WiFi 6 is progressively being implemented in internet boxes and wireless devices. Establishing itself as the new wireless connection standard, WiFi 6 offers many improvements, including increased range and bandwidth, as well as simultaneous support for a greater number of devices. It is therefore particularly useful for online gaming or for sharing a large number of files over the local network. But how can you take advantage of WiFi 6 and which devices are compatible?
What is WiFi 6?
The story of Wireless Fidelity, more commonly known as WiFi, began in 1997. At the time, this technology was named the IEEE 802.11 protocol. It was only in August 1999 that the name WiFi appeared for the first time at the behest of the WECA (Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance), now known as the Wi-Fi Alliance. The word Wi-Fi was inspired by the term hi-fi (high fidelity) and its logo by a yin and yang symbol. The Wi-Fi Alliance’s goal was to create a more catchy trade name that encompassed all future 802.11 protocols.
Today, many versions of WiFi exist. They can be identified by the code 802.11, which is followed by the letters a, b, g, n, ac, etc., indicating the Wi-Fi generation and the compatibility standard. These different standards differ mainly in transfer speed and the connected devices’ security protocol. Here is a table compiling the characteristics of the most common WiFi standards:
|WiFi standard||Theoretical max. data rate||Frequency||Max. range||Implemented|
|802.11||2 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz||20m||1997|
|802.11a||54 Mbit/s||5 GHz||35m||1999|
|802.11b||11 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz||35m||1999|
|802.11g||54 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz||38m||2003|
|802.11n||288 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz||70m||2009|
|802.11n||600 Mbit/s||5 GHz||35m||2009|
|802.11ac||3500 Mbit/s||5 GHz and 2.5 GHz||35m||2013|
This table combines the most frequently used WiFi standards, but there are many others. However, all of these different WiFi generations are not always compatible with one another. For example, if you have an 802.11n WiFi router, it will be impossible to connect it to a device that uses 802.11b. Therefore, it is evident that the term WiFi doesn’t make the task any easier because it includes all 802.11 standards released since 1999. Consequently, two WiFi certified devices aren’t necessarily compatible. To simplify this classification, the Wi-Fi Alliance decided to use simpler names for all of the different standards. This is how Wi-Fi 6, the latest generation of Wi-Fi, came to be. With the old classification system, it is referred to as 802.11ax. WiFi 1, WiFi 2, WiFi 3, WiFi 4 and WiFi 5 therefore refer to the former 802.11 standards. Here is a second table with the different 802.11 standards and their equivalent in the new classification system.
|802.11 standard||WiFi standard||Theoretical max. data rate||Frequency||Max. range||Implemented|
|802.11a||WiFi 1||54 Mbit/s||5 GHz||35m||1999|
|802.11b||WiFi 2||11 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz||35m||1999|
|802.11g||WiFi 3||54 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz||38m||2003|
|802.11n||WiFi 4||600 Mbit/s||5 GHz and 2.4 GHz||35 to 70m||2009|
|802.11ac||WiFi 5||3500 Mbit/s||5 GHz and 2.5 GHz||35m||2013|
|802.11ax||WiFi 6||10 Gbit/s||5 GHz and 2.5 GHz||unknown||2019|
These different standards also have new logos to simplify identification of the WiFi protocol used by each device. The WiFi Alliance explains that this change must allow people to identify devices that provide access to the latest WiFi experience.
WiFi 6: higher data rate
As mentioned above, WiFi 6 provides a data rate that is almost 40% faster than the previous standard. Therefore, WiFi 6 theoretically provides up to 9.6 Gbp/s of bandwidth compared to only 3.5 Gbp/s for WiFi 5. To reach such a speed, WiFi 6 relies on the processing power of the latest WiFi chips.
WiFi 6 also allows you to maintain a stable and fast connection when a lot of devices are present on the network. The number of wireless devices in our homes keeps growing each year. Smartphones, tablets, computers, smart lighting, smart home modules, etc., homes can easily contain a dozen devices, sometimes more. Older generations of WiFi aren’t designed to handle as many devices simultaneously, resulting in latency and significant drops in speed. WiFi 6 provides an alternative by using an enhanced version of MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) technology. The latter uses multiple antennas to simultaneously communicate with several devices. Up until now, WiFi 5 could already communicate with several devices, but these devices could not respond at the same time. WiFi 6 has a new protocol called MU-MIMO which allows different devices to simultaneously receive and emit data. To do this, the WiFi controller is able to divide a WiFi network into several subchannels. Each of these subchannels can then transport the data to a different device. This technology is called OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access). As a result, WiFi 6 is ideal for online gaming without latency or for sharing lots of files over the local network.
WiFi 6: improved battery life
The new WiFi chips are also energy-efficient. Consequently, the battery life of smartphones and tablets connected using WiFi 6 will be greater than when using WiFi 5 or any of the earlier WiFi generations. This reduction in energy consumption is possible because WiFi 6 uses the new Target Wake Time feature. This system indicates to the connected device when to put its WiFi module in standby and when to turn it back on to receive more data. As a result, the power supply to the device is used less often, which extends its battery life.
How to enjoy Wi-Fi 6
As we have just seen, this new technology brings many major improvements. So comes the critical question, “how do I enjoy WiFi 6 at home?” Well, you first need to use a router that is certified WiFi 6. At the moment, they are few and far between, but certain internet providers are slowly beginning to develop compatible devices. However, it is still possible to benefit from the performance provided by WiFi 6 with an old router. To do this, you simply need to use an external module that acts as a router, such as the Netgear XR700-100EUS, Netgear XR500-100EUS, Netgear RAX80-100EUS, Netgear Orbi RBK852 or Netgear Nighthawk AX12. You can then deactivate WiFi on your router and connect all your devices to the Netgear module’s WiFi 6 network.
Which devices are compatible with Wi-Fi 6?
Although it is possible to connect any WiFi-compatible device to a WiFi 6 network, it is imperative that both devices (the source and the receiver) are WiFi 6 certified in order to enjoy the many advantages offered by this new standard, especially in terms of speed and energy saving. Companies are starting to develop compatible devices, especially in the smartphone market with the Samsung Galaxy S10, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S10e, Samsung Galaxy Note 10, Asus Rog Phone 2, as well as the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max.
WiFi 6 compatible computers are also starting to emerge. Intel in particular has announced the release of its AX200 WiFi 6 module for laptops. Qualcomm has also announced that it is developing WiFi 6 chips. Therefore, it’s possible to update an old device by replacing the WiFi module. This new wireless standard is likely to be rapidly adopted by our various connected devices.