WiFi 6: Extra Speed, Stability, and Bandwidth

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Increasing interest in WiFi 6

Right from the release of the first version of 802.11 protocol in 1997, interest in wireless networking technology has soared. From providing just 2Mbps link speed to 6.9 Gbps of the 802.11ac (now referred to as WiFi 5), the new WiFi 6 pushes the ante further by an amazing 25% increase to 9.6 Gbps. 

Various devices now have embedded within them an incredible power, size and flair to tie networks together and obtain results in fast and heavy video games, amazing 3D graphics, and live video streaming.

The advantages are many, so are the uses to which these little chips are put? The power and capabilities of WiFi 6 makes laptops nowadays really irresistible and must have machines.

How can we best define WiFi?

WiFi (/ˈwaɪfaɪ/) is a word used to describe the wireless networking technology that is based on the IEEE 802.11 family of standards. These standards are universally accepted for use in local area networking of devices, and for accessing the Internet.

 The name WiFi came into use in 1999. It was coined by the brand consultants Interbrand. The previous name for this technology was “IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence”.

This mouthful of a name was considered too bulky and wieldy. The word “Hi-Fi” (High Fidelity) was already being used to describe high-quality audio technology. Thus, WiFi (Wireless Fidelity) seemed like a natural selection. The WiFi logo was also created to indicate the certification of a product for interoperability.

What are the alternative technologies to WiFi? We have 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G and LTE networks. You might be interested in our review of the best phones with WiFi 6 capabilities.

The name WiFi is also written as Wi-Fi, Wifi, or wifi, although these variants are not officially approved by the relevant organizations like Wi-Fi Alliance and IEEE.

How do I use WiFi 6 on a laptop?

To use your laptop’s WiFi you need to have an access point called a hotspot in another device.

A hotspot would usually have a range of about 20 meters (66 feet) indoors and 150 meters (490 feet) outdoors. The total coverage area for a hotspot can be just a single room or several kilometers, with many roaming hotspots connected in an overlapping manner. To connect and use your WiFi is quite simple. What you typically need is a data network name (called the SSID) and a password, if any.

First, put on the device that has your data services with an active Internet subscription. Then put on the hotspot service on the device, enabling the sharing of the data services. Take a mental note of the network name and the password. If you are using a WiFI router supplied by an ISP, simply put on the router. 

Now, go to your laptop and view network services that are available in the vicinity. Connect to the one you desire, using the name and the password you’ve noted down.

As the cost of data drops dramatically in many countries, hotels and public buildings now carry signs with the legend “Free WiFi” to show that you can connect to their Internet services for free, using your WiFi-enabled devices like laptops and phones.

 Care should be exercised when allowing strangers unhindered access to critical networks by means of a WiFi. This is because a WiFi is potentially more vulnerable than networks with wire connections.

What’s the fuss about WiFi 6?

Fact is: WiFi 6 is the current standard in WiFi technology worldwide. It is also called “AX WiFi” or 802.11ax. 

It is an improved technology over the older 802.11ac standard now referred to as WiFi 5 and 802.11n, now called WiFi 4.

WiFi 6 was built in response to the ever-growing demand for more efficient devices. Whether you want to use VR equipment, smart devices, desktops, laptops, or printers a WiFi 6 router might just be your best bet to connect all of them. 

 WiFi 6 is not a new technology used to connect to the internet. Rather, it is an upgraded standard that different devices can use to transmit their WiFi signals in a more efficient way.

In the past few years, the speed and spectral efficiency of WiFi have greatly improved. Achieving speeds beyond 1 Gigabit per second is no longer unusual. 

So, what’s all the fuss? The fact is that 802.11ac, our previously efficient WiFi standard has given way to a new, even more efficient standard, the 802.11ax. Thus, we can now enjoy explosive WiFi transmission of up to 9.6 Gbps, 160 MHz speed, ultra-smooth streaming, wider transmission channel, more vivid images and stunning colors.

WiFi 6 is also ideal for Crowded Networks, using 8×8 uplink/downlink, MU-MIMO, OFDMA, 1024 QAM encoding, and BSS (Base Service Station) Color technologies. Thus, WiFi 6 can provide capacity for up to four times the number of devices previously connected.  

WiFi has built in downward compatibility. That means that earlier devices with lower technologies employed can also connect to it.

The two technologies OFDMA and MU-MIMO used in WiFi 6 are complementary. 

MU-MIMO is Multi-User Multiple-Input Multiple-Output. This enables a WiFi 6 device to handle eight streams of data (uplink or downlink). It allows more users to connect at once, offering four times the maximum amount of throughput that was possible with W-Fi 5’s MIMO.

OFDMA is Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access. This is a multi-user version of OFDM used in earlier specs (802.11ac and 802.11n)

OFDMA increases efficiency, reduces latency and it is ideal for low, bandwidth applications, but MU-MIMO increases overall capacity, results in higher speeds for each user and is ideal for high-bandwidth applications. 30 users can share one channel. 

