Lior Weiss

Wi-Fi 6 is a breakthrough technology that will finally unlock the potential of IoT, and let it flourish in full technological beauty. While some might think that it’s only about increasing speed, in reality Wi-Fi 6 will offer much more, including device flexibility, better traffic management and battery consumption. Yes, broadband will become considerably faster, but in addition Wi-Fi 6 acts as a powerful all-purpose catalyst that will juice up and kickstart the IoT industry.

The Significance of Wi-Fi 6

Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is probably the strongest improvement to the wireless LAN since its creation. Other standards were mostly about speeding up older versions, whereas Wi-Fi 6 is built from scratch in order to serve our heavily interconnected world. Older incarnations were built on the premise that people don’t own much equipment, but that has gradually changed, as cheaper and smarter tech flooded the market, congesting the network through multiple devices, which can be compared to cramming dozens of people into a small room.

Ever been to a heavily-packed pub that has only one bartender? Gets the job done, yet slow and can’t give everybody the same attention. In the case of IoT, the bartender would have to grow six more arms, and possibly even an extra head. IoT is rather useless if its long chain of gadgets and sensors can’t be supported with proper speed, efficiency and battery-life. That’s where Wi-Fi 6, the “multi-armed” bartender, steps in to lend a helping hand.

Extending Battery Life

Battery life has been a major issue for consumer electronics. Nobody likes a smartphone running out of juice in the middle of a busy day. But for IoT devices this becomes even more of an issue. Smart homes are starting to be equipped with a growing number of small gadgets, sensors and detectors that are mostly reliant on battery for power supply. Imagine that people would need to replace dozens of batteries every few months on all of those. It’s a big headache.

Wi-Fi 6 will solve this problem by putting to sleep gadgets that are not in use through a feature called Target Wake Time (TWT). The access point (AP) will exclusively tell every device when to sleep and when to wake. Longer sleeping mode means more battery life. It’s very suitable for tiny, low-power gadgets that only need to update their status once in a while, for example, home sensors that are mostly unused during the day. TWT also allows APs and devices to communicate with each other and reduce potential overlapping. Think of TWT as a police officer that keeps different gadgets on track and stops them from colliding.

OFDMA: The Biggest Achievement

Most experts believe OFDMA to be the most important Wi-Fi 6 feature, as it will put an end to Wi-Fi network congestion. The problem with previous Wi-Fi standards was that the router could only transfer data if the Wi-Fi channel is clear. Before sending new data signals, the router would always check if the previous transmission had finished. While that’s happening, no new data could be transmitted. Picture what happens when APs have multiple devices constantly sending data. The wait time between every transmission can quickly add up, resulting in delays that will slow down your network.

Now imagine if that’s happening in a crowded airport or hotel. Actually, it’s happening everyday: invisible digital traffic jams that are bloated with activity and congestion, causing massive disruptions throughout the network. OFDMA is a real game-changer, as it will decrease congestion by splitting the Wi-Fi channel into sub-channels, meaning that more transmissions can be sent at the same time, without causing any delays. OFDMA is basically like drill sergeant that requires discipline, teamwork and doesn’t tolerate any failure. The feature dramatically reduces wait time between transmissions, so we can expect a more optimized version of Wi-Fi. To get an even better effect, consider checking out ElasticMIMO.

Low-Power Mode

All of the previously mentioned Wi-Fi 6 features are tailored towards building a network that’s both fast, battery-friendly, and also creates a market for low-powered, low-bandwidth devices. The 20Mhz-only mode is the feature to wrap up our list, and it will offer IoT users the ability to save power by not using 802.11ax to its full capacity.

The feature is perfect for low cost IoT devices that are power-friendly and use low-cost HW components, and very small batteries. It will enable synchronized upstream and downstream data transmissions on the same frequency, resulting in better Wi-Fi performance, especially in dense places such as airports, malls or stadiums. Eventually the 20Mhz-only feature will push manufacturers to create very basic chipsets that are low in price and suitable for IoT infrastructures.

When is it Coming?

Wi-Fi 6 is a major achievement that will have a huge impact on how people treat technology. All of its features are tailored to meet IoT industry requirements, so once it’s in full motion, we can expect to see some rapid technological progress. We’ll witness a world of multiple interconnected devices that are fast, responsive and long-lasting, very likely leaving no room for stand-alone gadgets.

There is no exact date as to when Wi-Fi 6 will be fully adopted . For now we can only guess that it could happen sometime in 2020, as the Wi-Fi Alliance has approved certification, and tech companies are working on Wi-Fi 6 enabled chips, with promises to release first certified smartphones in 2020. Though official regulation regarding 6Ghz is still in the works, there’s no doubt that Wi-Fi 6 regulation is generating lots of excitement. A recent WBA survey of over 200 tech companies revealed that 90% respondents are already planning to deploy Wi-Fi 6.

Want to learn more? Check out our AP Topology eBook to find out how Celeno’s ElasticMIMO technology optimizes multiple AP home networks.

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