If you are passionate about IT, you may already know that Wi-Fi Alliance has decided to simplify its wireless technology naming conventions, so the new 802.11ax standard has been renamed to Wi-Fi 6. And while the final specifications won't be ready until sometime next year, several router manufacturers have already designed chips that have been built using the draft version of the documentation.
So, what does this new iteration of the wireless standard bring to the table? For starters, data transfer speed will increase by about 40%. This may not sound that exciting, considering the fact that Wi-Fi 5 has brought a 400% speed increase in comparison with Wi-Fi 4.
Still, we've got to be honest and admit that most wireless networks are quite fast these days. According to Data Alliance, the key Wi-Fi-related problems that people are experiencing are poor data coverage and crowded areas, where lots of people use their devices to connect to the same router or access point at the same time. Fortunately, these are the very problems that Wi-Fi 6 is going to solve.
The new Wi-Fi standard is supposed to quadruple throughput in crowded environments. Very few people are aware of this, but most routers can only serve up to 5-10 devices at the same time. It may sound a lot, but if you think about it, it's not that much. Let's consider a family of four; each member has a smart phone, right? Then, we've got smart TVs, gaming consoles, tablets, laptops, desktop PCs, various IoT devices, and so on. And when all these devices are served by a standard router, they'll have to share all its CPU and memory resources, slowing down the network for everyone!
The good news is that Wi-Fi 6 will fix these issues by using the MU-MIMO and OFDMA technologies. With MU-MIMO – Multiple User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output, your router will be able to communicate with several devices at the same time, reducing the waiting time for each one of them. OFDMA - Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access, is a technology that was borrowed from the cellular phone industry, and it helps reduce interference.
As a direct result, you should be able to stream high-definition movies without congesting your home network, for example. It's a direct consequence of having several data streams working in parallel.
Signal range will increase as well. While signal broadcasting power won't grow very much, due to MU-MIMO, the target area will be covered much better, so even the devices that are away from the router will receive a much stronger signal. And when Wi-Fi signal is too weak, routers and access points will be able to compensate for the loss by utilizing cellular networks.
Previous wireless standard iterations utilize the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, but Wi-Fi 6 will be able to use the entire 1 GHz... 7 GHz spectrum. This means that we'll have many more available channels, and each channel will have a larger width (up to 160 MHz), allowing us to benefit from better wireless transfer speeds.
It's true that data transfer rates will "only" grow from 433 MB/s to 600 MB/s, but trust me – the speed increase will feel much faster than that, because the second MU-MIMO wave allows up to four downlink connections at the same time. The number of possible uplink connections has been increased from one to eight connections as well.
Wi-Fi Alliance has taken all the needed precautions, ensuring that the new standard will be 100% compatible with Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5. So, should you upgrade your router and wireless devices right away? My recommendation is to wait for a few months, until all the possible bugs are discovered and fixed. This can often be done at the firmware level, but some hardware manufacturers may make serious mistakes, which will be harder to fix.