To illustrate this: Instead of a bank with only one teller serving one type of customers, OFDMA is equivalent to having several tellers working at once, with each teller capable of serving different categories of customers. 

QAM (Quadrature amplitude modulation) is a highly developed modulation signal in which data is transmitted over radio frequencies such that two carriers shifted in phase by a quarter are modulated and the resulting output consists of both amplitude and phase modulation.

So, now you understand these basic terms when you see them in WiFi specs.

Comparison between WiFi 4, WiFi 5 and WiFi 6

WiFi 4WiFi 5WiFi 6
Year launched200920132019
Alternate name802.11n802.11ac802.11ax
Access FeedbackConnecting devices contend for accessConnecting devices contend for accessInforms clients more clearly when a router is available
Data Delivery64-QAM Modulation256-QAM modulationBoosts the amount of data delivered in each payload using 1024-QAM encoding
Communication SpectrumAllows for usage in 2.4GHz & 5GHz frequenciesOperates in the 5GHz frequency spaceOperates in the 1GHz – 7GHz frequency space
Channel Bandwidth (MHz)20, 40 (optional)20, 40, 80, 80+80 & 16020/40 @ 2.4, 80, 80+80 & 160 @ 5
Highest Modulation (QAM)642561024
FFT Sizes64, 12864, 128, 256, 51264, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048
SU/MU-MIMO-OFDM/ASU-MIMO-OFDMSU-MIMO-OFDM Wave 1MU-MIMO-OFDM Wave 2MU-MIMO-OFDMA

WiFi standards since inception:

  • WiFi 1 (802.11b – 1999.
  • WiFi 2 (802.11a) – 1999.
  • WiFi 3 (802.11g) – 2003.
  • WiFi 4 (802.11n) – 2009.
  • WiFi 5 (802.11ac) – 2014.
  • WiFi 6 (802.11ax) – 2019.

WiFi 6 or 802.11ax is just one of many wireless standards already developed – more are coming – to cater for the labyrinth of network demands by different types of devices.

Indeed, WiFi 6 creates an exhilarating and unique data experience.

What to look for before deciding on WiFi 6?

Perhaps, you are on the look for WiFi 6 laptops, and we’d recommend going through the following features before you put your money down for any particular device:

Do I need more data transfer?

 With 1024-QAM you get 25% higher delivery loads than 256-QAM of the older model. With 1024-QAM, each data bus will carry 10 bits of data rather than 8 bits, thus, improving the speed by 25% compared to WiFi 5 (at 256-QAM).

You won’t have the slightest problem watching your favorite video channels or live streaming from news channels. You can even send broadcasts from your home or office computer without any qualms.

Will a WiFi 6 connection give me extra speed and greater stability?

WiFi 6 is about 11% faster than WiFi 5 due to its use of OFDMA. Total coverage is now possible from your garage to your second floor. What you get is ultra-fast connection for all your devices simultaneously.  WiFi 6’s implementation of OFDMA radically reduces latency. WiFi 6, thus, reshapes the way routers handle the increasing number of internet-enabled devices in our homes, offices, shops, and public places.

Will WiFi 6 add more bandwidth? 

WiFi 6 expands the WiFi band from 80 MHz to 160 MHz, effectively doubling the channel width. This allows for a faster connection between the router and your connecting device. With WiFi 6, you can thus enjoy 8K movies, huge file uploads and downloads, and more responsive smart devices. Your devices suddenly all seem to be working better, faster, and more efficiently. Now, there are two routes, depending on what device you’re rolling with. If you’re dedicated to a portable solution, feel free to read our review on the best WiFi 6 cards for laptops. Furthermore, if you are a hardcore techie, you might want to check our latest review for the best WiFi 6 PCIe cards for Desktops.

Can I connect more devices, and at the same time?

With WiFi 6’s 8 x 8 MU-MIMO, users can choose from more than 8 streams at the same time. This is different from traditional MU-MIMO where multiple users can access the router simultaneously up to a certain point without any noticeable decreases in bandwidth quality. And, yes, 802.11ac MU-MIMO works for data downloads only. But 802.11ax 8 x 8 MU-MIMO can handle both uploads and downloads. We think you may find our motherboards with WiFi 6 review useful for this concern.

Will there be interference with my neighbor’s networks?

Problems can result from severe signal interference from your neighbors’ wireless networks. WiFi 6 can be configured to ignore BSS Color and marks frames from networks nearby, so that your router can ignore them. This is a very efficient facility!

Will implementing WiFi 6 reduce my power consumption?

Yes, WiFi 6 implementation of Target Wake Time (TWT) permits devices to somehow specify the time and frequency of sending data, bearing in mind wake time. This provides for increase in sleep time, substantially improving battery life for battery-driven computing, printing, and communication devices.

John Hill