Updated: Jul 10, 2019
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. It’s coming in 2019.
Wi-Fi Has Version Numbers Now
Here are the versions of Wi-Fi you’ll be seeing:
Wi-Fi 4 is 802.11n, released in 2009.Wi-Fi 5 is 802.11ac, released in 2014.Wi-Fi 6 is the new version, also known as 802.11ax. It’s scheduled for release in 2019.
The Wi-Fi Alliance also announced would like to see these numbers appear in software so you can tell which Wi-Fi network is newer and faster while connecting on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. You may be seeing Wi-Fi numbers on your phone, tablet, or laptop soon.
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. Picture a busy stadium, airport, hotel, mall, or even a crowded office with everyone connected to Wi-Fi. You’re probably going to have slow Wi-Fi.
The new Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, incorporates many new technologies to help with this. Intel 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.
This 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.
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 (like your smartphone), 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.
How Wi-Fi 6 Battles Congestion
You don’t really need to know the details. A Wi-Fi 6 access point with a Wi-Fi 6 device will work better. But here’s what’s going on under the hood:
Wi-Fi 6 can now divide a wireless channel into a large number of subchannels. Each of these subchannels can carry data intended for a different device. This is achieved through something called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access, or OFDMA. The Wi-Fi access point can talk to more devices at once.
The new riderless standard also has improved MIMO—Multiple In/Multiple Out. This involves multiple antennas, which let the access point talk to multiple devices at once. With Wi-Fi 5, the access point could talk to devices at the same time, but those devices couldn’t respond at the same time. Wi-Fi 6 has an improved version of multi-user or MU-MIMO that lets devices respond to the wireless access point at the same time.
Wireless access points near each other may be transmitting on the same channel. In this case, the radio listens and waits for a clear signal before replying. With Wi-Fi 6, wireless access points near each other can be configured to have different Basic Service Set (BSS) “colors.” This “color” is just a number between 0 and 7. If a device is checking whether the channel is all clear and listens in, it may notice a transmission with a weak signal and a different “color.” It can then ignore this signal and transmit anyway without waiting, so this will improve performance in congested areas, and is also called “spatial frequency re-use.”
These are just some of the most interesting things, but the new WI-Fi standard also includes many smaller improvements. Wi-Fi 6 will also include improved beamforming , for example.