WiFi 6: The Latest Standard In Wireless Technology
WiFi 6 (or Wi-Fi 6 as designated by long standing Fastmetrics customer, Wi-Fi Alliance), is the latest and greatest when it comes to wireless technology standards. This new Wi-Fi standard is a glimpse into the future of wireless technology, upgrades and capabilities. It can provide super fast wireless connection speeds, for routers that are compatible with the standard, also designated as 802.11ax. In addition to some incredible speeds that WiFi 6 supports, it also handles multiple wireless device connectivity, in a more efficient manner. All over a single WiFi network.
You may be aware, but wireless connectivity becomes saturated easily, is prone to inference across channels and the best frequency selection is not often known, for a particular environment. This can cause issues and degrade wireless signal strength and experience. Typically, this makes channel assignments and frequency choices important, to allow users to connect to a higher quality signal.
We talked about common WiFi issues and troubleshooting in these posts;
However, WiFi 6 solves some of the above issues, as explained below. So, is WiFi 6 worth exploring for your business or home? We’ve got some insights from popular videos on the subject, to find out.
Video: What Is WiFi 6 & How It Can Actually Benefit Us
In the below video from TheUnlockr, David was invited to check out WiFi 6 in San Francisco from leading chip set manufacturer, Qualcomm. Check out his channel for more great tech videos.
Video transcript: There has been talk about the next generation of Wi-Fi called Wi-Fi 6 a lot lately. Enter WiFi 6, the new standard of Wi-Fi. Now while it might seem like WiFi is just feeling left out while everyone is talking about 5Gs, the next level upgrade of the cellular networks and it just wants to feel like it’s getting an upgrade too, it actually is a very clever new standard for how WiFi works, how it can get faster and probably more importantly how it can handle the massive influx of new WiFi connected devices that we just keep adding to our networks.
Qualcomm, one of the top chip set producers in the world, invited me out to San Francisco not too long ago to see what they were doing with WiFi 6. So in this inaugural episode of Decodr where I break down a new piece of tech every week, let’s talk about what WiFi 6 is and how it can actually benefit us.
First off, WiFi 6 is now actually called Wi-Fi 6 because the Wi-Fi Alliance, (the industry body that kind of regulates all of this), decided to kind of change the names to help people understand them better. So WiFi 6 is the new name for 802.11ax. WiFi 5 is the new name of 802.11ac, etc, etc.
Now each of these new standards basically is when people like VK Jones here, the VP of Technology at Qualcomm and considered the godfather of Wi-Fi, and other industry professionals get together and discuss what specific features the next generation of Wi-Fi will need to have. Once they all come to an agreement, they will ask us then what manufacturers must adhere to in order to have their WiFi devices able to use the new standard. For WiFi 6, there are thousands of items mentioned in the actual standard, which don’t worry we won’t get into. We can actually really kind of sum it up in five major features.
5 Major New Features: WiFi 6
First up is MU-MIMO, which stands for Multiple User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output. What it’s trying to say with all those multiples in there though is that it’s a protocol that allows multiple users to send data at the same time, up to eight in WiFi 6 and Qualcomm has even gone above and beyond the standard requirements and have chip sets that are capable of 12 users at a time.
Now this doesn’t mean that only eight devices are talking to the router in total. It means that every packet their WiFi 6 router sends out, which it does multiple times per second by the way, eight devices can receive them at once and this can happen with a different eight devices during the next transmission if needed. Maybe another eight after that or a combination of the new devices and some of the same, etc. So when you think about how fast the signal actually sends out, it ends up being a ton more devices they get to talk every minute for example, instead of waiting their turn like with previous versions of Wi-Fi.
Now in the standard as it is right now, devices only need to be able to have MU-MIMO support on the downloads. So when the router sends info out up to eight devices or twelve again with Qualcomm chip sets, can receive data at once. But Qualcomm actually showed us that they have MU-MIMO for uploads as well on their chip sets and that’s up to twelve devices transmit data back to the router at once as well, further increasing the capacity and the speed.
The next thing that also helps with the capacity and speed of the WiFi 6 network is OFDMA or Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access. Which is a long way of saying that during those transmissions from the router, each packet of data can actually contain information from multiple devices. So think of it this way. If MU-MIMO basically opens up eight lanes of traffic for eight trucks to go out all at a time, OFDMA then lets each of those trucks split up their payload and drop it off to different devices on the way, without having to load up another truck and send it again just to that device.
How Much Faster Is WiFi 6?
