What Is WiFi 6?

WIFI with abstract motion blur background
December 20, 2023

Time spent online has increased dramatically over the last decade, often taking up most of our waking hours. From the moment we wake to the minutes before falling asleep, we go online to check our social media accounts, read and send emails, work, conduct business, do banking and other personal transactions, chat with friends and family, stream movies and music, and more. 

Wireless networking technology plays a huge part in all of this. We’ve had several generations of WiFi in the last 26 years – the first version, WiFi 0, launched in 1997 – and are now in the sixth generation. It is expected that the next generation, WiFi 7, will begin in 2024. While waiting for that day, let’s explore what is WiFi 6, its features, and the benefits businesses can get from it with assistance from a licensed Meraki partner.

What Is WiFi 6 and How Is It Different?

As of current, WiFi 6 is the latest generation of wireless internet networking technology. It follows the IEEE 802.11 network standard (the industry has thankfully adopted a simpler naming convention of numbering the sequence of WiFi generations. We call it WiFi 6 instead of “802.11ax,” as a result). WiFi 6 was first introduced in 2019 and has since been extended into the 6-GHz spectrum as WiFi 6E for an even better performance.

What is WiFi 6, and what makes it different from the earlier iterations? 

At first glance, it may not seem like WiFi 6 is a worthwhile upgrade; it doesn’t call for dramatic changes in wireless routers or networking protocols. However, WiFi 6 offers many meaningful upgrades that stack up into a substantial package. 

Here’s a cheat sheet of what you can expect from WiFi 6:

  • Faster upload and download speeds (throughput)
  • Higher capacity
  • Reduced latency
  • Less disparity between wired and wireless Internet signal strength and stability
  • Backward-compatible with WiFi appliances and gadgets designed for earlier WiFi generations
  • Improved security

Enhanced Speed and Capacity

WiFi 6 offers faster speeds and better performance than WiFi 5 because it enables higher throughput and supports multiple connected devices. WiFi 6 has a maximum download/upload speed of 9.6 Gbps, while WiFi 5 offers 3.5 Gbps max. Of course, these numbers are theoretical: users can only experience them in a perfect wireless environment. However, what makes WiFi 6 stand out is it can maintain high throughput across multiple devices. The combination of high speeds and higher capacity (users can use multiple wireless devices simultaneously without experiencing significant lags) results in a noticeable improvement in wireless networking, especially in spaces with a high density of users.

Simply put, WiFi 6 is capable of faster data transfers. It communicates well with multiple devices and can efficiently manage traffic across those devices simultaneously. WiFi 6 does this through Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access. 

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access

OFDMA-based scheduling enables access points to allow data transmission to and from endpoints (devices or users) all at once. It subdivides channels into subcarriers that transmit to these endpoints in a single transmission window. This means that instead of making some devices wait for their turn to receive or send data, WiFi 6 enables routers to serve data to all devices in the same transmission window. In an office setting, this means that printers, laptops, workstations, mobile devices, surveillance cameras, and other IoT devices will be consistently online. Latency can decrease by 75% because the network can handle higher traffic. 

In light of these improvements, multitasking over WiFi 6 is simpler, easier, and more efficient. And when more people can multitask, the organization or business will ultimately benefit the most.

Improved Security

A much-welcome improvement from WiFi 6 is that it ramps up encryption password security by implementing Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) via the Dragonfly Key Exchange system.

The Dragonfly “handshake” protocol used in WPA2 is the long-used standard for WiFi security. It is an authentication method that uses cryptography, making it harder for a hacker or eavesdropper to guess a password. However, hackers have learned ways to get around the handshake protocols using brute force attacks, offline dictionary attacks, and Key Reinstallation Attacks (KRACK). 

SAE eliminates the weaknesses in the WPA2 that hackers exploit and adds additional layers of security features to make it harder for hackers to penetrate a network. For example, SAE changes the encryption password whenever a connection is established. So, if hackers successfully access encrypted data, they can only steal passwords and view data sent within that window.

Cost-Effective Implementation

As a Meraki partner, we often hear about the lifetime cost of upgrading to WiFi 6. It is a valid concern because adopting new technology often requires replacing entire hardware systems. The good news is that WiFi 6 is 100% backward compatible. This means it works with WiFi 5 and older devices, so replacing existing hardware in your offices is unnecessary. 

Of course, you can only fully experience the benefit of WiFi 6 if you have WiFi 6-compatible network systems and devices. So consult your Meraki partner about setting up a WiFi 6 network for your organization or business establishment. 

A Peek at WiFi 6E

WiFi 6, 5, and 4 devices all operate on 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. The ability to connect to two different frequencies allows devices to function efficiently as data can be transmitted over two bands instead of congesting just one pathway. The next generation WiFi 6E expands this feature of WiFi 6 by adding a third spectrum: the 6GHz band. 

What does operating on a 6GHz spectrum, in addition to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, mean for users? It means that implementing WiFi 6E can instantly increase network bandwidth and allow devices to transmit more data at a faster rate. It is even more advantageous now because the 6GHz band is still quite new. There aren’t too many devices currently operating on this frequency, so the band is not yet congested, and the risk for interference and interruptions are lower.

WiFi 6E is also more secure than its predecessors because it uses WPA3, the most recent security protocol for wireless Internet networks and the latest iteration of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s security certification standard (it’s worth noting that WPA2, the standard for wireless network security, hasn’t been updated since 2004).

With faster speeds, reduced congestion, and less interference, WiFi 6E can improve efficiency and productivity across the board. 

Cisco Meraki Mobile Device Management Supports WiFi 6

Cisco Meraki, a world leader in wireless and cloud-managed network solutions, offers WiFi 6-capable appliances and hardware ideal for small and medium businesses and enterprise-level operations. 

Investing in a Meraki ecosystem can reward your business for many years through improved network performance and efficiency. Every Cisco Meraki network device offers hands-free, remote provisioning and built-in security features. All devices can also be centrally managed through the mobile device management dashboard. As a result, monitoring and troubleshooting one or more networks across the country and abroad will be easy and cost-effective. 

If you aim to scale and grow your business and be competitive in today’s highly digital landscape, Cisco Meraki would be a wise investment. 

Stratus Information Systems can help you upgrade existing systems into a WiFi 6 capable network or build one from the ground up. As a premier Cisco Meraki channel partner, we offer consultancy services, assistance acquiring or installing a Cisco Meraki network device into an existing infrastructure, and more. Contact us to request a free demo or consultation