Everything you need to know about Wi-Fi 6

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It’s here.

The 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard has arrived, along with a new, consumer-friendly moniker: Wi-Fi 6. Released in 2018, it’s starting to ramp up, with a number of new Wi-Fi 6-enabled devices set to be released in 2019.

Wi-Fi 6 is faster, more efficient, better in dense environments, and conserves device battery life, too. Designed to thrive under the influx of IoT devices blinking on in organizations of all sizes, Wi-Fi 6 allows organizations to future-proof their networks — if they get started now.

Ultimately, for many organizations, the decision about whether to upgrade will come down to cost. So, is it worth it?

Here’s what Wi-Fi 6 makes possible, and why you should take a hard look at your current infrastructure.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

802.11ax is the latest Wi-Fi standard, designed to multiply the number of data streams on the same frequency to open up new bandwidth, especially vital as IoT exponentially increases the number of devices on a network.

Whereas on previous standards, the frequency could only handle one stream of data, Wi-Fi 6 allows it to handle nine: four upstream, four downstream, and one as a management channel. These full-duplex data transmissions give you more bang for your bandwidth.

Why should you consider Wi-Fi 6?

A number of factors make Wi-Fi 6 an attractive option, especially if you’re up for a refresh. By making the jump, you’ll be using the preferred technology moving forward and future-proof your network with more years of usable life.

You’ll be able to:

  1. Keep connectivity high in dense environments. Estimates vary, but some predict more than 64 billion IoT devices will be in use by 2025, more than six times the 10 billion in 2018. Many current network infrastructures aren’t prepared to handle that influx of connected devices.
  2. Handle more data and throughput with better network efficiency. One of the technologies behind Wi-Fi 6 is multiple-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO), first introduced in Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). MU-MIMO allows each access point (AP) to communicate with and send data to up to eight devices at the same time, enabling each AP to do more. If that wasn’t enough, Wi-Fi 6 can use Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) to split each MU-MIMO stream into four more streams. By doing this, the client can keep a specific sub-channel all to itself while talking directly to the AP.
  3. Improve battery life for smart and IoT devices. Previously, if a device was in an AP’s roaming area, it was always talking to the AP, putting a significant strain on battery life. Wi-Fi 6 uses Target Wake Time to allow devices to check in on a certain schedule, letting them sleep if they don’t need a connection.

When will Wi-Fi 6 be available?

The standard, introduced in 2018, is nearly ratified, but most of the major parts are in place, and manufacturers are starting to develop products and use cases for it.

A number of manufacturers have even unveiled APs. Devices compatible with Wi-Fi 6 have also begun appearing, with the next generation of smartphones, laptops, and IoT devices soon to follow.

What challenges might you encounter in upgrading to Wi-Fi 6?

Adopting Wi-Fi 6 means replacing hardware, from the APs themselves to potentially the cabling and switching that provide power and connectivity to the wired local area network (LAN).

A lot of organizations, especially schools, are still running on older networking equipment, and may not have the cabling to support Wi-Fi 6. You may need to upgrade to category 6 or 6a cabling and multigigabit switches in addition to the APs to make sure everything syncs up.

But arguably the biggest obstacle many organizations are likely to encounter is budgetary. Some organizations are just making the change from Wi-Fi 4 to 5 right now, or they’re running an environment that’s working and don’t want to cause any interruptions to their business. Some organizations still feel that networking and IT infrastructure aren’t a core part of their business.

By upgrading your wired infrastructure and APs now, you set your organization up for years to come before you start encountering the bandwidth issues of having so many connected devices on your network. It’ll also give you a leg up for when Wi-Fi 6 meshes and competes with the emerging 5G cellular standard, and for the eventual 10G standard.

The future of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi 6 delivers organizations the bandwidth they’ll need to serve increasingly dense environments of connected devices. As the exponential growth of IoT and smart devices continues, organizations that take steps now to start upgrading their networks will be the ones better able to realize the full potential of their technology.

What would it take to bring your organization up to the 802.11ax standard? Contact your SHI account executive to talk through your current environment and whether Wi-Fi 6 is right for you.

Chris Wood contributed to this post.