What is WIFI 6 and why should I care?

You may have heard about the term WiFi 6 and may think is like the 4G or 5G of mobile networks, just an evolution of the wireless protocol standard, right? Well you are right, this is the next generation of wireless networks but this particular generation is going to bring wireless networks almost to the same level as wired networks.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay Distributed under pixabay License

How WiFi 6 improves the current standards?

There are several improvements but in this article we want to keep it short, so we are going to explain the three main technologies behind WiFi 6 (802.11ax) that are going to make this generation of wireless step up from the old standards.

Orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA):

OFDMA allows to handle different connections at the same frequency at the same time without interfering with other connections. We all connect to the same WiFi in the same fequency and it has been working great, right? Behind the scenes what pre-WiFi 6 access points(AP) does is assign a channel to each clien. This channels are not assigned exclusively, several clients share the same channel and this is divided in time to acomodate the clients in the same channel.

With WiFi 6 channels can be shared amongst different clients without interference using orthogonal. This makes two transmissions in the same frequency to be completely unaware of each other. This not only allows the AP to transmit to two devices at same time improving the spectral efficiency, but also allows for much faster requests from the end device to the AP. Prior to having OFDMA each user in a channel had to compete with the other clients for a time slot to create the request, this was handled using protocols as Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Colli‐sion Avoidance (CSMA/CA) or Network Allocation Vector(NAV).

Channel Bandwidth:

Usually WiFi channels had up to 40MHz of bandwidth and in WiFi5(802.11ac) 80 MHz was introduced as well as an optional 160MHz that not many vendors included in their devices. This channels will be found in most vendors for WiFi 6, there are some vendors that does not want to implement the 160MHz channels due the low number of usecases for those “superchannels” and the hassle of having to deal with Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) interferences, specially with radar signals.

Improved security:

With WiFi6 a new standard of security has been implemented;WPA3, makes encryption keys much longer than WPA2 what increases exponentially the required time to decrypt data. Also the pre-shared key mechanism used in WPA2 is replaces with Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) what will improve mostly the initial key exchange of WPA3, this protocol based on a Diffie–Hellman key exchange will also improve open WiFi security.

WPA3 explanation by WiFi Alliance

This are the facts we consider are the keys that make WiFi6 an essential to keep up with the evolution of the networks. Every year we get more Internet of Things (IOT) devices connected in our homes and work environments, this devices are not always as secure as we would desire. The improved security will surely help in that regard, allowing weaker passwords to be more secure than in previous WiFi standards.
Also the improved spectral efficiency due to OFDMA and the dynamic bandwith allocation will definitelly help in environments of high density, not only of traffic but also of AP’s commercial areas where each business has its own WiFi network makes the different channels to be reused colliding with adjacent business networks generating degradation of quality in the signal and client experience.