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Wi-Fi 6 is finally here – what is it all about?

With our ever-increasing data needs for bandwidth hogging content like 4K streaming videos, games and video conferencing apps, it is important that our Wi-Fi networks will be able to keep up with growing consumer demands. Not only does the next Wi-Fi standard has to be faster, it has to be more secure and power efficient, too.

Related: Do you have crappy Wi-Fi at home? We’ve got 10 ways you can fix it right now.

And finally, the next generation of Wi-Fi, now known as Wi-Fi 6, is rolling out. Formerly labeled as 802.11ax, WI-Fi 6 will bring along its latest tech bag of tricks and will deliver faster speeds, better device management, longer battery life and stronger security.

What makes Wi-Fi 6 better?

As usual with any generational upgrade, Wi-Fi 6 will support faster speeds than its predecessor Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). In fact, it will be around four to 10 times faster due to the utilization of a wider band and multiple channels.

With its support for something called “bi-directional multiple input/multiple output” (MIMO) streams, a Wi-Fi 6 router can achieve a theoretical total output of 9 to 16 Gbps. With this capacity, it can easily deliver 1 Gbps speeds to compatible gadgets with ease.

Another advantage of Wi-Fi 6 over older Wi-Fi standards is its capability for radio frequency division and reuse. This means it can divide a channel into smaller sub-channels, resulting in less congestion and interference. With this ability, Wi-Fi 6 routers can communicate with and handle more gadgets all at once.

With these advancements, expect Wi-Fi 6 gadgets to have better battery life too since data is delivered more efficiently with less data waste.

Another Wi-Fi 6 feature that can help conserve battery life is something called “target wake time.” Basically, this allows a Wi-Fi 6 router to tell clients’ Wi-Fi radios when to sleep and when to be active.

Wi-Fi Alliance naming conventions

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the non-profit body that defines and promotes the standards of Wi-Fi technology, said that Wi-Fi standards will adopt version numbers instead of confusing numerical names.

Instead of 802.11b (the first Wi-Fi standard implemented in 1999), it will be called Wi-Fi 1. The latest standard, 802.11ac, will be called Wi-Fi 5 because, of course, it’s the fifth version of Wi-Fi. And 802.11ac’s successor (802.11ax) will be called WI-Fi 6, so on and so forth … you get the drift.

The Wi-Fi Alliance said that hardware companies will be adopting this naming change in the near future and will retroactively apply the names to older standards, too.

Note: Don’t confuse 802.12 Wi-Fi Standards with Wi-Fi Security Protocols like WPA2 and the upcoming WPA3. The former mostly deals with data transfer rates/wireless frequencies while the latter is for encryption and data protection. With that said, most Wi-Fi 6 routers will likely support WPA3 out of the box since it is required for certification,

This does make a lot of sense especially for average consumers who are not into the nitty-gritty specs of Wi-Fi standards. Even better, the latest versions are backward compatible so a higher Wi-Fi version router will always be compatible with lower-version gadgets, too. This means that the higher the Wi-Fi version a router has, the better it is and the more likely it will work with all of your gadgets.

Here are the naming changes:

Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999)
Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999)
Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003)
Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009)
Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)
Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax (2019)

These naming changes will even apply to software. For example, when you connect to your phone or laptop to a Wi-Fi network, your gadget will tell you what Wi-Fi versions are available. With these indicators in place, you will always know which connection is better for your device.

What does Wi-Fi 6 mean for you?

Nothing, really. Although gadgets that support Wi-Fi 6 are rolling out (the new Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphones, for example), your existing gadgets will work just fine. The rollout of Wi-Fi 6 doesn’t mean your older routers and gadgets will stop working. As usual, Wi-Fi 6 (and consequently, WPA3) routers will be backward compatible with older Wi-Fi standards for a long time.

The transition may be slow to avoid confusion, but when Wi-Fi 6-labeled gadgets start gracing store shelves, it will become the de facto standard for all newer gadgets in the coming years.

Eventually though (probably by late 2019), Wi-Fi 6 will be required for gadgets to be Wi-Fi certified. If you’re shopping around for a new router, look for the “Wi-Fi 6 certified” sticker if you want to future-proof it.

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