Source: iStock.com/Mikhail Konoplev

WiFi 6 – super-fast and super-good

25. October 2021 Published by Raphael Doerr

Excerpt from a secret script for a WiFi 6 podcast – please do not publish! The draft version still has to be proof-read.

Stage direction: Mother is in the kitchen, cleaning. Little Max, her six-year-old son, comes in: “Mom, grandpa asks if we’ve got WiFi 6.” Mother: “What does he want?” BiFi? Tell him he’s getting nothing to nibble before dinner. And why six of them at once? Isn’t one enough?” “Hey, grandpa, we don’t have any and if we do, you can only have one.”

Stage direction (grandfather throws a small fit of temper): Grandpa’s face goes red, and he starts gasping for air and speaking in a quavering voice: “Has your mother gone crazy or what? What am I supposed to do with a BiFi? Tell her six or nothing.”

Stage direction: Little Max runs downstairs to his mother in the kitchen: “Hey, Mom, grandpa thinks you’ve gone crazy. He wants six or nothing.”

Stage direction: His mother is miffed, throws her cleaning cloth on the table and gesticulates with her arms: “OK, for all I care, before he starts driving every mad again. Fetch him his six 6 BiFi salami sticks out of the fridge. If he gets bellyache, that’s his problem. I wash my hands of it.”

Stage direction: Max runs up to his grandfather’s room on the first floor and gives him the BiFis: “Here are your BiFis, grandpa. All six with best regards from mom. She washes her hands of it. Do I also get one?”

Stage direction: Grandpa looks in bemusement at the six 6 BiFis in his hand. He then looks at his grandson, then back at the BiFis, slowing shaking his head. “Thank you, Max, you’re a good kid. Do me a favor and fetch me the phone and close the door.”

Stage direction: Max remains standing behind the door and eavesdrops. He’s curious to know who grandfather wants to phone.

Stage direction: Grandfather takes the phone and dials a number: “Hello, is that Telekom? I need your help. Yes, high-speed Internet. With the super-fast WiFi 6. The Speedport Smart 4? And do I also need mesh? I understand, yes, then the whole package. And with full service.  My daughter-in-law? Goodness gracious, no. Don’t call her, she hasn’t a clue. Only me. Correct. Fine. Thank you. Tomorrow at 11.45 a.m. Great.”

Stage direction: Meanwhile in the kitchen: “Hey, Eddie, I’m starting to worry about your father. He wanted six BiFis before dinner. Max has just taken them up to him. What do you say to that? Do you think he’s slowly going nuts?”

Stage direction: Eddie can be heard screaming from the telephone receiver.  “What, WiFi isn’t BiFi!?”

Admittedly, the dialog may be a but exaggerated, but it gets to the gist of the matter. WiFi and BiFi – who can make head or tail of the topic or have you already heard about the new WiFi 6? If not, this blog article is just right for you. Although it’s all nothing new, as the German computer magazine PC Welt writes: “WiFi 6 (WLAN 802-11ax) is not really all that new – it was presented back in 2018. But that’s the way things are with WiFi standards. A lot of time elapses between when such devices are finalized and when they start becoming widespread. It’s only now, at the beginning of 2021, that so many devices master the new standard to make it interesting to switch to routers or access points that offer it. On the other hand, its successor WiFi 6E (WLAN 802.11ay) is looming on the horizon. That raises the question we aim to tackle here: Should you switch to WiFi 6 now or is it better to wait for WiFi 6E?”

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about WiFi 6

Before we get down to that, you can test your knowledge of the new wireless standard here. Let’s start with an easy question.

How does the Internet get to a tablet, smartphone or smart TV without cabling?

  1. By wireless transmission
  2. Via the Internet
  3. I’d like to know that, too

The simple answer: by wireless transmission. The technology behind that is called Wi-Fi or WiFi in English-speaking countries and as WLAN in Germany. WLAN stands for Wireless Internet Access.

What is a frequency band?

  1. A hairband
  2. A colored band for packaging presents
  3. A friendship band

So that senders and receivers understand each other, they have to use the same data highway. In technical jargon, the term for that is the frequency band that is reserved for the data. The 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands have been used for communication to date. WiFi 6 uses both frequency bands.

How many channels are available in the 6 GHz frequency band?

  1. Fewer than in Venice
  2. More than 10
  3. I have to guess

Seven channels with a bandwidth of 160 Hz and 14 channels with a bandwidth of 80 Hz are available within the 6 GHz band. That makes 21 channels. These bandwidths are mainly intended for HD video streaming and data-guzzling virtual reality applications.

What does OFDMA stand for?

  1. Could you please spell that?
  2. The term stands for orthogonal frequency division multiple access. If that sounds complex, then you’re right, so we won’t deal with it in any greater depth.
  3. It is a unique feature of WiFi 6. Put simply, it stands for multiple access by means of orthogonal frequency division.

OFDMA explained by Home & Smart

“To get a better understanding, you have to picture how data is normally transferred. Let’s assume a user is streaming music from a music streaming service like Amazon Music Unlimited to an Amazon Echo speaker. The smart speaker requests the data from the streaming provider via the home wireless router. It starts the download and sends information to Echo. Now, it may be the case that Echo already has enough data to process, which means the router has to wait until it can transmit the data it has already downloaded to Echo. During that time, the router can load less data needed by other devices. The technical term for that is latency.

