Speed rules: New Wi-Fi standard goes live

Wi-Fi 6 will be significantly faster in all environments, it’s especially effective and most efficient in crowded networks such as public spaces (think stadiums and arenas).

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Photo: iStock | nickylarson974

Laura Haight

Most of us probably thought Apple’s rollout last week of the iPhone 11 was a ho-hum event. But a pretty big-step tech development was lurking in the small type: the official release of Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax for the geeks).

Although there are a bunch of technologies involved in Wi-Fi 6, the thing likely to resonate with most businesses or consumers is the speed. Wi-Fi 6 is capable of theoretical speeds that will make your head spin. The current standard Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) was released in 2014 as the first “gigabit” network.

While Wi-Fi 6 will be significantly faster in all environments, it’s especially effective and most efficient in crowded networks such as public spaces (think stadiums and arenas). That’s because there are a number of tools allowing it to deliver more data at once. Other improvements include expanded range, reduction in dropped or disrupted connections, and enhanced security using WPA3, the most current standard for wireless encryption.

That’s going to be good news for businesses where Wi-Fi connections to mobile devices are critical, as well as to consumers who are hungry for more speed. In 2013, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a global think tank that promotes policies and solutions for global issues, estimated that in 2017, the average home would have 25 Wi-Fi-connected devices and that the number would rise to 50 by 2022. 

But stop! Network speeds are a highly interconnected ecosystem. A Wi-Fi 6 “capable” device has to receive compatible signals from a Wi-Fi 6 router to reach these numbers. And how much information comes through to the router is dependent on the outside infrastructure – from inside your home/business to the curb; from the curb to the ISP.

Should you buy a new router? Well, maybe. But there are factors to consider.

  • Check your IoT-connected devices to see what Wi-Fi protocols they require. Some of the newer routers may drop compatibility with older versions (I learned this with my internet-connected scale.) That may be OK (I happily pitched the scale), but depending on the device, it could be an issue.
  • Check your bank account. Asus, Netgear, and D-Link all have consumer-level routers, but the price can run $300-$400.
  • Check with your internet service provider. Charter Spectrum began offering a Wi-Fi 6 compatible router in late 2018. But more importantly, will your ISP be able to deliver significantly faster speeds? For example, most Charter plans offer 200 Mbps (with significant reductions for wireless connections). That’s less than 25 percent what a Wi-Fi 6 router could distribute. So the expense might not get you the big benefit.

While the Wi-Fi 6 deployment is still in early days, the iPhone 11 release signals that the standard is ready to go. The Wi-Fi Alliance is launching an official certification program, and you will see more and more devices, gear, and gadgets that take advantage of it.

Data, whether for business analytics, streaming movies, or interactive gameplay, and everything in between, is our social and economic fuel. New technologies like Wi-Fi 6,  accommodating higher and higher speeds, and 5G for massive amounts of data will essential.

Last week, we took a step forward.

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