Wi-Fi 6 Unravelled, What it is and how it works

As the number of bandwidth-hungry wireless devices increases in your home, technology has no choice but to rise to the occasion.

That is where Wi-Fi 6, the sixth generation of wireless connectivity comes in; along comes to the best Wi-Fi 6 routers to keep all your smart devices well fed.

No doubt so far you have bumped on to term Wi-Fi 6 and wondered what it is. And if inquisitive by nature, you want to know if it is any faster than its sibling Wi-Fi 5.

Can it load Doom Eternal faster on your gaming laptop, intensify Netflix streaming or even satisfy your frequent quizzical visits to CNN website in search of COVID 19 updates?

You are not to blame. Since late 2018 gamers, techies and Netflix bingers have raised hell about Wi-Fi 6. Your concern is defensible.

Wi-Fi 6 is part of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s quest to fulfill its bid to connect everyone and everything everywhere. 

Wi-Fi Alliance is the worldwide network of companies that advocate for Wi-Fi technology and certifies Wi-Fi products to ensure they follow rules set for interoperability.

It originated from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a body responsible for telecommunication advancement among other engineering disciplines. Wi-Fi Alliance split from IEEE to focus on what would later be known as Wi-Fi products.

That is where the story begins.

So, What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the latest generation of Wireless LAN (WLAN) standards; the sixth generation of Wi-Fi. It is aimed at providing better Wi-Fi experience, not just a higher speed, for more wireless devices in crowded places.

It favors networks with many devices or those surrounded by lots of networks. 

In essence, Wi-Fi 6 is your savior when your smartphone lists 20 other networks available besides your own!

It is the dual-band in nature supporting 2.4GHZ and 5GHz bands like Wi-Fi 5, but with a promise to use 6GHz band in later. That is a story for another day though.

For a long time, WLAN standards were not easy to remember unless you were a bred engineer.

But to help bring everyone on board as the vision of Wi-Fi Alliance states, you now see the pet name Wi-Fi 6 replacing complex shoptalk IEEE 802.11ax.

Wi-Fi 6 immediate predecessor Wi-Fi 5 (IEEE 802.11ac) was published in December 2013 and boasted of bringing 5GHz band into the limelight in addition to the 2.4GHz band used in Wi-Fi 4.

Before that was Wi-Fi 4; the former IEEE 802.11n that was introduced in 2009. 

Wi-Fi 6 has been floating around since 2017 in theory, but 2019 in the application. So if you are only hearing about it today, it is the WLAN standard to own!

How Fast is Wi-Fi 6, Compared to its Predecessor Wi-fi 5 & 4?

Wi-Fi 6 promises speeds of up to 10Gbps, crazy if you may. But when the rubber meets the road, don’t expect your speed test to record anything higher than 1% of the stated figure.

The reason being, 10Gbps is based on the potential of your whole network when all devices are Wi-Fi 6 compliant. Not just one device. 

Wi-Fi 5 promised theoretical speeds of up to 3.5Gbps, making Wi-Fi 6 almost 3 times faster. The high speed contributes to Wi-Fi 6’s ability to deliver a higher quality of experience for more devices on a network than would Wi-Fi 5.

While Wi-Fi 5 transmits to one device at a time on each network channel, Wi-Fi 6 harnesses the power of OFDMA and MU-MIMO technology to increase network capacity and efficiency when traffic is high to prevent bandwidth wastage.

 It splits every channel into sub-channels, puts data from several devices together in a bundle and transmits it at once.

That explains the reduced lag and great Wi-Fi experience in home networks where all devices are Wi-Fi 6 compliant. 

Does Wi-Fi 6 Make Your Devices Faster?

Good question!

If you are thinking of a single device, chances are, you will not see much difference between how Facebook loads on your laptop in a Wi-Fi 5 network and Wi-Fi 6. Focus is given to the quality of experience in the entire network. 

The speed difference shows best when you try accessing a bandwidth-hungry application from a network hosting many devices or an environment with many networks.

Think to play your favorite online game on a Saturday afternoon when everyone is home video calling, surfing, downloading files and partying on Netflix.

Add to that the fact that every home in your neighborhood has a Wi-Fi 6 router with as many users as your home. That is when Wi-Fi 6 flexes its muscles. 

