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What Is WiFi 6? A Complete Guide to the Newest Home Networking Trend

Written by: Gryphon Online Safety Inc. / October 30, 2021

Today, connectivity is king. We rely on our WiFi connections to help us work from home, to relax with our loved ones in front of the television, and even to keep our families safe. 

As the Internet of Things makes our lives easier with appliances, vehicles, and other everyday devices that connect to the World Wide Web, it’s more important than ever to have the fastest, most reliable, and most secure WiFi on the market.

Luckily, WiFi 6 is here. It brings with it a new standard for speed, connectivity, and device management that will help you in your quest to make your home as secure and efficient as possible.

The pressing questions are all about WiFi 6 now – what is it, how does it build on the foundations of previous WiFi versions, and how can you take full advantage of its many capabilities (and get some speedy service while you’re at it)?

Let’s walk through the full breakdown of WiFi 6, so you can enjoy everything this technology has to offer moving forward.

WiFi 6 Benefits


What does WiFi 6 actually mean for us as everyday wireless internet users at home, at work, and at play? 

Before we look into what WiFi 6 is, where it came from, and how we can use this new technology, it’s important to understand the practical benefits that make WiFi 6 so exciting.  

Here are the WiFi 6 benefits that we think are worth looking forward to.

Faster Top Speeds


Who can say no to faster internet speeds? WiFi 6 allows users to take full advantage of the gigabit connections that are increasingly common in the US and the world.

While the average WiFi user may not be able to distinguish between WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 speeds immediately, the speed improvements are much more noticeable when many devices are connected to the network at the same time.

Improved Connectivity


Dealing with dead spots, shaky connections, and stability issues can put a damper on any WiFi experience, especially when streaming, gaming, or using high-bandwidth web apps.

WiFi 6 improves on all these fronts, not just in terms of speed, but also in overall connection quality.

This is due to increased network efficiency, superior throughput, and the ability of WiFi 6 hardware to prioritize certain devices and connections in real time.

Better Device Management


There has been an explosion of smart devices over the past few years.   However the more devices connected to a network, the more performance problems, right?

That has been the norm for high-density networks for years, but WiFi 6 sets out to fix this universal issue with automatic device management on the network.   With more devices connecting to your network each day, smart and automatic device management is truly a key to better WiFi overall.

Of course, we need to examine WiFi 6’s predecessors to truly understand why these WiFi 6 benefits are so exciting compared to what came before.

What Came Before WiFi 6?


While WiFi does appear to magically connect us to the internet free of wires and cords, it didn’t just emerge out of thin air.

The history of WiFi technology is rich and extensive, so let’s offer up a quick overview to help us make more sense of WiFi 6 today.

Background


Wireless connectivity has been in play for more than 50 years, starting in 1971 with the use of wireless packet networks on the ALOHAnet protocol in the Hawaiian Islands.

These foundations were applied more broadly throughout the 70s, and by 1985, the Federal Communications Commission permitted the use of 2.4GHz bands for radio transmissions.

The technology eventually made its way to the consumer tech landscape in the form of IEEE 802.11, a set of local area network standards focusing on media access controls and physical layer protocols for wireless connectivity.

Keep in mind that speeds of around 10 megabits per second were the norm back then, and wired connections were preferred for obvious reasons. Today’s fast connections can be more than 100x those original speeds, showcasing the need for these significant improvements over the years.

WiFi Evolves Over Time


Although 802.11 was first introduced in 1997, an organization known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) was formed in 1999 to make it an official protocol with a consistent certification process for products.

WECA changed its name to the WiFi Alliance in 2002, and owns the registered trademark “WiFi Certified” logo you’ve seen on technology of all types for the past 20 years.

Since its founding, the WiFi Alliance has overseen several evolutions of wireless internet technology over the years, all based on the original protocols.

Since the creation of WiFi, there have been five versions of the 802.11 standards. You really don’t need to memorize this list, but it’s good to see how WiFi has evolved to give its evolution context. Here’s how the progression looks with the years of iteration.

-802.11b (1999) – Experienced interference from radio equipment, baby monitors, household appliances, and other electronics operating in the 2.4 GHz band.


-802.11a (1999) – Upgraded to 5 GHz bands and allowed for speeds of up to 54 Mbps. Also the first protocol to use OFDM modulation.


-802.11g (2003) – Advanced the connectivity of the original WiFi protocol and was compatible with more devices. Made WiFi far more accessible for home and office use.


-802.11h (2009) – Significant speed upgrade to a max of 600 Mbps while still compatible with previous WiFi versions. Also introduced were MIMO, channel bonding, and frame aggregation.


-802.11ac (2014) – Gigabit WiFi achieved, MU-MIMO functionality and improved device management for an increased number of connections.

This sets the stage for WiFi 6, which we’ll examine now!

WiFi 6 is Here – What is It?


With the introduction of WiFi 6 in late 2019, a few changes were made by the WiFi Alliance.

