Most people rarely think about the Wi-Fi they use everyday, let alone how it might change or how it works. But Wi-Fi does, in fact, change and update like any other technology. The next generation of Wi-Fi network technology, called Wi-Fi 6 (the technical name is IEEE 802.11ax), will hit the market later this year and help with network congestion, deliver faster speeds, including gigabit connections like 10G, and other improvements. This new certification includes Wi-Fi connected devices from routers to smart lightbulbs to tablets. Also, Wi-Fi 6 is backwards compatible, meaning if someone buys a new smart speaker that runs the new standard, it will still work fine on Wi-Fi 5, it just won’t get all the same benefits. This way, as devices upgrade and get replaced and connections become faster, the transition is smooth.
What makes Wi-Fi 6 different, in short, is efficiency. Many of the updates are innovative solutions that will allow Wi-Fi functions to work better and smarter. Below are some of the highlights and what they mean for the consumer experience.
One of the more important technologies that Wi-Fi 6 will use is OFDMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access). With OFDMA, each Wi-Fi channel is divided into hundreds of smaller sub-channels, called resource units (RU). RUs can be assigned to individual devices, allowing transmissions from several devices as the same time. What does OFDMA mean for the average Wi-Fi user? It means the network will seem much less congested when lots of devices are all trying to use the network at the same time. Another benefit is that the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands can be combined creating even more channels the Wi-Fi network can use.
Without getting into the details of QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation), Wi-Fi 6 brings a more efficient way to package data as it travels on a signal, resulting in a four-fold increase in the data rate for a given channel, increasing network speeds.
MIMO, or multiple-in, multiple-out, is a technique used to send the same data as several signals or "streams" simultaneously through multiple antennas, while still utilizing a single Wi-Fi channel. Originally introduced in Wi-Fi 5, the latest update now allows devices to respond simultaneously. That will improve overall data throughput, allowing for better quality and quantity data to be sent over the Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi 6 also doubles the number of simultaneous streams it can support to eight, up from Wi-Fi 5 only supporting four.
Each version of Wi-Fi standard has resulted in improved battery life for devices using the network. Since each version brings with it greater speed, data is transmitted faster so the device is not consuming as much energy. However, Wi-Fi 6 will make even more improvements in battery savings with a feature called Target Wake Time, a term meaning a negotiated agreement between an access point and the device for when the access point will next request the device to transmit data. This lets the device enter a low-power mode until its turn to transmit data. It doesn't sound like much, but all those short sleep times will add up to some pretty big gains in battery life.
These are just the highlights of Wi-Fi 6. All of these improvements will ensure users get the full experience of gigabit internet speeds, without a congested Wi-Fi network slowing things down. And with IoT continuing to boom, better network management will make a world of difference.