When is Wi-Fi 6 Coming? And What are Its Features?

The number’s up for traditional Wi-Fi as the next generation approaches

Wi-Fi was once a service free of typical version numbers; those digits which quickly identify previous tech as irrelevant or redundant. That all changes next year when wireless will adopt its own simplified, number-based name system. The change is intended to foster greater understanding of Wi-Fi for users and the industry alongside major improvements in performance.

Understanding how Wi-Fi gets its classifications

The notion of numbered Wi-Fi may seem like a shake-up but it’s more like coming full circle. When wireless began, it was named in numbers – 802.11. Each successive iteration simply added a lower-case letter after the last digit. How that system played out seems counter-intuitive in retrospect, since the letters weren’t added in alphabetical order.

Fast-forward to today, and Wi-Fi 6 is approaching. It’s another step up in performance with fresh branding from the Wi-Fi Alliance. The organization believes the new numbering will promote clearer public understanding. They should know: it was the Alliance that first helped shape the term “Wi-Fi” to prevent wireless being labeled “IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence.”

The public will be able to tell at a glance which Wi-Fi their hardware supports instead of confronting technical designations created by engineers, for engineers. Numbering for a new generation is more suitable in many ways, since that “6” may ultimately be the only designation that counts. The very people who created “Wi-Fi” view that name as pure marketing – and the misleading and meaningless kind, at that.

Why we’re “suddenly” on 6 and what it aims to improve

If you’re worried that you missed out on versions one to five, don’t be. You’ve been using them for years under their more laborious numbered names. If you’re curious, the Wi-Fi Alliance hasn’t left the last twenty years of wireless in the past. Each version has been retroactively rebranded as Wi-Fi 1 to 5.

The world won’t get to experience Wi-Fi 6 (destined to be lesser-known as 802.11ax) until 2019. The biggest goal of this new version is tackling overcrowded Wi-Fi channels. A connection might be the fastest in town, but if there’s a host of signals all packed into the same channel it slows things down for everyone. Wi-Fi 6 will offer superior performance when users find their device stuck in one of these “dense” environments.

Other improvements on the horizon are a boost to Wi-Fi capacity. The current capacity maxes out at 1.3Gbps (gigabytes per second) under optimum conditions: an important term to remember when calculating any Wi-Fi’s capability. The Wi-Fi Alliance states that devices carrying Version 6 will benefit from a 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM) which will enable peak gigabit speeds for emerging, bandwidth-intensive use cases. When you consider that the highest QAM in common use today is 256, Version 6 looks impressive.

Outdoor connectivity and range are two more areas which stand to be improved. The Alliance is confident that even businesses with large-scale Wi-Fi deployment won’t have to worry about losing any of the predicted benefits. Things will be overseen by the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 program to ensure the service lives up to its promises.

Wi-Fi 6 comes hot on the heels of major security updates

Version 6 is taking shape at just the right time to capitalize on new standards of Internet safety. Summer 2018 saw the Alliance unveil Wi-Fi CERTIFIED WPA3 – the most significant improvement to wireless security in more than ten years. It makes some welcome changes to current security levels:

  • Private connections get stronger – Weak passwords are an open door for cybercriminals. Bad memory and sheer laziness have crashed many a hard drive, but Wi-Fi 6 will change that. Even if a weak password is chosen, the WPA3 standard should be tough enough to compensate and protect private connections.

  • Screenless connectivity improves – You’re not alone if you’ve had difficulty linking devices without displays to your Wi-Fi. Version 6 intends to make devices – like Amazon’s Echo or your home lighting – link to your wireless with greater ease and without using a laptop or cellphone as a middle-man.

  • Public connections will get more private – Open Wi-Fi networks are all around us at places like coffee shops, airports, and hotels but their security leaves a lot to be desired. Since anyone can connect, whatever we view can be seen by others and intercepted. Version 6 comes with individualized data encryption, automatically layering your viewing with enhanced security.

There’s more to learn on the Wi-Fi Alliance site, where you’ll find detailed whitepapers and a closer look at Wi-Fi then, now, and tomorrow. Today is the perfect time to make Wi-Fi’s evolving capabilities part of your retail strategy. Faster, stronger, and safer wireless means your marketing message can reach more people, more reliably with the right digital displays.

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