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What is WiFi 6 and why do businesses need it?

NetworkTigers discusses WiFi 6 and why businesses need it.

WiFi 6 or, as it’s known in the tech community, 802.11ax is the next generation of wireless connectivity. WiFi 6 does more than upgrade your service to faster browsing speeds. It can also improve network security, expand device connectivity, and streamline access points. 

WiFi 6 does more than its recent predecessor, 5G. It offers all of these benefits at a lower price point as well. This new frontier of internet access is expected to become the gold standard across both business and personal use. 

Understanding WiFi 6: How and why is it faster?

WiFi Alliance is an international tech-industry group that advocates for and oversees WiFi expansions and implementations. Think of your internet connection as a fleet of trucks, advises Kevin Robinson, marketing leader for WiFi Alliance. These trucks are your internet-capable devices, whether laptops, cell phones, streaming services, Smart Home devices, or more. These devices travel along the highway, or WiFi connection, with goods for your customers or data deliverables. Upgrading WiFi connectivity is essentially an expansion of your MU-MIMO, an abbreviation of “multi-user, multiple input, multiple outputs.” Current iterations of WiFi can already handle multiple users at once. However, WiFi 6 greatly expands MU-MIMO capabilities. For instance, if existing 5G connections allow you to send four trucks out on the highway to four customers, “with WiFi 6, you now have eight trucks,” explains Robinson. 

Extending the highway metaphor, developers realized that with current WiFi technology, more lanes were already accessible than could be accessed. WiFi 6 makes full use of the highway, adding more delivery trucks onto the road that can now head to multiple locations. They won’t get bogged down in traffic because the lanes they need already exist. WiFi 6 runs along existing frequency channels as WiFi 5, meaning 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, but floods those connections with more data. Speeds are estimated to reach up to 11 Gbps with WiFi 6, a vast improvement from current WiFi 5 capabilities of 1Gbps. 

The other significant development within WiFi 6 is OFDMA, a new technology for “orthogonal frequency division multiple access.” This means allowing one single transmission to deliver data to multiple devices simultaneously. Robinson continues to explain the product using the metaphor of trucking, saying, “With OFDMA, the network can look at a truck, see ‘I’m only allocating 75 percent of that truck, and this other customer is kind of on the way,’” and then load up the extra space in the truck with goods meant for the second customer. 

More devices increased security with WiFi 6

Because of these MU-MIMO upgrades, more devices should be able to access the internet simultaneously without delays or lag times. This improvement is significant as more employees continue to work from home or at cafés, where slow or faulty internet is a primary concern for multiple devices working online simultaneously. Frequency overpopulation may not entirely become a problem of the past, but multiple-device access should become more agile and realistic than it is for many individual networks. 

Equally importantly, WiFi 6 is designed to be more secure than its predecessors. Since 5G is a cellular network, many employees still need to access sensitive data through a VPN designed to reach their corporate intranet securely whenever they leave the workspace. WiFi 6, on the other hand, is intended to be part of a secure corporate LAN for seamless integration. Upgrading to WiFi 6 may enhance security procedures or even replace the need for some corporate VPNs. 

WPA3 security protocols are also set to come standard with WiFi 6 devices. WPA3 technology restricts hackers’ ability to guess access codes or passwords continuously. Some iterations of WPA3 even limit or reduce specific data’s usefulness if it is accessed via an unknown source. WPA3 represents one of the most significant breakthroughs in network encoding in recent years and is on track to be required, and not optional, for WiFi 6-certified routers.

Accessing WiFi 6: Making necessary upgrades

Wireless data traffic requirements have been increasing throughout the past few years and are projected to increase by a whopping 47% CAGR over the next five years. WiFi 6 is designed to meet and beat that demand by offering increased reliability and improved customer access and speed, all at a lower price. WiFi technology is forecasted to add around $850 billion in economic value by 2025 to the US economy. 

To access WiFi 6, you need to upgrade your physical devices, not just your software. To access WPA3 standard protocols, look for certified WiFi 6 routers. WiFi 6 is still in the early days of its roll-out, only available on certain high-end smartphones and laptops. However, as access expands, businesses should look to upgrade. WiFi 6 is the way of the future; luckily, it’s an IT department’s dream.

Gabrielle West
Gabrielle West
Gabrielle West is an experienced tech and travel writer currently based in New York City. Her work has appeared on Ladders, Ultrahuman, and more.

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What is WiFi 6 and why do businesses need it?