Wi-Fi 6 is making its much-anticipated entry into the consumer market this year. But the next generation of Wi-Fi isn’t just an accelerated version of the Wi-Fi you’re using right now. It’s the latest stage in Wi-Fi’s evolution as it works to accommodate the increasing number of connected devices at work, home and everywhere else.
How’s it different than the Wi-Fi I use now?
It won’t feel radically different when you use it. Wi-Fi 6 is simply an upgraded standard that’s designed to be compatible with the internet of the future – one that accommodates the ever-increasing number of connected devices that demand equal time and bandwidth on overworked routers.
Six? I’ve never even heard of the other five.
No, you didn’t miss Wi-Fi 1 through 5 because they didn’t exist under those names. Wi-Fi 6 is a new labeling convention that the Wi-Fi Alliance came up with because the old names weren’t very catchy (its real name is 802.11ax, the latest version of the 802.11 standard most folks call Wi-Fi, if you want to get nerdy about it). The five previous versions have received new names, too: the Wi-Fi you’re currently using, 802.11ac, will now be known as Wi-Fi 5.
It’s got to be a little faster, right?
Yes, your internet speeds will get a little spring in their step as Wi-Fi 6 is adopted into the mainstream. Theoretically they could get a lot faster: Wi-Fi 6 is 9.6 Gbps, more than double the 3.5 Gbps you get with Wi-Fi 5. But in most use cases, that 9.6 Gbps is going to be divvied up across multiple devices within a network, giving each device a little bump instead of giving one device a big push.
Great! Will the tech I have now work with it?
You’ll still be able to access the internet with a Wi-Fi 6 router, but your connectivity will be the same as it is now. Over the next few years you’ll see more and more devices labeled “Wi-Fi 6 compatible” that are designed specifically to work with Wi-Fi 6 as it becomes the new standard.
So how does it work exactly?
Wi-Fi 6 is designed to communicate with devices more efficiently, sending more information with each signal and servicing multiple devices with a single transmission. Two technologies make this happen: MU-MIMO and OFDMA.
MU-MIMO is short for “multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output.” This tech isn’t new; Wi-Fi 5 uses it right now. With Wi-Fi 5, the wireless access point (AP) can talk to multiple devices at once, but those devices can’t respond simultaneously. Wi-Fi 6 lets devices respond to the AP at the same time.
OFDMA, on the other hand, is a new feature (and arguably a more important one). It stands for “orthogonal frequency division multiple access,” which means one AP can connect with multiple clients with varying bandwidth requirements simultaneously. Depending on traffic, OFDMA can allocate its whole channel to one client or split it up between 74 different ones.
Sounds cool. But how will it help my business?
Once Wi-Fi 6 is widely adopted, it’ll enable your business to run apps that you couldn’t run on wireless before. Think 4K video conferencing and immersive VR apps for fields like healthcare and retail. It also improves security: Existing routers and devices aren’t required to be WPA3 certified, but every Wi-Fi 6-certified device will be in the future.
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How soon can I get Wi-Fi 6 tech?
The Wi-Fi 6 certification program officially starts in the fall, and a lot of compatible devices will be coming out after that. But you can get a Wi-Fi 6 compatible machine now: The HP EliteBook x360 1030 G4. It’s the world’s smallest and lightest business convertible, and it includes optional Wi-Fi 6 compatibility so you’re ready when the revolution comes.