While the loading of Facebook on your laptop when home alone may not blaze fast on Wi-Fi 6, in the above environment, downloading a 30GB file from Dropbox will give the ultimate testimony.

So, What Makes Wi-Fi 6 Faster?

Wi-Fi Alliance boasts that the new kid in the block can deliver higher data rates, increased capacity, better experiences for many devices in crowded environments and enhanced power efficiency.

This claim is supported by unique capabilities that you will only see in Wi-Fi 6.

First, Wi-Fi 6 allows multiple devices in your network to share channels while delivering data at once in a technique called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA).

Think of it as splitting the channel into sub-channels so many devices can transmit through it at once.

This reduces latency by a great percentage. Wi-Fi 5 allows one device to use one channel on its per transmission.

Second, it allows more data to download and transfer at once by using Multiple-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO).

This enables your router to communicate to more devices at the same time instead of one device at a time.

MU-MIMO is not new in the WLAN standards; it is used in Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4 too. The main difference is, while it enables Wi-Fi 5 router to communicate with 4 devices at once, in Wi-Fi 6, it allows 8.

Think of MU-MIMO in Wi-Fi 6 as a highway with 8 lanes allowing 8 Ferraris ferrying kids from a park to their respective homes around the city.

Unlike Wi-Fi 5 with 4 lanes, Wi-Fi 6 is armed with 8 making it more efficient. 

And last but not least, Wi-Fi 6’s channels have a bandwidth of 160MHz boasting of the ability to give better performance with less lagging. Wi-Fi 5’s channels are 80MHz.

It also uses 1024-QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation mode to increase performance for bandwidth-hogging applications by encoding more data in the same band. The predecessor uses 256-QAM.

Beamforming technology, the ability of the router to focus Wi-Fi signal towards the particular wireless device in need of it instead of broadcasting to the entire network is also used in Wi-Fi 6.

The technology was adopted first in Wi-Fi 5 and works hand in hand with the router’s antennas. It promises less interference, stronger Wi-Fi signal, and better reception.

How can You Get Wi-Fi 6 in Your Devices?

Sorry, not through a quick download into your device. And this is the major downside of Wi-Fi 6.

Getting Wi-Fi 6 on your devices takes hardware upgrade; changing the devices in your network, beginning with your router.

Bearing in mind that 2019 saw many manufacturers embrace Wi-Fi 6 with much seriousness, every top brand has a few good Wi-Fi 6 routers to show.

For example, if you are a gamer, ASUS ROG Rapture GT-11000 Wi-Fi 6 Router would deliver the much-needed experience for a start. 

You also need to upgrade your wireless devices; all of them if you wish to own a pure Wi-Fi 6 network.

Realize though, Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible. A Wi-Fi 6 router does not mind going to bed with Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4 devices and giving them a good experience in the best way it knows how.

That gives you a chance to upgrade at your own time while bearing the consequences. 

When you are ready to dump your old smartphone though, Samsung Galaxy 10 will do you good. It is Wi-Fi 6 ready. For a laptop, consider Dell XPS 15 7590 with Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2x2) Wireless card or replacing your old network card with the particular Killer card if your laptop can take it.

But if you have a great gaming desktop, replace the network card with TP-Link Wi-Fi 6 AX300 PCIe Card. It supports Windows 10 -64bit.

The Claim on Wi-Fi 6 on Battery Consumption for Your Devices

With so many wireless devices coming up, crowded networks are not rare. Devices are forced to fight for the router’s attention hence draining their battery if they have to stay up and communicate.

Though this may not affect your laptop or smartphone so much, IoT devices are not spared.

Such devices need to shut down when not communicating with the router or not talk at all if not spoken to. If they have to compete for Wi-Fi in congested environments, they would have to keep their antennas powered throughout.

Target Wake Time (TWT), one of the special capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 routers, enables them to plan with the wireless devices, IoT included when and how to communicate.

This allows the devices not to stay up searching for data. Instead, they can wake up at the scheduled time to send or receive data.

More bandwidth is therefore availed due to the organization translating to efficient data handling, less interference, and less battery consumption.

