WiFi 6 Is Coming... Fast!

Category: Wireless

When the first standard for wireless networking was released in 1997, it supported a maximum data speed of only 2 Mbps. Subsequent advances brought us new wifi standards known as IEEE 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g. In 2009, devices using the 802.11n standard achieved 600 Mbps. The latest standard, 802.11ac, can hit 1,200 Mbps over short distances, but in early 2019, eye-watering wifi speeds of 4,800 Mbps will become available. Along with that blazing speed will come other changes to wireless network naming and features. Here's what you need to know...

What is WiFi 6 (and why is it called that)?

Instead of another unwieldy version of “IEEE 802.11whatever.” the new Wi-Fi standard will be known simply as “Wi-Fi 6,” denoting the sixth generation of wireless networking technology. Retroactively, older standards will be renamed W-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 4, and so on. New logos will make it easy to tell at a glance what standard you are buying. (Wi-Fi 6 is technically IEEE 802.11ax, if you prefer the old naming convention.)

Like earlier versioms, Wi-Fi 6 will have two frequency bands available to it, starting at 2.4 and 5.0 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band will support up to 1,100 Mbps via 4 data streams. The 5.0 GHz band will support at least 4,800 Mbps via 8 data streams, enough throughput to make 8K video a reality. The Wi-Fi 6 standard is still being improved ahead of its launch next year; in lab tests it has reached up to 10,000 Mbps – 10 Gigabits of data transmitted every second! It’s safe to say we will see data speeds 4 to 10 times faster than today’s fastest.

There will be several bottlenecks that will constrain the actual throughput that you see in your home network. First, your ISP may not let you have access to gigabit-speed Internet connections, or charge too much for it.

Wi-Fi 6 logo

You can still achieve top speeds between components of your home network, such as the TV monitor and a media server, but only if both ends of a connection are equipped with Wi-Fi 6 technology. Otherwise, you’ll be constrained to the fastest speed supported by the slower device.

As always, the environment in which your home wireless network operates will influence the network’s throughput. Thick walls, ceilings, and floors between nodes will degrade throughput, especially on the faster but more interference-sensitive 5.0 GHz band. Sources of radio frequency interference (RFI) such as microwave ovens, electric motors, and so on will degrade throughput. Longer distances between nodes yield slower speeds.

Wi-Fi 6 promises greater energy efficiency, so batteries should last longer and household electricity bills may be somewhat lower. It’s hard to quantify what the energy savings will be until after the launch of Wi-Fi 6 products next year, but I suspect the amount of electricity consumed by your wifi router and phone charger is not a major contributor to the monthly bill.

Plane, Trains and Coffee Shops

Refinements in firmware should produce better performance in crowded environments such as coffee shops and airport lounges. It may be easier to get a strong signal; only time will tell.

And just so there's no confusion on this point, this is for wifi networking only. The WiFi 6 standard won't help to boost mobile data speeds on your smartphone or tablet. The mobile data network (currently known as 4G) is entirely separate from your home (or coffee shop) wifi network, and speed depends on other factors, such as how close you are to a cell tower, the terrain, and the weather.

Top average download speeds for mobile phones range from 30 to 50 Mbps, but 5G networking is also coming in 2019. See my article Is Blazing Fast 5G in Your Future? to find out if it will happen any time soon in your neighborhood.

There’s not much consumers need to do right now to prepare for Wi-Fi 6. Just be aware that it’s coming in the first half of 2019, and consider postponing any hardware upgrades until it debuts. Those would include laptops, routers, wifi adapters, streaming devices, and anything else that connects to the Internet via wireless networking.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "WiFi 6 Is Coming... Fast!"

Posted by:

Bill
05 Nov 2018

That's all fine and good, but I'm not in a city and don't have super high Internet. The wifi speeds proposed outstrip my Internet speeds.


Posted by:

Joe
05 Nov 2018

For most apartment dwellers, the amount of nearby wifi networks will be a major slowdown. And everytime routers have more distance transmitting, routers and devices that can see those more powerful routers will slow down.


Posted by:

Charley
05 Nov 2018

As with all improvements in Wi-Fi (fyi, the official spelling has the hyphen), equipment will be backwards compatible, meaning you can use your old 801.11a, b, g, n, ac device on a Wi-Fi 6 access point. But you will need new equipment to take advantage of the new Wi-Fi 6 features. So your old PC, iPhone, etc. won't see any improvements. The first Wi-Fi 6 chips are just getting released so expect it to be a while before you can actually use this. And of course, as mentioned by Bill above, Wi-Fi 5 (i.e., 802.11ac) is faster than most Internet connections already.


Posted by:

Will
05 Nov 2018

Following Bill's comment - I'm in the 5th largest city in the US and I also don't have super high internet. We can growl together when we see the providers' marketing. :(


Posted by:

Roger
05 Nov 2018

Hardware pushes software and software pushes hardwre. BUT if either is not up to current TECH, you are dead in the water. My Provider offers gigblast, yet was told, unless your hardware is state of the art stuff, you can't benefit from it, so why pay for it?


Posted by:

Robert A.
05 Nov 2018

Does anyone know if I will have to replace my Linksys Wi-Fi signal range extenders that plug into wall sockets that I recently bought that use Wi-Fi 5, or will they adapt to the new speeds? I hate to think that I will need to buy new ones, when the time comes.

Will one's ISP require the subscriber to get a new router/modem (in my case Comcast/Xfinity), or will the current one work just fine? Back in the late spring, Xfinity boosted my internet download speed from 75 MBS to 100 MBS, but, according to Speedtest.com, I'm actually getting somewhere close to 120 MBS, which is really nice and fast. It's hard to imagine how much faster Wi-Fi 6 will be.


Posted by:

Sarah L
06 Nov 2018

Which devices matter for streaming? I have all fiber connection for Internet 100, which gives me 100-120 Mbps now. But I have not figured out what to buy so I can stream to my television set. Is it the television set or the devices for casting to it, that need to have the chips to make use of faster Wi-Fi?


Posted by:

David Hakala
06 Nov 2018

Robert A. : Don't worry, WiFi 5 gear is backwards-compatible with WiFi-6, it will all run exactly as it does now.


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
06 Nov 2018

WOW ... That really sounds great and all ... However, the truth of the matter is ... You have got to have Fiber Cable in your area to even begin to think you can get Wi-Fi 6. I live in Metro Atlanta, not downtown but in a county next door. There is some Fiber Cable in the area, but not right where I live.

Now, I can get from X-Finity up to 120Mbps which will be just fine for my needs ... Streaming movies or TV shows or Netflix or Amazon Prime Videos and it will be just fine. So far with AT&T Internet, I can only get 24Mbps, on my street and area. Why? Because the "Central Office" is too far away, which means the connecting point/box for higher speeds is too far away. All of this from AT&T is still DSL or Copper Wire signaling.

So, I really don't care about Wi-Fi 6. I will be just fine with getting either 60Mbps or 120Mbps for my internet speeds.


Posted by:

Steve Morehead
06 Nov 2018

Thanks for the heads up. I'll put off some holiday buying in anticipation of the release.


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