What is WiFi 6 & What can it do to improve your Online experience?

A new LAN connectivity standard that will match the jump we are making from 4G to 5G in wireless connectivity

Faisal Khan
Aug 7 · 4 min read

It’s just been over a couple of decades and we can’t imagine a life without the Internet. The urge to stay connected all the time has been magnified by the use of smart online devices capable of transferring large amounts of data. Be it outside where we have wireless connectivity or at home, office or schools where WiFi is widely available, the younger generation has never even seen a World where there is limited or no connectivity at all.

The connectivity speeds to the Internet have more or less kept pace with the growing needs. As we step into the next era where billions of devices will be connected via the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G will provide the next step in seamless connectivity for these IoT enabled devices, but what about WiFi which has 8 billion devices connected globally (infographic below), with 3 billion devices added in the last 12 months alone.

Just about when we are entering the 5G era in wireless connectivity, WiFi 6 will provide us with the next generation of LAN connectivity. The Wi-Fi 6 (802.11AX) standard as it is known in the tech community is expected to go mainstream sometime in 2019, offering a dramatic improvement in the connectivity for enterprises, mobile workers & home users. WiFi speeds have grown by 650x over the past two decades. Here is a brief timeline of the WiFi standards & how they have evolved over time.

⦿ 1993 — AT&T installed the first large scale wireless network at the Carnegie Mellon University.

⦿ 1997 — First IEEE 802.11 standard based on WaveLAN technology was released.

⦿ 1999 — “Wi-Fi” Trademark was claimed by the trade association with Wi-Fi Alliance. The same year a new standard 802.11B was released which was 5 times faster than WaveLAN. Lower prices made this an enticing tech, but interference from other ISM band devices lowered internet speeds.

⦿ 1999 (802.11A-WiFi2) — This standard was widely adopted by corporate workplaces due to faster speeds as it reduced interference by switching to 5.8 GHz frequency band. The downside was that the wireless signals were easily absorbed by solid objects reducing the range.

⦿ 1999 (802.11G-WiFi3) — Offered the same speed as the WiFi 2 (802.11A) but at a lower frequency of 2.8 GHz for backward compatibility, which also lowered the cost of upgrading to faster equipment. The drawback, however, was that even one older device brought down the speed of the whole network by 21%.

⦿ 2009 (802.11N-WiFi 4) — Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) signaling model was introduced which boosted the data transfer speed. The standard also had the capability of working on dual bands of 2.4 & 5.8 GHz combining the benefits of WiFi 2 & 3. On the flip side, the WiFi router could handle only one device’s signal at a time.

⦿ 2013 (802.11AC-WiFi 5) — This upgrade allowed multi-user MIMO where the WiFi router can handle up to 4 different streams of data from multiple devices. Increased speed by reducing lag. Mesh networks could function as one network on the faster 5.8 GHz band as well.

Image Credit: NETGEAR

As the capability of the WiFi networks increased over the years so did the demand as typical households started to have multiple devices. A typical American household in 2017 had 5 connected devices. Even a state of the art WiFi 5 router is not enough to slow down the entire network. This is where WiFi 6 — built for IoT steps in. It creates an organized & efficient network that support heavy data traffic.

WiFi 6 achieves this by splitting each transmission, to stream to multiple devices concurrently. This prevents IoT from slowing down your network, prolonging the battery life of your connected devices and increasing the speed to 6 Gbps. With one device only, you probably won’t feel the difference but unlike older routers, it would be great for multiple connected devices.

There are hardly any households with just one connected device these days. I have about 7–8 devices working the WiFi network on any given day in my house. I have already upgraded my internet service twice to higher speeds to avoid the slowing down of the network. Obviously, the results have been disappointing. I, for one, am looking forward to getting my hands on the new WiFi 6 router as soon as it arrives. What about you?

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Faisal Khan

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