What is Wi-Fi 6 and how fast is it?

What is Wi-Fi 6

The next generation of wifi technology: Wi-fi 6 is going to be appearing on devices in the upcoming years.

Wi-Fi 6 is the next-generation wireless standard that’s faster than 802.11ac. More than speed, it will provide better performance in congested areas, from stadiums to your own device-packed home. Most probably, it’s coming in this year.

So, here’s everything you need to know about it.

As devices become more complex and internet connections evolve, the process of delivering wireless connections also changes. That means that Wi-Fi standards - the technical specifications that manufacturers use to create Wi-Fi - need to be periodically updated so that new technology can flourish and everything can remain compatible.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit organization, takes charge of deciding, developing, and designating Wi-Fi standards.

Wi-Fi is the name of a popular wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet and network connections.

A common misconception is that the term Wi-Fi is short for "wireless fidelity," however this is not the case. Wi-Fi is simply a trademarked phrase that means IEEE 802.11x.

The first wifi protocol appeared in 1997, offering 2 Mbit/s link speeds, but it was only with the arrival of 802.11b and 11 Mbit/s speeds in 1999 that people seriously started thinking about home wifi. The introduction of 802.11g in 2003 (54 Mbit/s) and 802.11n in 2009 (a whopping 600 Mbit/s) were both significant moments in the history of wifi. Another significant step forward was the introduction of dual-band routers with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, tied to the arrival of 802.11n, which could offer faster speeds at shorter ranges.

Today, we’re talking speeds that are more than 600 times faster than they were in 1997.

The latest Wi-Fi standard, with 802.11ac in place that 5GHz band can push speeds of 1,300 Mbit/s, will offer faster data transfer speeds. If you’re using a Wifi router with a single device, maximum potential speeds should be up to 40% higher with Wi-Fi 6 compared to the previous version of Wi-Fi. The chips that encode and decode these signals keep getting more powerful and can handle the extra work.


Wi-Fi 6, the upgraded version, does not just speed that’s improving but also takes another step forward with new features.

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. And that means 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.

Instead of boosting the speed for individual devices, Wi-Fi 6 is all about improving the network when a bunch of devices is connected.

Wi-Fi 6 is intended to fix some of downloading and uploading problem that still exists. This new technology is trying to get decent wifi in a crowded space also. It could also apply to you at home if you have a lot of devices connected to Wifi, or if you live in a dense apartment complex.


Intel, semiconductor chip and computer processor manufacturer, trumpets that Wi-Fi 6 will improve each user’s average speed by “at least four times” in congested areas with a lot of connected devices.

MU-MIMO technology, which stands for “multi-user, multiple inputs, multiple outputs,” will also be enabled for uplink data, in addition to the downlink data it already supports.

The other new technology, OFDMA, which stands for “orthogonal frequency division multiple access,” allows one transmission to deliver data to multiple devices at once.

The technology allows a router to communicate with multiple devices at the same time, rather than broadcasting to one device, where one person is streaming Netflix, another is playing a game, someone else is video chatting, and a whole bunch of smart gadgets as a door lock, temperature sensors, light switches, and so on - all are checking in at once.

Wi-Fi 6 routers are designed to more effectively keep all those devices up to date with the data they need.


Current devices and routers can support WPA3, a new security protocol, but it’s optional. WPA3 makes it harder for hackers to crack passwords by constantly guessing them, and it makes some data less useful even if hackers manage to obtain it.

For Wi-Fi 6, WPA3 is required, so Wi-Fi 6 devices are guaranteed to be more secure than ever.


Wi-Fi 6 will start arriving on high-end phones this year, though. Qualcomm’s latest flagship processor, the Snapdragon 855, includes support for Wi-Fi 6, and it’s destined for the next wave of top-of-the-line phones. The Wi-Fi Alliance is ready for Wi-Fi 6’s arrival and will launch its Wi-Fi 6 certification program most probably this year, which guarantees compatibility across Wi-Fi devices.


Stock photo from Ivan Marc

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