How to upgrade from WiFi 5(802.11ac) to WiFi 6(802.11ax)

If you are reading this article, it’s probably because you are already frustrated with your current Wireless connection. And that’s because with every improvement we make on the WiFi technology, it always comes short on speeds and reliability.

But the WiFi alliance together with IEEE, the standards bodies responsible for publishing the next guidelines of WiFi standard just announced the next iteration of WiFi — WiFi 6(802.11ax). Many vendors are now introducing their WiFi 6 compliant devices in the market, although it won’t be until at least late 2019 that we shall have a considerable amount of WiFi 6 devices in the wild.

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So it’s probably not wise to upgrade to WiFi 6 right now, but if you want to live on the cutting edge and deal with the issues that come with that, then this is the post for you.

WiFi 5(802.11 ac) vs WiFi 6(802.11ax)

If you are upgrading to WiFi 6 (802.11ax), then you are probably coming from the previous WiFi standard WiFi 5(802.11ac). The key differentiating factor here is that WiFi 6 operates in both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz ranges unlike WiFi 5 which only used 5Ghz band.

Related post: 802.11 ax the next WiFi standard is expected to top 10 Gb/s data transfer speeds [updated]

Operating in dual-band frequency mode obviously means WiFi 6 handles a lot more bandwidth and therefore supports faster data transfer speeds than its predecessor. WiFi 6 supports a total of 12 channels, eight in the 5Ghz and four in the 2.4Ghz range. So WiFi 6 is 4 to 10 times faster than WiFi 5.

To achieve better performances, WiFi 6 supports Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access, or OFDMA which is a way of dividing a wireless channel into a large number of subchannels. With these smaller channels, multiple devices can talk to the access point or router all at the same time without waiting for one device to finish first.

With OFDMA, each channel is chopped up into hundreds of smaller sub-channels, each with a different frequency. The signals are then turned orthogonally (at right angles) so they can be stacked on top of each other and de-multiplexed. With the bank analogy, imagine a teller being able to handle multiple customers when they are free. So customer one hands the teller a check and while that person is signing the check, the teller deals with the next customer, etc. The use of OFDMA means up to 30 clients can share each channel instead of having to take turns broadcasting and listening on each. ~ Network world

Coupled with improved version of MU-MIMO, WiFi 6 antenna can transmit and receive from multiple other WiFi 6 devices concurrently. This enables access points (APs) to handle larger numbers of devices simultaneously.

source: Qualcomm

WiFi 6 is also backward compatible with the other previous version of WiFi. It’s carefully designed to be maximally forward and backward compatible with 802.11a/g/n/ac. That means if you bought a WiFi 6 router today, it can still support 802.11a/g/n/ac devices but of course you won’t get the full benefits of WiFi 6.

Lastly WiFi 6 brings more improved battery life to connected devices via a technique called “resource scheduling“. The router or Access Point and connected devices negotiate and define a specific times to access the medium ahead of time. This reduces contention and overlap among users and increases the device sleep time to reduce power consumption.

WiFi 6(802.11ax) devices

All WiFi 6 (802.11ax) devices will have the label WiFi 6 or 802.11 ax on the packaging. Remember the WiFi alliance switched to version numbers away from the confusing and less memorable IEEE 802.11 standards. So be sure to be on the lookout for that.

WiFi 6 logo and UI icons

WiFi 6 devices can be identified by a WiFi signal indicator coupled with numeric representation of the connection in this case the number 6.

WiFi 6 routers are beginning to trickle in; for instance the Netgear NIGHTHAWK RAX80 and RAX120. The RAX80 supports upto 8-Stream AX WiFi with speeds up to 6Gbps, 4×4 MU-MIMO and 1.8GHz quad-core processor. TP-link also announced the Deco X10, a tri-band mesh router and TP-link AX1800 and AX1500 WiFi 6 routers. Asus meanwhile has the AX6000 Dual Band WiFi 6 (802.11ax) Router supporting MU-MIMO and OFDMA technology and AiProtection Pro network security powered.

More router vendors are expected to release WiFi 6 products this year. We also expect smartphone, smarthome, wearable devices that are compatible with WiFi6 coming out soon.