Tom talks about what WiFi 6 is and whether you need to hop on the train yet or hold off for awhile.
Featuring Tom Merritt.
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Have you seen a router offering WiFi6? Or maybe a phone or a tablet that says it’s WiFi6 compatible?
Is this just companies trying to take advantage of your FoMo to trick you into spending money on something you don’t need.
Isn’t wifi usually called 802.11 something something? Why is this one called WiFi 6? Or sometimes WiFi 6E?
After all you probably have WiFi and it works just fine. Why would you need WiFi6?
Is WiFi6 faster? Well yes… and no.
There are reasons you might want it, and reasons you might not.
So Let’s help you Know a Little more about WiFi 6.
First of all, WiFi 6 is just a new name. The official IEEE name for it is 802.11AX. The previous WiFi was 802.11AC. Most of you probably have 802.11AC in your routers, but because that name isn’t terribly friendly to put on a box to most people and as WiFi is becoming a mass product, I think wisely they’ve decided to market the standard as WiFi 6.
That way it’s easier to understand which one is new. Retroactively they renamed 802.11ac as WiFi five. So the WiFi you most likely have is WiFi five I don’t think they went back and named it four or anything like that. They are just calling AC five and they’re calling AX 6 and that’s why you hear about WiFi 6 and if you were confused about that, hopefully that clears it up. It’s just a simpler name for it. And the idea is as new 802 dot 11 protocols roll out for WiFi. They will have new numbers WiFi seven WiFi eight etc. There’s also a slight variation on WiFi 6 called WiFi 6E that I’ll get to at the very end of the episode. But everything true for WiFi 6 is also true for WiFi 6E.
WiFi 6, which is what I’m going to call it for the rest of this episode for clarity, has a theoretical max of 9.6 gigabits per second. Now that’s up from the 3.5 gigabits per second of WiFi five.
As any of you who have a WiFi router know, you don’t get 3.5 gigabits per second, not only because you don’t have a 3.5 gigabit per second connection to the Internet, but but even if you were trying to just transfer things around on your internal network, you probably wouldn’t hit that just because of conditions. The conditions of distance and lag and traffic on your own network are going to impact that.
But the nice thing about having a higher theoretical maximum like 9.6 gigabits per second is you’ve got more bandwidth to slice up between the different devices connected to your network. So 3.5 gigabits per second, can be split up amongst a bunch of different connections, less than 9.6 gigabits per second, especially devices that are talking to each other over the network. So there is an endemic advantage that every WiFi update has had that oh, we can handle a little more allotment per device, the more devices you have on your network, and we are all putting more devices on our networks. In fact, the average United States home has nine WiFi devices on its network– the average. So you think about that, that’s, you know, you with your laptop, your spouse, maybe kids, maybe they all have phones, and then you got an Xbox, maybe a Roku, you can get to nine pretty quick, especially if you add in some smart bulbs and you know, smart home hub, and maybe some sensors here and there. I just checked my network currently at the moment with my wife, not home, has 27 devices on it.
You know, throw in some Amazon echoes and Google homes and start doing a tech show and you ramp that up really fast. And if they’re all trying to use the network at the same time, which thank goodness all 27 of mine are not, but if they are all trying to use the internet Oh Then it’s going to load your local network, it’s going to be able to, it’s going to reduce how much of that bandwidth can be allocated. So the 9.6 gigabits per second is great for that.
In practice, most of the things I’ve read say that if you put one device on a WiFi 6 network, even with a superfast gigabit per second connection, you’re not going to see that much of an increase in speed. But there are other upgrades to the WiFi 6 protocol that make it even better at handling multiple devices. So if you load up your WiFi 6 network with 27 devices and compare that to your WiFi five network, you will definitely see an improvement. We’ll explain more about that in a second.
First though. To take advantage of WifI 6 you WIll need new hardware. And the first piece of hardware you need is a WiFi 6 router. In fact just the router will improve things even if all your phones and tablets are still WiFi 5.
If you don’t have a WiFi 6 router, it doesn’t matter if your devices are capable of WiFi 6. So the router is the most important thing to get first. Even WiFi five devices will benefit from the capacity upgrades we’re going to talk about. If you get a WiFi 6 router and have all WiFi five devices, you will still get benefits. If you have a WiFi five router and all WiFi 6 devices. You won’t. You just won’t. The router is the important part. Although the devices have some functions that can help take advantage of WiFi 6 as well. And devices are already starting to come out with that stuff.
Let’s talk about some of these features that I mentioned just now. Mu-MIMO and OFDM, that both offer better capacity.
