Wi-Fi 6 Network Benefits

What are the Wi-Fi 6 network benefits? Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi is here but do we need it? What will it improve? Will this mean my son stops moaning about lag on FIFA 21?

The amount of devices that we have connected to our wifi network at home is on the increase. Back in 2014 the average family had 4 wireless devices connected to their network. In 2021 it is more like 9 devices, with estimates predicting that number will grow to more like 50 in the next 5 years. To understand why this is a problem you need to understand the limitations of Wi-Fi. Let's start with a hardwired connection. This is the gold standard. If you plug a laptop, TV, printer, or any other network-connected device directly into an ethernet port you get the very best speed and reliability. If you have a gigabit-capable network and your ethernet port is outputting 1GB, then whatever you plug in will receive 1GBps of data transfer - in simple terms. Add to that a wired connection's ability to send and receive at the same time and the advantages of a wired connection are huge. This is why we always say if it isn't going to move (a TV, media streaming device, desktop PC, or even a laptop if it lives on your home office desk) plug it in. It doesn't matter how many devices are plugged in, they will all get the same speed.

Legacy Wi-Fi

With legacy Wi-Fi it is a little different. Firstly, the bandwidth is shared across all devices connected to the Wi-Fi network. So, for example, and in very simplified terms, if you have a wireless router capable of 5400Mbps (the most widely used Wi-Fi protocol allows a theoretical maximum 5400Mbps), every wireless connected device will share that bandwidth. Many devices are “always-on” devices so they are permanently connected, waiting for instructions. So a Wi-fi network with 10 connected devices could only be allowing 540Mbps to each device. This is a very simplistic explanation, but you get the idea. Add to that the restriction that Wi-Fi can only send or receive information at any given moment. So your device sends a packet of information then has to wait until that packet is received by the router before a reply can be sent. And with multiple devices connected it also has to wait its turn to send or receive the packet of data. A kind of “one in, one out” process that creates bottlenecks.

MU-MIMO - multi-user, multi-in, multi-out.

The most widely used protocol 802.11ac offers downstream multi-user multi-in, multi-out technology (MU-MIMO) which has been designed to allow simultaneous data transfer rather than sequential. This allows up to four devices to have their own data stream rather than having to wait its turn. However, for MU-MIMO to work, the router and the client device must contain the MU-MIMO Wi-Fi circuitry. Finding a router with this built-in is not a huge problem, they are widely available. But consumers have been slow to understand the benefits of MU-MIMO, client devices have been slow to materialise and be adopted.

Routers

Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax routers are hitting the now market. Wi-Fi 6 routers still use dual bandwidths (2.4GHz and 5GHz) but employ new technologies that allow increased speed throughput (up to 9.6Gbps), less congestion, and better range. Using technology borrowed from the cellular world, the catchily named Orthogonal Frequency-Division Mulitple Access or (thankfully) OFDMA, Wi-Fi channels can now be broken up into subchannels. Previously a single device would use a whole channel for its comms, with OFDMA a client device will only request the amount of bandwidth it needs for its given broadcast, allowing for up to 30 clients to share the channel at the same time.

Speed increases

So whilst Wi-Fi 6 will certainly offer much higher speeds – a theoretical, but probably unachievable in the real world, 9.6Gbps – Wi-Fi 6 network benefits are really more about being able to offer better speed to more connected devices. So if you connect your games console to your Wi-Fi network, with nothing else connected you will see an increase in speed, but not a huge difference. But once you start adding other devices to your Wi-Fi network on a Wi-Fi 5 network you would see lag and a general slowing down of the network. With Wi-Fi 6 each of the connected devices wont necessarily be much faster, but they are far more likely to maintain their high speeds, even in busier networks.

Hardware upgrades

The bummer is, you will need to upgrade your hardware to Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices. But don’t rush out ot PC World or jump on Amazon and start buying Wi-Fi 6 stuff. The upgrade is not that game-changing for any one device, rather new devices will come with Wi-Fi 6 built in by default. So as you replace your phone, tablet, hames console over the next few years the new ones will have the latest version of Wi-Fi.

Of course, the key part of a Wi-Fi 6 network is the router. Without a router that supports Wi-Fi 6 then none of your devices will be able to see the benefits. But you can still probably wait until you start to see problems with your network caused by lots of Wi-Fi connected gadgets before upgrading your router at home.

 

Importance of your network

We constantly emphasise with potential and existing clients the importance of their data network, it really is the backbone of any smart home, and a segment of any project that deserves investment.

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