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Wi-Fi 6 is the next-generation wireless standard. More than speed, it will provide better performance in congested areas, from stadiums to your own device-packed home and it’s coming in 2019.

Standard Wi-Fi codes are unnecessarily complicated. What does “802.11ac” mean? Well, it’s an important indicator for what Wi-Fi standard devices work with, but for most people, it’s just a list of meaningless numbers and letters that are a pain to decode.

Wi-Fi 6 seeks to solve that problem. It’s a new way of looking at Wi-Fi, introduced by an updated standard that will officially arrive at the end of 2019. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

Wi-Fi Alliance

The Wi-Fi Alliance is the organisation in charge of deciding, developing and designating Wi-Fi standards. As devices become more complex and internet connections continue to evolve, the process of delivering wireless connections also changes. That means that Wi-Fi standards need to be periodically updated so that new technology can flourish and everything can remain compatible.

But the awkward naming of Wi-Fi standards has become confusing for the average person trying to figure out what those little letters at the end mean. The Wi-Fi Alliance is aware of this, which is why they announced a new way to label Wi-Fi standards by simply referring to the number of the generation. This will apply to the upcoming Wi-Fi 6, but will also be backdated and applied to the older standards. For example:

  • 802.11n (2009) = Wi-Fi 4
  • 802.11ac (2014) = Wi-Fi 5
  • 802.11ax (upcoming) = Wi-Fi 6

Much easier isn’t it? Although this will cause a period of confusion where some products are labelled with the old code and some are just called Wi-Fi 4 or Wi-Fi 5, in time this should be resolved as older product labelling is phased out and everyone will get used to the new friendly one.

What Wi-Fi 6 Standard brings

Faster Wi-Fi - As usual, the latest Wi-Fi standard offers faster data transfer speeds. If you’re using a Wi-Fi router with a single device, maximum potential speeds should be up to 40% higher with Wi-Fi 6 compared to Wi-Fi 5.

This new standard even increases speeds on 2.4GHz networks. While the industry has shifted to 5GHz Wi-Fi for less interference, 2.4GHz is still better at penetrating solid objects. And there shouldn’t be as much interference for 2.4GHz as old cordless telephones and wireless baby monitors are retired.

Lower Latency - Reduced latency means there are shorter or no delay times when data is sent (very similar to ping rate and other such measurements). Everyone wants low latency connections because it improves load times and helps avoid disconnects and other issues. Wi-Fi 6 lowers latency compared to older Wi-Fi standards, using more advanced technology. Basically, it’s better at packing data into a signal.

Longer Battery Life - A new “target wake time” (TWT) feature means your smartphone, laptop and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices should have longer battery life too.

When the access point is talking to a device it can tell the device exactly when to put its Wi-Fi radio to sleep and exactly when to wake it up to receive the next transmission. This will conserve power, as it means the Wi-Fi radio can spend more time in sleep mode resulting in longer battery life.

This will also help with low-power “Internet of Things” devices that connect via Wi-Fi.

Better Performance in Crowded Areas - Wi-Fi tends to get bogged down when you’re in a crowded place with a lot of Wi-FI enabled devices. Imagine a busy stadium, airport or shopping centre with everyone connected to Wi-Fi, you’re probably going to have sluggish Wi-Fi.

The new Wi-Fi 6 incorporates many new technologies to help with this. It wouldn’t just apply to busy public places. It could apply to you at home if you have a lot of devices connected to Wi-Fi, or if you live in a dense apartment complex.

Watch out for the new Wi-Fi 6 labels

So, how do you know if a router, phone or other device works with the new Wi-Fi standard? First, and most obviously, look for the phrase “Wi-Fi 6” on packaging, device labels and so on.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has no power to force companies to use these new version numbers, however they encourage companies to adopt them. These labels look like Wi-Fi signals with a circled number within the signal.

Watch for these labels when picking out the right device. Most devices around 2020 and later are expected to be Wi-Fi 6 compatible, so you will have to wait a year or so before seeing these standards more common place.

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