One is MU-MIMO. Fun to say even more fun to use, multi user multiple input, multiple output. MIMO is available on WiFi five right now. It lets your router handle four devices at once. So it doesn’t have to go. I’m talking to your laptop. Okay, I’ve stopped talking, I’m talking to your iPhone. Okay, I’m stopped out here. And now I’m talking to your Android phone. Instead It’ll be able to talk to four devices at once. So it can handle a laptop, a phone and Xbox and another thing all at once. That’s why I’m able to have 27 devices on my network and not get bogged down because I generally don’t have more than four probably talking to them at once. The upgrade to MIMO in WiFi 6 lets you handle eight at once. So now if you’ve got Internet of Things devices checking in and an Amazon Echo and you got five people in your house all using devices while you may see a slowdown with WiFi five right now but you won’t see that slowed down– as fast anyway- in WiFi 6.
Imagine it like you’ve got four postal carriers out on delivery to deliver all the mail, it’s going to take a little longer for four to do it than eight. If you have eight postal carriers, well, they could deliver the mail into the neighborhood quite quite a bit faster. That’s MU-MIMO.
The other new feature that helps with capacity on WiFi 6 is OFDM, orthogonal frequency division multiple access. OFDM lets you send to multiple devices in one transmission. So instead of saying okay, I can handle eight devices at once, but then I’m done. OFDM a, lets a transmission be sent to multiple devices. So this is basically like the postal carrier who’s not just going to one house and then going back to the post office, like in our MU-MIMO example. This is a postal carrier that’s going to carry a bunch of mail as much mail as it can fit in its bag. It’s got a bigger bag now in WiFi 6. It can go and hand it out to multiple situations. So one transmission can hit a bunch of devices, allowing more data to be sent. That’s OFDM a orthogonal frequency division multiple access.
So MU-MIMO gets you the ability to handle more devices at once up to eight, and OFDM lets you send out transmissions to multiple devices at once.
There’s also something called target wake time. This is a feature that WiFi 6 devices can benefit from, not just the router. Because it lets devices plan when to communicate with the router. That way the antenna doesn’t have to always be on that’s going to save your battery life. Now it’s not so useful for your laptop or your phone. Definitely not useful for your laptop when you’re connected because you want your laptop to be constantly talking to the router, your browsing, your streaming, etc. But it is great for sensors. If you’ve got a water sensor, the water sensor can say, you know what, I just need to check in with the router every so often. I don’t have to constantly be checking In and you may say, well wait a minute, what if the water comes you want it to be able to check in. The check ins are regular enough that it’s going to catch that really quickly. We’re talking in internet time we’re not talking, you know, days and hours and minutes, we’re talking seconds. But even those seconds means you can reduce the battery life quite a bit. And sensors have long battery life anyway usually. So that can make them last a lifetime.
Another very important aspect is the security protocol WPA three. Now WPA three is available on WiFi five right now but it’s not required. So if you have WPA three available, you should turn it on, but not every router will have it available so you might not be able to turn it on.
That changes with WiFi 6. If a manufacturer wants to call their router WiFi 6, they have to offer WPA three. It may or may not be on by default but it’s there. Now you may have heard about the dragon blood vulnerability to WPA three. It has been patched. So don’t worry, WPA 3 is not any more insecure than any other protocol out there just has researchers working on keeping it secure, which is a good thing.
You may also hear about WiFi 6E. This isn’t a new spec but a way to label devices that support WiFi 6 AND can take advantage of new spectrum.
WiFi 6 like its predecessors supports broadcasts in the 2.4 and 5 Gigahertz spectrum. WiFi 6E supports additional usage in the 6 Gigahertz spectrum that recently became available for unlicensed uses like WiFi.
2.4 GHz can’t handle as much data but it has long range. 5Ghz doesn’t have as much range but it’s usually enough for a small house and it can accommodate more data. The 6GHz band has even less range, enough for a room but but it can accommodate a lot more data.
This will be very useful in crowded areas like train stations or sports stadiums. You can handle a lot of data from all those people and they’re densely packed so the range isn’t as much of a problem. WiFi 6E in the 6Ghz band also makes things like Wireless VR and AR headsets with high resolutions workable.
And yes, for this to work both the device and the router need to support WiFi 6E and that requires chipsets not a firmware upgrade. A WFi 6E router will support all your older WiFi devices too.
Now, let’s get to practicality. I said, the first thing you want is a WiFi 6 router. And given what we just mentioned you may want to hold on for a WiFi 6E router.
Before you make the decision on either, I’d ask you two things.
Do you have the devices that could benefit from it Like an iPhone 11 or Galaxy S10 or newer? Or for WiFi 6E a new Asus or :Lenovo phone If so and you want that battery life protections, maybe.
More important, is your network bogged down? Are you noticing when everybody comes home you have connectivity issues that don’t seem to be related to your ISP? Then it might be time to make the jump. And if you don’t have plans for wireless VR and you’re not a stadium or train station you’ll probably do all right with WiFi 6 instead of WiFi 6E for several years.
But hold off if you can. Right now WiFi 6 routers are a little more expensive than WiFi 5 routers. But those prices are going to come down as more models are added to the market. And WiFi 6E routers are just hitting the market.
I hope this helps you understand a little more about what WiFi 6 is how you can benefit from it and when you need to worry about it.
In other words I hope now you know a little more about WiFi 6.