When it comes to the Internet, it is all about wireless speed. For years, people were using 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. But in 2019, the public was introduced with a brand new, faster version of Wi-Fi 6. The development didn’t stop there, and in April 2020, the Federal Communication Commission decided to open up an entirely new band of spectrum to accommodate next-gen devices designed to tap into it.
An industry group that manages Wi-Fi nomenclature, called Wi-Fi Alliance, branded this new spectrum Wi-Fi 6E. It is safe to say that the last few years were very busy for Wi-Fi, and the technology keeps on improving every day. What is the new Wi-Fi technology, and how does it differ from previous versions?
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 is a wireless networking name introduced by Wi-Fi Alliance as industry designation for products and networks that support the next generation of Wi-Fi. The number reveals it is the sixth generation of Wi-Fi technology and was meant to make it easier for users to understand when it arrives on the market.
Wi-Fi 6 is faster, more capable, more power-efficient, and backward compatible with Wi-Fi 5. This means you can use a combination of routers and devices, and the technology will still work. However, vendors always recommend getting the latest devices to fully benefit and take advantage of this remarkable new technology.
According to Wi-Fi Alliance, one of the key capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 is increased network efficiency and lower latency for uplink and downlink traffic. This is especially the case in high demand environments. In other words, if users need a quick internet response, Wi-Fi 6 will provide enough speed and latent-free connection. The network allows the router to serve multiple clients at once within a single channel. This means more users will be able to use more network resources at higher speeds.
The maximum speed of Wi-Fi 6 is 9.6 Gbs thanks to the 6 GHz band. This speed boost puts Wi-Fi performance quite close to the fastest Ethernet connections. Of course, this requires devices that are able to take advantage of that speed and servers that will be able to deliver it. As of recently, two or three 160 MHz channels are available for Wi-Fi 6 users. Unfortunately, they are all shared with older generations. This co-sharing is slowing down the overall transmission in the available 160 MHz channels. Moreover, Wi-Fi 6 has to share channels with Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) used by radar devices. Routers are programmed to switch off when they detect radar signals, or just switch to another channel.
Wi-Fi 6E explained
Wi-Fi 6E is Wi-Fi extended specifically to the 6 GHz band. In other words, Wi-Fi 6E is the same thing as Wi-Fi 6 that appeared on the market in 2019. But the difference is, it has access to greater bandwidth as it doesn’t share the channels with previous generations. The idea behind it is to have more simultaneous connections and to use available bands in a more efficient manner. Over-congestion in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum has resulted in Wi-Fi 6 failure to reach its full potential.
By opening a completely new band with 1,200 MHz of space available, there is a lot more room for the Wi-Fi without overlap. The massive bandwidth is split into fourteen 80 MHz channels or seven 160 MHz channels at once. This means that even if you live in an area with a lot of Wi-Fi connection, there is still more than enough bandwidth to keep your connection fast and consistent. Users will not experience interference, and their devices will not be plagued by slow Internet or instability like with older versions.
Wi-Fi 6E requires a new router that differs from the Wi-Fi 6. However, these routers aren’t available just yet and probably won’t see widespread consumer adoption for the next few years. Additionally, regulatory restrictions further disallow mobile devices to use the 160 MHz bands while they act as an access point. To resolve this, Wi-Fi Alliance is asking regulators to free up the 6 GHz spectrum for unlicensed use.
How does it differ from 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands?
Wi-Fi today is working over two bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. With the development of Wi-Fi 6E, there will be an addition of the third band, 6 GHz. The numbers make a difference. The lower 2.4 GHz frequency signal can travel farther without degrading but has less available bandwidth. It maxes out at 40 MHz per channel. In the United States, there are only 11 available channels, which means most people end up sharing their Wi-Fi with neighbors.
The introduction of 5 GHz band helped quite a bit, as it had many more channels available and typically at 80 MHz In some special cases, it is available at 160 MHz. In comparison, the 6 GHz band delivers data faster and opens up new airwaves. It basically quadruples the total space available to traditional Wi-Fi. More importantly, the new spectrum doesn’t have any DFS channels to worry about.
One of the key technology and advantage Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E have over older generations is the addition of Target Wake Time. The router and all devices are regularly checking in with each other. This could lead to a lot of devices checking in with the router at the same time, which can result in massive battery drainage and connection instability. Target Wake Time allows the router to signal the devices when it is not busy.
Wi-Fi 6E and 5G
The performance improvements made with Wi-Fi 6E could be so good that most people believe it would be a direct competition to the 5G network. For years, these two different types of wireless technology have coexisted. Wi-Fi was primarily used for indoor purposes, while cellular networks were used mostly outdoors and generally over long distances.
5G developers state the network will provide 50x more speed, 10x less latency, and 1,000x more capacity than the previous generation. It means 5G will be able to connect more devices and transmit more data at once. And with the announcement of 3G being shut down by 2024, all available 3G spectrum will be repurposed for 5G, giving it extra connectivity and enhanced user experience.
On the other hand, technicians argue that this new generation of Wi-Fi will also be excellent in large public venues such as stadiums, concert halls, and college campuses. These places have a large concentration of people, and they will want to use the available network. The 6 GHz band will not be shared with older technology and will give users more speed and less latency. Additionally, Wi-Fi has a lower cost to deploy and maintain.
Regardless if 5G and Wi-Fi 6E continue to coexist or become more competitive technologies, it is the people that will stand to benefit the most. The sheer speed and amount of data transfer on both networks are outstanding, and the world will be connected more than ever before.