OK. So yes, there is also a speed improvement. Don’t worry. Thanks to a newer version of QAM or Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, this technology is used to determine how much data is in each packet being sent to and from the router. In the case of WiFi 5, that was using 256 QAM whereas WiFi 6 can use 1024 QAM going from eight bits of data per packet to ten bits of data, giving us an increase in speed of about 25 percent.
Now the last thing that also helps a lot with the capacity of the network in WiFi 6 is target wake time. This feature basically allows the router to talk to each device and negotiate how long the device should be awake for it to receive and send data and then how long in between those times it should go to sleep. The router then will only send data during the awake times which drastically reduces unnecessary chatter on the network, freeing up transmissions to carry actual more important data and not this management data and as a side benefit, it actually improves the battery life for any WiFi 6 devices on the network as well.
Last but not least, the new WPA3 security encryption is here now and it is a lot more secure than WPA2 which is what most of us are currently using. In WiFi 6 though, WPA3 support will be actually required for the devices to be able to be compatible.
Now these major changes along with the minor ones that we didn’t talk about are what are going to make WiFi 6 faster but also more importantly, are going to make sure that it’s more efficient when it has a lot of users on the network. Honestly, it’s one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in Wi-Fi in a while and that’s why there’s so much talk about it lately. It’s not just a speed boost. It’s something we actually need to make sure that Wi-Fi is future-proofed.
Now something to know in closing, these are just standards and essentially bare minimums to be included in WiFi 6. But not all WiFi 6 is created equally. As I mentioned, Qualcomm has gone above and beyond the standard with their up-link support in MIMO and OFDMA and in increasing the number of users on their Qualcomm Networking Pro series of chip sets, to 1500 simultaneous clients, to ways to configure radios for OEMs that require less hardware components, etc.
So thanks again to Qualcomm for showing me around their WiFi 6 event and also showing me what they’re doing with WiFi 6. Hope you guys enjoyed that. Let me know in the comments below and also if there’s something that you would like me to decode, let me know in the comments below about that as well. I will see if I can try to get it into a new episode. As always though, regardless, thanks for watching and I will see you next week.
Just How Fast Can WiFi 6 Go?
In this next video from Linus Tech Tips, these guys do some real world testing with a Cisco Meraki WiFi 6 compatible access point and the Samsung Galaxy S10 Series. Check out the video and then the commentary below that.
What Stays The Same With WiFi 6?
While our APs are being installed, let’s talk about what is the same. Physically, the hardware for WiFi 6 is actually quite similar. So on the client side, cellphone and other device manufacturers can continue to lean on the antenna design experience that they’ve gained from previous generations of WiFi, with even the battery consumption of new WiFi 6 chip sets only expected to increase during times of continuous high speed data transfer. And even then that’s only because the data rate is higher. So, nothing really changes there. As for the deployment, that’s basically the same. Remember your best practices for AP positioning, run your Ethernet and wire everything up to your network switch. Because WiFi 6 is backwards compatible, any legacy clients on the network won’t even know the difference.
What Has Changed With WiFi 6?
Now, let’s talk about what is different, which is basically everything starting with even the name. WiFi is undergoing a much needed and surprisingly sensible re-branding right now from 802.11 something, something. For those curious by the way, this generation was going to be called 802.11ax to simple number generations. So, AC becomes 5, N becomes 4 and so on and so forth with these little icons that are designed to inform consumers which generation is supported by both their client and the AP that they happen to be connected to.
Is WiFi 6 Deployed Differently?
Next up is the deployment. Yeah, OK, it’s not quite the same. So, WiFi 6 handles more clients and more cluttered environments better. So you might not actually need as many APs which is nice, but watch out because you’re not going to be saving a buck here. Each of those access points could be handling multiple gigabits of data per second across literally hundreds of clients. So, your commodity gigabit PoE switch – your commodity Gigabit PoE switch isn’t going to cut it anymore.
So, we’re moving to this Meraki MS355-24X2. Its 24 multi gigabit ports could actually be fully loaded with MR55 access points, thanks to its beefy 740 watt power supply. And this thing is rated at up to 640 Gigabit per second of switching capacity. And all of that is important because even though it’s rated at a mere 39% faster throughput, so about 600 megabit per second versus 433 on a single 80 megahertz 5 gigahertz channel. Thanks to packing more data into each payload, WiFi 6 has some truly game changing features when it comes to multi client access that are going to result in far higher overall data rates and less waiting.
