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What is WiFi 6?

WiFi is about to get faster.

This is great news, as we consume more and more bandwidth in our day-to-day work duties. But the next generation of WiFi is about more than just faster speeds. The improvements will be more subtle, and we’ll start to see the benefits more and more over a longer period of time.

Faster WiFi means better upload and download speeds (throughput) due to the increased bandwidth delivered by WiFi 6. This is becoming more and more important as file sizes continue to increase, along with the higher data needs of streaming HD video and communication-heavy hybrid work. Uploading and downloading files to and from SharePoint while on video calls on Teams can use a lot of bandwidth.

How much faster is WiFi 6?

WiFi 6 at 9.6 Gbps vs WiFi 5 at 3.5 Gbps.

Please remember that these are just theoretical maximums. In a real life environment, local networks probably won’t reach this top speed. As the maximum is split across many devices, Wi-Fi 6 devices can reach considerably faster speeds compared to WiFi 5, even if they don’t reach the maximum stated.

WiFi 6 can achieve higher data transfer speeds through a range of methods, starting with more efficient data encoding and smarter use of the wireless spectrum by using more powerful processors.

The new generation of WiFi can also achieve up to 75% less latency. This is achieved by handling large amounts of network traffic in a more efficient way. For the workplace, this means faster downloads, better upload speeds for video calls, and more reliable media multitasking.

WiFi 6 is bringing wired and wireless closer to parity. This will free up workers from the need to be plugged in and allow people to work anywhere in the office without issue. Many workers still need to connect directly to routers or network switches via Ethernet cables, WiFi 6 will now allow them to take advantage of the flexibility that wireless networking provides.

How is WiFi 6 faster?

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA)

OFDMA works by splitting channels into ‘subcarriers’ and allowing for transmission to multiple devices at the same time. A Wi-Fi 6 router can send different signals in the same transmission window. This results in a single transmission from the router being able to communicate with multiple devices, instead of each device having to wait its turn as the router serves up the data across the network.

An example of this would be like trucks delivering stock from a central distribution centre to supermarkets. With older technology, sending one pallet of apples, one pallet of potatoes and one pallet of oranges, would require three trucks, loaded with a single pallet. OFDMA enables one truck to carry all three pallets and make more efficient use of space.

Overlapping Basic Service Sets (OBSS)

With older versions of Wi-Fi, devices trying to connect to a network used a ‘listen before talk’ process, which meant they had to ‘listen’ for any noise on a channel before transmitting.

If there was any noise on the channel, even if it originated from a distant network, they would have to wait until the channel was clear before transmitting to avoid potential interference. OBSS enables the access point to use a ‘colour’ in order to uniquely identify the network. If other traffic is detected on the channel, but it is not the same color of the local network, devices can ignore it and continue transmission. This can help increase reliability and improve latency.

Working together, OFDMA and OBSS allow for more effective communication on crowded networks. As more and more devices use Wi-Fi, this will help preserve the speed and stability of connections.

What else is changing?

WPA3 makes it harder for hackers to crack passwords by constantly guessing them, and it makes some data less useful even if hackers manage to obtain it. Current devices and routers can support WPA3, but it’s optional. For Wi-Fi 6 devices WPA3 is required.

Target Wake Time (TWT) allows devices to plan out communications with a router, reducing the amount of time they need to keep their antennas powered on to transmit and search for signals. That means less drain on batteries and improved battery life in turn.

Beamforming is a technique that focuses a wireless signal towards a specific receiving device, rather than have the signal spread in all directions, like from a broadcast antenna. The resulting direct connection is faster and more reliable than it would be without beamforming.