WiFi which simply means Wireless Fidelity has rolled out another amazing update: 802.11ax, also known as “WiFi 6.”
Wi-Fi 6 is not a new means of connecting to the internet like fiber but an upgraded standard that compatible devices, particularly routers, can take advantage of to transmit Wi-Fi signals more efficiently.
The Wi-Fi 6 (version 802.11ax) is the 6th version of 802.11, so they’re calling it Wi-Fi 6. The previous couple of generations will get the same treatment retroactively, too. Before Wi-Fi 6, there was an existing standard 802.11ac which is called Wi-Fi 5.
How fast is the new Wi-Fi 6 standard?
The new Wi-Fi 6 offers theoretical speeds of up to 10Gbps, although one of the main goals of the standard is to make Wi-Fi work better with multiple devices. There are a few fundamental changes to the way that Wi-Fi 6 works.
First, the standard has improved the number of bits that can be transmitted at the same time. Wi-Fi uses a technique called Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM). Wi-Fi 5 used 512-QAM, which let the system transmit eight bits at once; Wi-Fi 6 uses 1024-QAM, which lets 10 bits be transmitted at the same time. That gives a 25% speed improvement.
Next, Wi-Fi 6 uses Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), which breaks a wireless channel down into small chunks, so that each client gets its own dedicated bit of bandwidth. It’s similar to how a post truck can be packed with letters for different people, and separated out at the end.
What Devices Can Use Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 has actually been around for a while, with many routers already offering it. The problem was there were few Wi-Fi 6 routers available, especially at an affordable price.
Fortunately the Wi-Fi Alliance has now finally opened up its new certification programme which means manufacturers can submit their products in order to get a shiny Wi-Fi 6 Certified logo slapped on the box and listed in their spec sheets if the device passes the required tests.
There is now a range of routers available with Wi-Fi 6: these models tend to be more expensive than their Wi-Fi 5 equivalents, but they’re future-proofed for when you get more Wi-Fi 6 devices.
Of course, a Wi-Fi 6 router is wasted if you don’t have any Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices. The good news here is that Wi-Fi 6 products are starting to appear in stores. The Samsung Galaxy S10 was the first smartphone to feature support for Wi-Fi 6, while Apple’s upcoming iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max all support it too.
We’ll also start to see more laptops flaunting Wi-Fi 6 support thanks to the launch of Intel’s new Ice Lake and Comet Lake processors. One of the very first laptops to feature one of Intel’s 10th Generation CPUs (and therefore offering Wi-Fi 6 support) will be the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, but many more will start to hit stores throughout the last quarter of the year and 2020.
What are Wi-Fi standards?
Each new Wi-Fi standard that comes along introduces improvements and refinements to our wireless networks. Wi-Fi 6 is the sixth generation of these standards, as the name kind of implies.
Here’s a full table of the previous Wi-Fi standards, including their old and new names, maximum speeds and other pertinent information.
Note that the three generations prior to Wi-Fi 4 have not officially been rechristened by the Wi-Fi Alliance, as they’re now defunct and won’t be found or supported by any new products.
|Original name||New name||Top speed||Year of introduction||Other information|
|802.11ax||Wi-Fi 6||10Gbps||2018||Designed to operate in the 1 and 7 GHz frequencies as well as 2.4GHz and 5GHz|
|802.11ac Wave 1 / Wave 2||Wi-Fi 5||1.3Gbps / 2.34Gbps||2013 / 2016||Used 20, 40 and 80-MHz channels in the 5GHz band / used 160MHz 5GHz channel, added MU-MIMO (Multi-user MIMO) for even greater coverage|
|802.11n||Wi-Fi 4||450Mbps||2009||Support for dual-band Wi-Fi, meaning routers and devices could use 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and MIMO (mutli input, multi output) for greater coverage|
|802.11g||n/a||54Mbps||2003||Brought the top 802.11a speed to the 2.4GHz frequency|
|802.11b||n/a||11Mbps||1999||Single-band, used the 2.4GHz frequency|
|802.11a||n/a||54Mbps||1999||Single-band, used the 5GHz frequency, launched at same time as 802.11b|
On speeds, you should note that the speeds given here are theoretical maximum speeds – even if you have the latest phones and laptops, if there are other devices in your home all using the same connection, or you’re moving closer or further away from your router (and you’ve not got a mesh Wi-Fi system set up), then your mileage may vary.
To take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6 and its improvements, you’ll need the proper equipment. For one, you’ll need an 802.11ax compatible router. In addition, each device that connects to that router should have the appropriate Wi-Fi 6 antenna.
Wi-Fi standards also ensure that products are backwards-compatible. In other words, older connected devices which don’t conform to the latest standards will still happily connect to a Wi-Fi 6 router. They just won’t be able to capitalise on those updates. Likewise, any smartphones, laptops and other devices which are Wi-Fi 6 compatible can hook up to a router using Wi-Fi 5.