So first of all, access points can be configured with up to an 8 by 8 antenna configuration so that is 8 for sending and 8 for receiving. And on top of that, WiFi 6 supports up to 8 concurrent downlink streams with multi-user MIMO. That is a huge increase over the four concurrent down extremes that was supported with WiFi 5. So this widening of the highway so to speak is a big part of what’s going to make Gen 6 so critical to making WIFI usable in large venues like sports arenas and crowded concert halls.
But it’s not even close to the entire picture. The next huge innovation for large scale deployments was actually borrowed from cellular networks. With WiFi 6, the band or the frequency range that would have made up a traditional channel can be split using a technique called Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access or OFDMA. So, you know how one of the best pro tips for anyone living in an apartment is to use a scanner to see what channels your neighbors are on and then manually switch over to a different one? Well, forget about it. OFDMA allows each band, be it 20, 40 or all the way up to 160 megahertz to be split up into multiple chunks, as many as 78 sub channels and each one of those can be allocated to a separate client.
Now obviously, to make all of this work, the access point needs to get a little bit smarter. Fortunately it did. With WiFi 6, an AP can negotiate what are called deterministic connections, allowing it to exercise a great deal of control over the connected clients and how they’re allowed to behave.
So first, a client gets dynamically assigned however many channels or sub channels can be spared at that moment. Then things get even crazier, each client gets a schedule for when it’s allowed to transmit and receive data. Now, hold on a second I know that in the computing world, scheduling a data transmission usually means increased latency which is one of the biggest issues with WiFi today. But in practice, what this means is less collision mitigation overhead which means that there’s actually less waiting around. Think of it kind of like a perfectly executed zipper merge on the highway, so it will actually reduce latency. That means yes friends, gaming on WiFi without leg spikes could actually be a thing with WiFi 6. Go figure.
Another fun feature of deterministic connections is that they can be used to save power. So you know you’re connected smart light switch, your Amazon button and your asset tags, etc, etc, etc. Right now, they waste a ton of power, constantly checking in with the network. “Hey, you got anything for me? No? OK. How about now? Got anything for me? No? OK.” Well, with scheduled check-ins called target wake up time, your devices can check-in far less frequently, dramatically increasing their battery life.
Better Specs, But What Else Is Cool About WiFi 6?
The coolest thing about WiFi 6 though is not the techie specs, as much as I personally get really amped on that stuff. Rather, it’s the different experiences that it enables. Like have you ever tried to stealthily have a video chat at the back of a lecture hall or upload a video to YouTube from a large event? It’s a total mess. And I mean even something as stupid as breaking for lunch during a conference can absolutely crush your mobile experience as everyone jumps on Facebook at exactly the same time.
Well, thanks to everything I’ve talked about already and actually a whole host of other new features, including better beam forming, spatial frequency reuse and dynamic fragmentation which makes better use of the available spectrum – oh man, actually I forgot to mention that too, down the line, we’re even getting more spectrum in the 5 to 6 gigahertz range. That’s going to be sweet. Anyway, the point is, with all of this new tech, this is not like an incremental, generational evolutionary improvement. And you could even argue that this is the biggest fundamental change that we’ve seen yet for WiFi. And I, for one, am stoked.
When Will WiFi 6 Be Widely Available?
But, there’s always a “but”, isn’t there? The one the buzzkill today is that while WiFi 6 is backwards compatible, you’re going to have to wait a little while longer for the kick ass experience that I’ve talked about here. Because the promises of WiFi 6 can only be fully realized once client devices with support for these new features start to overtake their legacy counterparts.Now the good news is that at least they’re already showing up.
How Fast Is WiFi 6? Speed Test Demo
So, all that’s left in this video then is to take our S10 Plus for a quick test drive. Now, one problem I have is that we don’t have a couple hundred of these so I’m not going to be able to do like a mega client test or anything like that but we can at least make sure that everything is working properly here in the office with a quick speed test. So, without further ado, let’s see just how fast we can make this go.
So, the first thing that I noticed just connecting to our new access point is that, remember those little icons I told you guys about? It’s right there at the top of the phone, WiFi 6, so you’ll know that you’re negotiating your link using the correct generation the technology. So that’s pretty cool. Then, for us, remember, we just upgraded to 10 gigabit internet, so as long as we can find a speed test server that can take the burn then all we got to do is run a simple speed test here and have a look at what kind of speeds we can get.
And I have never seen anything like this that upload speed 800 megabit per second. Guys, not only is this WiFi, this is WiFi on a mobile device. This is a 2 by 2 antenna configuration. That is real world speeds of like 800 – we’re getting close to if I actually plug the USB Type-C dongle into my phone and plug it into the wall. That’s absolutely incredible. And like I said before, it is absolutely just the tip of the iceberg.
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