802.11n – Wi-Fi 4
  • 802.11ac – Wi-Fi 5
  • 802.11ax – Wi-Fi 6

Wi Fi Generations

What is WiFi 6 (802.11ax)?

WiFi 6 is the sixth-generation of WiFi standard, and for the most part, unlike any other previous generations of WiFi, it is supposed to make WiFi networks faster, reliable, and more energy-efficient. The highlighting factor of the new standard is that beginning this generation, WiFi Alliance has decided to keep things simpler and give up on the existing alphanumeric naming convention in favor of a much simpler numeric scheme. And therefore, representing the sixth-generation as WiFi 6, and not 802.11ax.

Apart from just a change in the naming convention, WiFi 6 also comes with an increase in network capacity, higher transfer rates, and improvements in power efficiency. These changes and improvements come together to create a network experience that promises to be consistent and dependable enough to provide a seamless experience for demand-heavy products and services.

How is WiFi 6 different from older standards?

Unlike older standards, WiFi 6 is designed to operate under different spectrum bands, ranging from 1 GHz to 7 GHz. Not to mention, the commonly used 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum bands. With WiFi 6, users can also expect up to 4x higher throughput speeds and up to 75% less latency than the 802.11ac (WiFi 5) standard.

WiFi 6 Tech

To accomplish better throughput and reduce latency compared to its previous generation, WiFi 6 uses technologies like MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple Input, Multiple Output) and OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access). Which means that, even if there are a lot of devices on your network, you will still retain faster speeds with comparatively much less latency. In a nutshell, you will have a much better experience with WiFi 6, irrespective of the number of connected devices, as compared to older generations.

As per the Wi-Fi Alliance, a WiFi 6 access point will be capable of handling a large number of devices at the same time with the MU-MIMO and OFDMA technology. Using MU-MIMO, a router will be able to serve a large number of users while allowing them to transfer more data at a time, simultaneously. However, WiFi 6 is not the first generation of WiFi to use MU-MIMO. In the past, other Wi-Fi standards have also leveraged this technology to serve multiple users with high-speed data transfer. But, with WiFi 6, the technology has got some significant improvements, which are pretty apparent as per the claims.

On the other hand, with the OFDMA technology, there is a significant improvement over the Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) technology, used with older standards. As its name suggests, the technology offers multiple access with simultaneous data transmission from several users at once. However, one drawback of OFDM technology is that it can cause some serious latency issues. To eradicate this problem, OFDMA comes into the picture, which essentially allows an AP (Access Point) to schedule data transmission and further divide frequencies to transmit data to/from multiple clients at the same time. In a way, this allows more devices to operate on a channel by reducing the latency, and in turn, increase efficiency.

WiFi 6 Security

In addition to subduing latency, WiFi 6 also offers improved security with support for WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3). For the uninitiated, WPA3 is the third-generation standard for secure wireless computer networks. It uses 128-bit encryption in WPA3-Personal and 192-bit in WPA3-Enterprise mode. Moreover, it replaces the PSK (Pre-Shared Key) exchange with a more secure initial key exchange. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, the WPA3 standard will alleviate security issues caused due to weak passwords and also help in simplifying the process of setting up devices.

What are some WiFi 6 applications?

For the most part, a lot of the WiFi 6 applications are similar to the current applications, except that WiFi 6 aims to offer some significant improvements over older versions. To begin with, in addition to providing a faster and more reliable home network and interference-free public Wi-Fi experience, the new generation promises benefits on the IoT hardware front — with improved battery performance and improved range — and increased performance with reduced latency on in-vehicle systems.

What are the differences between WiFi 6 and 5G?

5G vs. WiFi 6
Image: IOTforall

5G is another wireless technology that is going to come out this year. And with that, a lot of people are confused with the differences and similarities that it shares with WiFi 6. So to break it down, here are some of the common aspects and differences between the two wireless technologies.

Talking about similarities, both WiFi 6 and 5G, claim to offer faster speeds and performance improvements over their previous generations. They also overlap on a few fundamental technologies like Beamforming and MU-MIMO. However, apart from that, the two have some significant differences, like the scope of use, compatibility, and availability.

With WiFi 6, users get what is called a WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network), which essentially provides access to faster internet speeds indoors (home, office, public spaces, etc). Whereas with 5G, users get a WAN (Wide-Area Network), which offers a mobile experience that allows them to enjoy faster speeds on the go with applications that stretch towards edge computing and IoT (Internet of Things).

Another distinctive difference between the two wireless technologies is in terms of the range of devices that it can support. With WiFi 6, the Wi-Fi Alliance has changed the nomenclature to make it easy for average people to understand and differentiate the newer generation. And also added a bunch of performance improvements. Apart from this, WiFi 6 is similar to the older generations of WiFi, and is, therefore, backward compatible with older generation networking equipment, meaning, all your older generation devices will still be able to use WiFi 6 APs. Although, they might not get the same speeds, and therefore, might have to deal with lower speeds.

On the other hand, with 5G, things are going to be drastically different, since, it is a completely new technology and requires the latest set of hardware on a device for it to be able to achieve faster speeds and additional benefits. This means older devices will not be able to connect to 5G networks, and unlike WiFi 6, not be able to utilize older devices and enjoy the newest technology.

Not to mention, the availability, which in case of WiFi 6 is somewhere towards the end of the year, and for 5G, anywhere between the end of the year 2019 to 2022.

How do I get WiFi 6?

galaxy s10 wi fi 6

To be clear, you need to buy new devices: new routers, new laptops, new phones, new everything. In simpler words, there is no software update to your existing devices to make them WiFi 6 ready. All of them need dedicated hardware inside.

Currently, there are not a lot of devices out there that come with support for WiFi 6. But with the WiFi Alliance beginning to offer WiFi 6 certification for devices in the third quarter of 2019, we can expect to see compatible devices hitting the market somewhere around the same timeframe. As the current scenario stands, D-Link and Asus have already announced their WiFi 6 compatible routers at CES earlier this year. Not to mention, Netgear, which also introduced their WiFi 6 routers a couple of months back, is already available for people to purchase.

Buy WiFi 6 Routers on Amazon

Coming to smartphones, WiFi 6 is currently only supported by Samsung’s Galaxy S10 lineup, which was announced a few months back and is available for purchase. The S10 comes with the all-new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, which is the current top-of-the-line chipset for upcoming smartphones and comes with support for Wi-Fi 6. As for smartphones from other manufacturers, there might still be some time, and it might stretch to probably somewhere towards the end of the year before we get to see more smartphones with support for WiFi 6. Not to mention, the need for a WiFi 6 compatible AP (access point) to be able to utilize the advantages of WiFi 6 to its prime, which eventually boils down to having compatible devices all-around.

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