What is special about Wi-Fi 6 and why is it important?

October 19, 2018 |

greater than 8 minutes

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is gearing up to be the next wireless standard (which, of course, is several levels above its predecessor in terms of everything that matters). Of course, Wi-Fi 5 will be used to identify devices that support 802.11ac technology (which was released roughly five years ago).

If the wireless terms or numbers used to represent different standards often seem confusing to you, then this short list should make things clearer:

  • Wi-Fi 1 would have represented 802.11b. This standard was released in 1999.
  • Wi-Fi 2 would have represented 802.11a. This standard was released around the same time as Wi-Fi 1.
  • Wi-Fi 3 would have represented 802.11g. This standard was released in 2003.

(Timeline: Wi-Fi Alliance proposed that the user-friendly names should start applying to the standards below)

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  • Wi-Fi 4 is 802.11n. This standard was released in 2009.
  • Wi-Fi 5 is 802.11ac. This standard was released in 2014.
  • Wi-Fi 6 is the newest version; it is the same thing as 802.11ax. It is scheduled for release in 2019.

The numbers above are expected to appear in recent software so that users can tell which Wi-Fi network technology is the latest or fastest. This way, you get to access and use the best internet connection available on your mobile device, tablet or computer easily.

What are the main improvements in Wi-Fi 6?

  1. Faster connections:

Since Wi-Fi 6 is the latest release, we can come to expect faster speeds from it. Well, the new technology delivers on precisely that. For example, with the new technology, if you use your router with a single device, then the maximum potential Wi-Fi 6 speed you can expect should be 40% higher when compared to the older network technology (Wi-Fi 5).

Wi-Fi 6 employs better and more efficient methods to code data, and the improvement in speed is mostly a result of this. In other words, the new technology is capable of packing more data into the same radio waves.

To be fair, manufacturers have already made great strides as regards the chips that encode and decode the transmitted data. Those components are more powerful than ever, and WI-FI does well to take advantage of them.

More impressive is the improvement of speed on 2.4GHz networks. We know too well that 5GHz Wi-Fi has become the preferred industry standard, but all the same, 2.4GHz-based systems remain better at penetrating solid objects. Good thing the interference affecting 2.4GHz systems from cordless telephones and wireless baby monitors is almost non-existent these days.

  1. Long Battery Life:

The Target Wake Time functionality is one of the most anticipated features. With it, your all your devices (a smartphone, PC, and so on) that connect to your Wi-Fi network should enjoy longer battery life than before.

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You might be wondering what the new WI-FI network technology does to save power or how it does. It is a bit complicated, but we will do our best to make things appear simple.

When you connect your device to the new network, your device will be in a state of constant communication with the access point, which is programmed to tell your device when its WI-FI radio should be put to sleep or when it needs to wake up to receive the next data packet or transmission.

Invariably, your device will end up spending a reasonable amount of time in sleep mode (apparently longer than before). Surely, you can see how the use of such a setup results in extended battery life for devices that connect to the network in view.

  1. Improved performance in congested or crowded areas:

When numerous users with devices that connect to WI-FI networks are in a crowded place, the connection speed or rate of data transfer suffers. You probably have experienced an event or encountered a scenario like this at least once in your lifetime.

Here is some good news: WI-FI 6 or 802.11ax employs numerous new technologies to help with the problem we just described. Some reports indicate that the average user speed in congested areas with many connected devices might increase by a multiple of 4.

Of course, the same improvement will still play out in other places besides public areas (which we associate with numerous people and devices connecting to wireless networks). If you have many devices that connect to your WI-FI network at home, then the same benefits will apply to you. Now, we will move on to tell you how WI-FI 6 supports the improved performance.

WI-FI 6 is capable of dividing a wireless channel into a large number of subchannels. Now, you must understand that each of these subdivisions carries the data meant for a specific or targeted device. Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access or OFDMA is the technology that makes the described setup work as designed.

We can safely claim that the new WI-FI networks are going to end up talking to more devices at once than before. The Riderless standard, also one of the new features of Wi-Fi 6, takes things to a new dimension by improving MIMO—Multiple In/Multiple Out. Multiple antennas are going to be in play because the access point needs these components to communicate with several devices at once.