Wi-Fi 6 and Tight Security

Besides the Wi-Fi 6 capabilities covered so far, there is the paramount issue of security. That is where WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) comes in. 

WPA is a set of security protocols created to keep your Wi-Fi traffic safe. It oversees the handshake between your wireless device and your router when you type in a password and the necessary data encryption necessary for safe communication.

Your current router, if you have not upgraded to Wi-Fi 6 is likely to be using WPA2. Before WPA2 was WPA and WEP. 

With hackers craving for your data every wake of the day, WPA3 makes it difficult to crack your password since they can only do that by interacting with your Wi-Fi. This is vital if you have a weak password. Don’t dare!

Should the hacker capture your encrypted data from your computer then comes across your password after that, decryption will fail unless they come back and collect new data.

This calls for a need to change your password often. Use of WPA3 also forces open Wi-Fi networks to keep your traffic encrypted, making that free Wi-Fi at the supermarket safer to use. That does mean you should use it.

With WPA2, hackers could take away the data captured and try cracking the password away from your Wi-Fi. Upon success, the personal data captured is at risk.

WPA3 is compulsory for any certified Wi-Fi 6 product; those not certified get away with it.

But if you value your security, NETGEAR Nighthawk AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Router (RAX120) or NETGEAR RAX15 AX1800 Wi-Fi Router will suit you well. At the moment, WPA3 is still able to support wireless devices using WPA2.

Wi-Fi 6: What Next?

Now that Wi-Fi 6 is here, how do you know if the wireless device you are about to buy is Wi-Fi 6 compliant?

Check the label!

Since last year, manufacturers have outdone themselves in producing the best Wi-Fi 6 routers. Other devices are picking up too; laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

Do not miss the few mentioned in this article. That does not mean you should get a new wireless device for Wi-Fi 6 purpose only, make sure it matches all other specifications you need.

However, it is impossible to tell how well Wi-Fi 6 routers will continue to support your old Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4 devices at the moment.

Wi-Fi 6 router manufacturers seem keen to provide automatic firmware updates and may not be keen to look back after some time. And the WPA3 security deal is hard to ignore.

While Wi-Fi 5 is still available and robust with the promise of delivering higher than gigabit speeds, Wi-Fi 6 brings the future home.

It is the binge-watchers relief on 4K/8K video streaming for multiple concurrent users and Ultra-High –Density clients. Wi-Fi 6 also makes AR/VR applications come live in your network and introduces momentous power saving for IoT devices among others.

And while Wi-Fi 6 feels more enterprise, suitable for the much needed new system of education, there is nothing wrong with using it at home.

After all, 2020 has proved to be the year of working from home; thanks to the COVID 19 pandemic!  

As for the sky-high prices, no sweat! Looking back a few years ago tells the story; technology’s exponential growth and manufacturers’ lust for a good name have a way of taming those. Why not begin the home network facelift now?

Having sorted the rattle about the best Wi-Fi 6 routers, let’s answer a few questions in the same neighborhood.

What devices can use WiFi 6? 

Before buying your next wireless device and taking it to your Wi-Fi 6 based party, consider going through its specifications.

If it doesn’t mention a word about supporting 802.11ax, understand that all others will have to compromise while speaking to it.

As you prepare to buy your Wi-Fi 6 router today, any gadget in your smart home that doesn’t match the specs will force the router to tone down the shoptalk. That includes slowing down the speed. 

Does Wi-Fi 6 have a better range?

Despite routers having a specific range per build, Wi-Fi 6 on its own has extended coverage over that of Wi-Fi 5 and the younger siblings.

It can address more devices at the same time especially when in a congested network or where there are many networks wireless devices can see at once.

Does Apple TV & iPhone 11 have WiFi 6?

While Apple doesn’t seem to shout out loud their support, iPhone 11’s specification page states that all three models; iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max support 802.11ax with 2x2 MIMO.

These are the only Apple products able to work with Wi-Fi 6. That leaves your Apple TV in the cold. But don’t worry, Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible and will work well with your gadget, of course with a little compromise. 

Now that you understand what Wi-Fi 6 is all about, the only way to experience its power in your home network is to give your home network a facelift; get one of the best Wi-Fi 6 routers today!

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