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Examining the Latest Wi-Fi 6 Standard

Wi-Fi 6 is the latest IEEE standard for wireless connectivity. Serving as the direct successor to the 801.11ac standard, Wi-Fi 6 was finalized in September 2020 and approved in February 2021. But what exactly is Wi-Fi 6, and how does it improve on the wireless technology of years past?

Greater Throughput Across the Board

One of the primary purposes of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard is to increase the overall amount of throughput-per-area. To this extent, it’s primarily focused on providing connectivity in high-density installations and areas, including corporate office buildings, large-scale shopping malls, and residential buildings.

Ultimately, Wi-Fi 6 represents a 37% increase in the nominal data rate when compared to 802.11ac. While this might not seem like much, it’s important to consider that the total throughput increase when measured across an entire network is 300%. This also includes up to 75% lower latency.

Wi-Fi 6 also features a maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps. This is compared to Wi-Fi 5’s maximum speed of 3.5 Gbps. However, most modern hardware is unable to reach and sustain such speeds. For example, average download speeds in the United States hover around 72 Mbps. This amounts to less than 1% of these maximum speeds.

However, all of this bandwidth doesn’t need to be allocated to one computer or one device. Since the 9.6 Gbps can be split up amongst multiple devices, the new Wi-Fi standard is capable of improving speeds for every single device on your network.

Support for Multiple Devices

There are some other improvements, too. When the previous Wi-Fi standard was introduced, Wi-Fi 5, the average household in the U.S. only maintained a total of five separate Wi-Fi devices. Now, with the release of Wi-Fi 6, the average household in the U.S. boasts a total of nine Wi-Fi devices.

Some experts predict that this number could rise as high as 50 Wi-Fi devices within the next few years. Indeed, depending on your level of It integration, some households may have already reached this number.

Wi-Fi 6 features some brand new technology that is meant to help ease the burden of communicating with so many devices. For example, modern routers are now capable of communicating with multiple devices in a single broadcast, while Wi-Fi devices are able to check-in with routers and manage their data usage far more efficiently than the Wi-Fi 5 standard.

As such, networks with only one or two connected devices aren’t likely to experience much of a speed increase when upgrading to Wi-Fi 6. It isn’t until you start connected many different devices that you’ll begin to notice any kind of significant improvement.

A New Standard Requires New Hardware

Unfortunately, you’ll have to purchase all-new hardware in order to take advantage of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard. Since the new standard involves far more than a simple software or firmware upgrade, users who want to take advantage of the new standard will need to purchase new smartphones, laptops, routers, and more.

At least for now, it seems, this will be one of the biggest roadblocks to the widespread consumer adoption of Wi-Fi 6.


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