To be fair, the access points associated with WI-FI 5 networks were already capable of talking to multiple devices at the same time, but we have to add that the devices involved could not respond at the same time. WI-FI 6 takes things a notch up.

With the new technology, the networks get an improved version of multi-user or MU-MIMO, and this new functionality or setup allows devices to respond to the wireless network access point at the same time.

Furthermore, we are used to scenarios where if wireless access points close to one another end up transmitting on the same channel, the radio is expected to listen and wait for a clear signal before it sends a reply.

In WI-FI 6, however, you will be able to configure wireless access points close to one another to have different Basic Service Set (BSS) colors. The color we are referring to here is usually between a figure between 0 and 7.

A device is expected to check whether the channel is clear and listen in. During this process, there is a good chance that the device might detect a weak transmission and a different color. Subsequently, it can move on to ignore the detected signal and transit without waiting, and such events translate to the improvements in WI-FI connections in congested or crowded areas.

We have just brushed through some exciting changes you can come to expect with WI-FI 6. Nevertheless, we have left out a good number of elements or smaller improvements, which are still relevant enough in absolute terms.

For example, the improved beamforming ability — that promises a faster, stronger WI-FI with more extended range — is part of the other good stuff you might be interested in finding out more about on your own.

How to identify a router that supports WI-FI 6?

If you are on the market for a new router, then you would probably be interested in getting the best wireless device that suits your needs (one that supports 802.11ax, in this case). Well, given the information we have provided in this guide up to this point, we expect you to have figured out the specifications or details you must check for in routers.

You might no longer have to bother with 802.11ac or 802.11ax since these figures or characters are confusing enough in their own right. Most manufacturers will simply label their products with WI-FI 5 or WI-FI 6. Additionally, you must be on the lookout for the WI-FI 6 certified logo on devices that have completed the certification process managed by WI-FI Alliance.

If you can recall correctly, there has been WI-FI logo on most devices that support the technology in view for quite some time, but you never could figure out what WI-FI generation or technology standard the product you saw the logo on employed. Therefore, the change to the WI-FI 6 certified logo seems to be a step in the right direction.

When can you purchase devices that support the new standard?

Regardless of all that has been said, we advise that you wait on things and avoid getting caught up in the rush to use the latest WI-FI technologies or devices. WI-FI 6 is yet to be finalized. Nevertheless, we know that you might come across some routers that advertise 802.11ax technology and might start wondering what is up.

The most important thing to note is that we do not have any device that supports WI-FI 6 yet, and this is only reasonable. After all, WI-FI Alliance more or less expects the new standard to be finalized sometime in 2019.

We cannot say much from here on. Put it this way; you do not have to think or worry about WI-FI 6. In the future, when the time is right, you will surely come across wireless network transmitters, smartphones, laptops, and other devices that support the new technology or standard.

Of course, to gain or benefit from the advantages provided by WI-FI 6, both the sender and the receiver must support the latest (or same) generation of wireless technologies.

By this, we mean if you want to enjoy the improvements associated with WI-FI 6 while you browse on your smartphone, for example, your mobile device must support the Wi-Fi 6, and you must connect it to a wireless router (or access point) that does the same.

If you connect a computer equipped with support for WI-FI 5 technology only to a WI-FI 6 router, then the connection you have created will end up operating in WI-FI 5 mode for obvious reasons. The most important thing is that your ability to use your WI-FI 6-supported smartphone with the same router (to get the best connection) remains unaffected.


For all the talk about the changes made to the WI-FI technology or standards to make them easier to identify or interpret, it is quite unfortunate that some firms might fail to go with the new trend. Well, any manufacturer could simply decide to ignore the new numbers and go with the old figures or characters instead and give their new generation routers the Wi-Fi 802.11ax label.

After all, Wi-Fi Alliance cannot force companies to adopt its changes or alterations no matter how good they might be. At best, it can only encourage them to do so to ensure uniformity. To be fair, we believe the change is long overdue; it should have been made years ago (in the middle age of WI-FI technology).

The average person is more likely to understand WI-FI standards now. Perhaps, more people will move to upgrade their routers to get faster network speeds or stronger connections. It is understandable; people often want the best things they can obtain.


If you went through this guide, then we would like to assume that you are a user who sincerely cares about the performance upgrades that can be obtained through various means. For one, in this guide, our discussion revolved around the improvements that can be achieved with WI-FI 6.

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