Data Doctors: Wi-Fi 6 is faster, but do you need it?

Q: What is Wi-Fi 6 and do I need it?

A: The use of the term ‘Wi-Fi 6’ is an attempt by the Wi-Fi Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes and certifies Wi-Fi technology, to simplify the alphabet soup that Wi-Fi has become.

To break it down: 802.11b is Wi-Fi 1; 802.11a is Wi-Fi 2; 802.11g is Wi-Fi 3; 802.11n is Wi-Fi 4; 802.11ac is Wi-Fi 5; and the 6th generation of Wi-Fi technology is 802.11ax.

In the future, you could start seeing reference to the generation number within the Wi-Fi connection icon on your smartphone and computer to better inform you about your connection.

What Wi-Fi 6 does better

Data transfer speeds are testing out up to 40% faster on Wi-Fi 6 over Wi-Fi 5, which is great for those that work with huge video files across a local network, but means little for internet access.

Wi-Fi 5 is already faster than most internet connections, so Wi-Fi 6 won’t provide any real speed difference unless you have a 1Gbps or faster pipe to the internet. Your current connection is likely to be 100 Mbps or less.

While improved speed is generally a hallmark of each new generation, there’s a lot more to Wi-Fi 6, especially in commercial settings.

Allowing more devices to connect and transmit data at the same time with a lower latency, much like the focused improvements in cellular 5G networks, is another benefit in Wi-Fi 6

Unless you have over 50 devices wirelessly connected to your home or business network, the volume advantage it offers won’t be noticeable

The lower latency makes gamers a primary target for Wi-Fi 6 router manufacturers, with features such as a separate dedicated band for gaming along with packet prioritization to place the emphasis on gaming traffic.

Wi-Fi 6 is designed to use less power, which is very important to battery operated wireless sensors that are being developed for just about every conceivable use.

The most likely place that you’ll first notice the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 is in places such as airports and stadiums that try to provide Wi-Fi to large numbers of people, but only if you have Wi-Fi 6 device.

The first trial is currently available at John Wayne International Airport in Orange County, California.

Who’s offering Wi-Fi 6?

Any mobile device manufacturer that’s including Wi-Fi 6 capability is doing so to ‘future proof’ its devices since it’s going to be a while before Wi-Fi 6 is ubiquitous.

Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S10 series of smartphones was the first to include Wi-Fi 6, with Apple recently announcing that all of the new iPhone 11 models would have Wi-Fi 6 built into them. It’s rumored that the Google Pixel 4 that is set to be unveiled in October will feature Wi-Fi 6 capability.

Laptop manufacturers that focus on gaming including Dell, Asus, MSI and Alienware are offering models with Wi-Fi 6 hardware.

Router manufacturers including Asus, TP-Link and Netgear have already released products that will have the Wi-Fi 6 stickers on the box.

Standards are still being finalized and costs will come down, so unless you have a specific need for this early adopter technology, no need to worry about it just yet.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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