The latest generation of Wi-Fi, known as Wi-Fi 6, brings with it some significant performance improvements that aim to address limitations in older generations. While plenty of routers and clients are already available with chips using the 802.11ax certification, Wi-Fi 6 is just beginning its rollout. It will become part of the official IEEE specification in September 2020. This is ushering in a wave of updated devices touting new wireless capabilities that will contribute toward next-generation networks with more speed and less congestion.
Before we get too far, it’s important to understand that 802.11ax, also known as “high-efficiency wireless,” is the same thing as Wi-Fi 6. It’s just easier to say Wi-Fi 6 than 802.11ax.
This is a new naming standard set by the Wi-Fi Alliance, with previous generations now being known as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n). This labeling convention is expected to appear on devices as shown below.
Technically, Wi-Fi 6 has a single-user data rate that is 37% faster than 802.11ac, but what’s more significant is that the updated specification will offer four times the throughput per user in crowded environments, as well as better power efficiency which should translate to a boost in device battery life.
To achieve those improvements, 802.11ax implements a variety of changes including several multi-user technologies which have been borrowed from the cellular industry – namely MU-MIMO and OFDMA – techniques that greatly improve capacity and performance by enabling more simultaneous connections and a more thorough use of spectrum.
Home users who upgrade their hardware can look forward to some improvements from these technologies, especially over time as the number of devices per household increases – some estimates suggest there will be as many as 50 nodes per home by 2022.
While Wi-Fi 6 isn’t designed to boost download speeds significantly, the new features will really shine as device count in an area increases. It has a more nuanced approach that is expected to bring move benefits over time. This will ultimately aid in laying a foundation for the number of nodes expected on upcoming smart infrastructure (e.g. Internet of Things devices). Along with addressing overlapping coverage from the sheer number of devices and network deployments emerging as IoT rolls out, Wi-Fi 6 will be equipped to handle the ever-increasing demand for faster multi-user data rates.