To make it more user friendly, the WiFi versions listed above have been retroactively named WiFi 1 through 5, meaning WiFi 6 is the next logical step in the evolution, based on the 802.11ax standard.

Furthermore, more companies are getting on board with showcasing particular WiFi 6 upgrades that improve the user experience and increase customer awareness of vital technologies.

Let’s dive into exactly what WiFi 6 brings to the table and what this means for your home WiFi setup.

Technical Advancements in WiFi 6


The feature list for WiFi 6 is loaded with impressive advancements in wireless technology. When you’re buying anything claiming to use WiFi 6 technology, these are the features that should be highlighted:

-The first notable feature is the dual-band capabilities of both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies. Unlike the single-band standard for WiFi 5, WiFi 6 can operate in both 2.4 and 5GHz bands simultaneously.   Thereby increasing the overall throughput capacity for any WiFi 6 capable device. 


-Technology known as OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) is in the spotlight for WiFi 6.  This technology makes wireless transmissions much more efficient.   That translates to more throughput in the same bands and reduced latency for more responsive connections (for you gamers out there), even in high-traffic congested areas.


-A higher capacity MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output) technology is also in place for WiFi 6, building on the previous version’s ability to communicate with many devices at the same time.


-The WiFi Alliance also included the concept of target wake time (TWT) to lengthen the time a device can be in low power or sleep mode.  This can dramatically increase battery life and open the door for wireless sensors or devices that can run for years without the need to change batteries.  

There are plenty of technical improvements in the small print of WiFi 6 that also contribute to performance and stability, so explore them all if you want to learn about this update in full.

Make the Most of WiFi 6 Technology


If the benefits of WiFi 6 sound good to you, an upgrade may be in order for your home WiFi network. Here’s what you should know.

Mesh WiFi Hardware


There’s no better way to harness the power of WiFi 6 than with mesh network hardware.

Most WiFi 6 routers can support the new mesh WiFi technology where you can create a single large network using two or more of these routers.  The typical configuration is a main mesh router with several mesh repeaters that can be added to cover a large home or a home with multiple floors. 

Even if you don’t need mesh coverage, we suggest finding a router with mesh capabilities because they often include advanced management features like parental control and malware protection.   Also you can always add a mesh repeater if you find the coverage of a single unit is just not enough.  

Safety and Protection Functions


The more devices connected to your network, the more seriously you’ll need to take precautions in terms of safety and security.

Parental controls are a great place to start if you have kids, so make sure your WiFi 6 hardware has built-in software capable of setting restrictions and timed access limitations.

On top of that, WiFi 6 includes numerous security upgrades to shore up network vulnerabilities and stop hackers from breaking through. Rather than installing third-party software, simply find a router with built-in security features that anticipate and block attacks actively.

Finally since the threats continue to evolve, make sure your WiFi 6 router supports automatic software updates to maintain the latest security patches.

WiFi 6 Certified Devices and Compatibility


With the introduction of WiFi 6, you may feel eager to scramble and accumulate new devices that meet the standard.

What’s most important is upgrading to a WiFi 6 router.  Eventually, every device in your home will be WiFi 6 ready, but for now, the router is the most significant upgrade you can make for noticeable results.   All WiFi 6 routers support the previous generation WiFi technologies so you should not worry that your current pre-WiFi 6 devices will no longer work with your new shinny WiFi 6 router.

Although you don’t need to upgrade all your devices to WiFi 6 certified products to use a WiFi 6 router, you will need WiFi 6 capable devices to take advantage of the speed and efficiency improvements mentioned previously.  

Examples of WiFi 6 capable phones include:

-iPhone SE, 11 Series, and 12 Series 

-Samsun Galaxy Note 10 Series, Galaxy Note 20 Series, Galaxy S10 Series, Galaxy S20 Series, Galaxy Z Flip 5G, Fold, and Fold 2

-OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro

-LG V60 TinQ

-Motorola Edge Plus

-Honor 30 Pro and 30 Pro+

-Huawei P40 Series

-Lenovo Legion Pro and Duel

-Asus ROG Phone 3

Examples of WiFi 6 capable laptops include:

-Apple M1 Macbook Air and Pro

-Asus Chrombook Flip c436

-HP Specture x360

-Lenovo Yoga c940

-Dell XPS 13

-LG Gram 17

-Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

Apple’s newest iPad Pro is also WiFi 6 capable.

Although you’ll notice that TVs and smart home devices have not been upgraded to support WiFi 6 as of yet, you can expect them to incorporate WiFi 6 technology sooner rather than later. 

Is Your Home Ready for WiFi 6?


WiFi 6 hasn’t been around that long, but it’s already making waves as a substantial boost to WiFi performance, connectivity, and overall user experience.

Future proof your home by finding a high-powered WiFi 6 router for your home or office, and enjoy as those benefits compound over time with new devices and continuous upgrades.

 

Sources:

History of WiFi | Cable Free
Is WiFi 6 Much Faster? | The Verge
WiFi 6 Certified | WiFi.Org