A WIRELESS PARADIGM SHIFT
Wi-Fi is everywhere. Be it our homes, our offices or even the restaurants and public places we frequent, it is impossible to imagine the world of today functioning without wireless networking. Emerging near the very end of the last millennia, Wi-Fi technology has undergone a fair share of revisions, and right now, we are looking at the arrival of the sixth iteration of Wi-Fi. Unlike its predecessors, which only bore confusing esoteric-sounding names like IEEE 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n and 802.11ac, the latest generation of Wi-Fi, formally known as IEEE 802.11ax, has been specially blessed with a simple and elegant name – Wi-Fi 6.
The new type of nomenclature is not accidental or unintentional – the Wi-Fi Alliance, the authority which is responsible for defining the standards of Wi-Fi technology and interoperability, has deemed it an update that is major enough to cause a paradigm shift in terms of speed and features, thus meriting a new kind of name. Many new devices – routers, laptops, phones – that have been revealed this year at various consumer electronics expos and the like have been certified to be compatible with Wi-Fi 6, capable of taking advantage of all the bells and whistles of the new technology. Samsung’s new flagship smartphone, the mighty Galaxy S10, is one of the first Wi-Fi 6-compliant devices to have hit the market.
Wi-Fi 6 is going to be the fastest version of Wi-Fi to date, optimized to transfer data at blazing speeds over 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands simultaneously at speeds as high as 10 gigabits per second, according to Edgar Figueroa, the CEO and President of the Wi-Fi Alliance. Inlay terms, this means that Wi-Fi 6 can be used to send or receive over a gigabyte of data in a single second, which is more than four times the throughput and capacity that was possible using the previous iterations of Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi undergoes a generational leap every five years or so, but a speed gain of this magnitude is as unprecedented as it is stunning. Wi-Fi 6 also improves upon system efficiency, reducing power usage significantly and helping to prolong battery lives of all supported devices. Wi-Fi 6 is also going to be a boon for gamers and the like, with reduced latency that would translate into even faster response times in games and full-duplex communications.
However, blistering speed is far from the only thing that Wi-Fi 6 has to offer. Wi-Fi 6 also supports two new technologies called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO). While their names may not mean much to most people, these imbue Wi-Fi 6 with a degree of robustness that allows it to efficiently support the simultaneous presence and operation of four times as many devices, compared to its previous generations, on the same network. Wi-Fi 6 has been built for a world that is filled to the brim with phones, tablets, televisions and every other kind of Wi-Fi-driven electronic device, giving them a rock-solid infrastructure that would not collapse under a load of their collective information exchange.
WI-FI 6 IS ALSO HEAVILY BEEFED UP IN TERMS OF SECURITY. IT BOASTS AN ENTIRELY NEW SECURITY STANDARD CALLED WPA3, WHICH IS AN UPGRADE FROM THE WPA2 SECURITY FRAMEWORK USED IN PREVIOUS VERSIONS OF WI-FI. NOT ONLY DOES WPA3 BOAST FAR SUPERIOR ENCRYPTION FEATURES, BUT IT ALSO OFFERS SO ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL, MAKING SURE THAT EVERY DEVICE CONNECTED TO THE NETWORK ARE PROTECTED AGAINST ATTACKS FROM EACH OTHER.
Wi-Fi 6 will also sport a degree of ‘spatial awareness’. Traditionally, it has long been an issue that as a device moves further away from the source of the Wi-Fi signal, typically a router or extender, it begins to lose strength and eventually cuts out completely. However, a router or extender equipped with Wi-Fi 6 would be fully aware of the relative location and proximity of any device connected to it, and depending on its position, would send out signals that are of variable strengths. For example, a low-power signal would suffice adequately for a device that is located within a few feet of the router in question, but a device teetering at the edge of its functional range would receive a strong signal that would ensure that it does not suffer from gradually fading signals. Granted, this still means that going outside the functional range of the signal source would still cause the signal to fade eventually, but it also means that the functional range would sport uniform performance across its entirely, and its range would be utilized better than ever. This would be achievable even with many devices connected to a single source, with the help of a new ‘scheduling’ technology that would be able to manage a dozen separate streams at a time, ensuring that the devices all receive adequate signal priority.
Wi-Fi 6 is also heavily beefed up in terms of security. It boasts an entirely new security standard called WPA3, which is an upgrade from the WPA2 security framework used in previous versions of Wi-Fi. Not only does WPA3 boast far superior encryption features, but it also offers so on an individual level, making sure that every device connected to the network is protected against attacks from each other.
If you are worried that your current devices might be rendered obsolete by the eventual arrival of Wi-Fi 6, fear not. Firstly, Wi-Fi 6 is still going to take a while to arrive and becoming properly mainstream, and secondly, even when it does, it would still be fully backward-compatible with older Wi-Fi standards. A phone or computer that doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6 would still be able to connect to a Wi-Fi 6-certified router, even though a device would require to be fully Wi-Fi 6-compliant to take full advantage of its feature set. Wi-Fi 6 routers are also likely to be relatively more expensive, at least initially, with the feature only appearing on the most high-end of routers, but it isn’t going to stay stuck that way.
When can we expect to see Wi-Fi 6? Well, it is not likely not become mainstream before a couple of years. However, with its official certification program well underway, and hardware manufacturers doing everything in their power to ensure the inclusion of the latest and greatest iteration of Wi-Fi on their devices, wait for it to become ubiquitous promises to be quite an exciting one, taking us one step closer to a feature where connectivity would be simpler, faster and more ubiquitous than ever.