We’ve been hearing about 5G wireless technology for what seems like the last thousand years thanks mostly to the marketing departments of mobile phone companies. But its cousin WiFi 6 hasn’t gotten nearly the same press. Now, considering that people are relying on their home internet more than ever owning to the coronavirus pandemic, it's time to get to know the newest generation of wireless internet technology that aims to vastly improve how we learn, play, and work from home.
The WiFi Backstory
It may come as a surprise to you that WiFi generations even exist and have a naming convention, but that’s not your fault. Just two years ago, the WiFi Alliance, an organization that standardizes WiFi interoperability, retconned previous generations of WiFi – 802.11b, 802.11a, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac and 802.11ax – and renamed them WiFi 1*, WiFi 2*, WiFi 3*, WiFi 4, WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 respectively to make the names more catchy. *(WiFi 1 - 3 are only unofficial names)
As technology improves, each new generation of WiFi offers users a better experience, and WiFi 6 couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The upgrade provides numerous advances that are ideal for setting up a home network that can handle the traffic of Zoom meetings, virtual classes, and online entertainment, all part of the new normal in the age of the coronavirus.
Naturally, WiFi 6 is going to give your connected devices a speed boost through optimized data encoding which squeezes more data into the same radio waves. We can thank advances in chip technology for providing this enhanced efficiency. So how fast is WiFi 6? Theoretically, devices can get up to 9.6 Gbps, which is more than double the 3.5 Gbps speeds current Wi-Fi 5 delivers. But routers rarely, if ever, support the maximum possible speeds, so don't get your hopes up too high. Still, users will experience 40% faster data transfers than what they're getting now, making for snappy downloads and uploads, and crisp streaming for all those video conference calls and gaming.
The real draw of WiFi 6 isn’t about speed, but capacity. If you’ve got smartphones, smart televisions, smartwatches, smart thermostats, baby monitors and computers for multiple people all connected to a single WiFi network, then WiFi 6 is a godsend. The technology opens more lanes of highway to accommodate all the data traffic by dividing a wireless channel into a large number of subchannels. The technobabble term for this is Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and it delivers almost four times the capacity of WiFi 5, allowing more devices to get online at the same time without interruptions.
Security is a big issue for companies now operating a remote workforce and WiFi 6 is on top of it. All those trade secrets and confidential documents are in good hands as certified WiFi 6 devices must support WPA3 security protocols. WPA3 makes it harder for bad actors to hack passwords by constantly guessing them, and provides automatic data encryption, making intercepted data difficult to decipher. However, WPA 3 is not fool proof, and doesn't patch the greatest security threat to any network – the user.
Better Range and Power Management
If your connected device is far from the router, WiFi 6 has a plan for that. It uses computational intelligence that tells it to send stronger signals to those devices on the edge of the network for greater connectivity. And one of the biggest features of the latest upgrade is that WiFi 6 devices schedule when they communicate with the router using a feature called Target Wake Time. These planned check-ins mean that battery-operated IoT devices like door locks and sensors only “chat” with the router when necessary, reducing energy consumption and improving battery life.
Switching to WiFi 6
In order to enjoy all the benefits of WiFi 6 you need to switch out that old router you’ve been using and upgrade to a newer model that is WiFi 6 certified. And not only that, your connected devices need to be WiFi 6 compatible. Unfortunately, most hardware manufactured before 2019 aren’t. For example, Apple's iPhone 11 line and latest iPad Pro support WiFi 6, but even the company’s newest MacBooks and Apple Watches do not. The good thing about WiFi 6 routers is that they are backwards compatible so they’ll still work with your older hardware, but just be aware that each device needs to be WiFi 6 certified in order to take advantage of all the features this new technology has to offer.