OFDMA divides the data transmission signals into smaller “bite-size pieces” and sends them to the individual devices in the home network. Multiple devices can now be supplied with data in the same time window. Picture that by imagining that a waiter or waitress has to serve ten guests. He or she can carry two large plates with a starter, main course or dessert. That means two guests can be served in ten minutes. Or he/she carries five small plates with the starter, meaning five guests receive food in the same time. That, roughly, is the big advantage of OFDMA.

OFDMA makes the Wi-Fi 6 home network far more efficient. Due to the fact that smaller signals (“bite-size pieces of data”) are distributed rapidly, the latency is reduced, the router can communicate better with multiple devices simultaneously, and terminal devices that support OFDMA use less battery power because the greater efficiency with which data is distributed means less electricity is needed.”

What advantages does WiFi 6 deliver?

First of all, here are a few new logos. No, we’re not joking. It-business.de explains: “It was difficult to identify the predecessor WiFi 4 and WiFi 5 standards at first glance. The new generation no longer has the cryptic acronym IEEE. Instead of “802.11ax,” the new variant is called simply WiFi 6. The nomenclature for older standards has also been revised. Whereas WLAN 802.11ac is now simply called WiFi 5, its predecessor now bears the simple name WiFi 4 instead of 802.11n. But that’s not all. All WiFi standards now also have a logo with an Arabic numeral so that even laypersons can identify the device’s technical standard right away.” So, that’s that explained, too: a new logo and a revised nomenclature.

However, it goes without saying that there are also technical advantages. In a nutshell, WiFi 6 is far faster than its predecessor WiFi 5. “The new WiFi 6 standard enables a maximum speed of 4.8 Gbit/s per client. Speeds 1.5 times faster than the older WiFi 5 standard, which permitted just 3.12 Gbit/s, are theoretically possible. In addition, WiFi 6 still operates in the two frequency bands 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. At the same time, the transmission technology enables further frequency bands to be used.” The new standard is therefore faster and multiple frequency bands are used. WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 in the same wireless network means that the wireless channels are divided up more flexibly and, despite the higher data throughput, the technology is more stable than its predecessor.

Congestion in the WiFi network

Do you notice that problem in the home? Well certainly if you live in a multi-generational household or flat share where everyone has a smartphone connected to the router – and so to the Internet – by WiFi. And all residents naturally have tablets, laptops, smart TVs, game consoles and lots of new smart home devices. And all of them use the WiFi network. And, of course, we shouldn’t forget streaming services like DAZN, Sky, Apple TV+, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus, which residents prefer to use instead of linear TV. So it’s no surprise that the WiFi network at home is as congested as a highway at the start of the holiday season. There are jams, everything is clogged up, the picture judders and keeps on freezing, and things grind to a halt. Congestion is a bugbear in video streaming, and a weak WiFi network is a nightmare for all digital surfers and gamers. And the German magazine Computerbild reveals a further critical aspect as a salient advantage of the high-speed WiFi 6. “Residents in an apartment house may be familiar with another problem: The routers of other tenants use the same channels and so interfere with each other.”

If a large number of terminal devices and IoT devices are connected to the WiFi network, the new standard ensures a far more reliable network connection, since larger data streams can be processed simultaneously. Moreover, the standard offers more predictable performance for advanced applications, such as video transmission in 4K or 8K, HD applications for collaboration in high-density environments, all-wireless offices and the IoT. For professional applications and “in high-density environments such as airports, train stations and trade shows, where lots of terminal devices and IoT devices access the WiFi network simultaneously, WiFi 6 ensures a more reliable network connection,” writes Computerwoche.

WiFi 6 aims to make the WiFi network efficient by distributing frequencies and transmission times so that every device gets enough of them. After all, the various WiFi clients have different requirements as regards data transfer: PCs and notebooks need a high top speed for large downloads and backups, tablets and smartphones require constantly stable connections to permit streaming, and IoT devices should regularly transfer small quantities of data with a little power consumption as possible. WiFi 6 aims to reconcile these diverse wishes.

The new WiFi 6 standard achieves speeds up to 1.5 times faster than WiFi 5: a maximum of 4.8 Gbit/s per client compared with 3.12 Gbit/s for WiFi 5.

WiFi 6E – even faster and more reliable

WiFi 6E is an extension of WiFi 6 and raises this transmission standard to a whole new level. The additional enhanced standard can better exploit potential maximum performance and is designed for a future full of 4K videos and high-definition game streaming with minimum latencies. To enable that, WiFi 6E operates on an extended frequency band in the 6 GHz range, which is expected to be available in the EU and Germany from mid-2021. This band delivers up to 14 new WiFi channels and so increases the amount of space available to the individual devices, resulting in higher transmission rates. The usually heavy load on the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands is also reduced.

WiFi 6E is not only a fast lane in dense data traffic with a high data rate for computers and video, but also for devices that are WiFi 6E-certified. And if they aren’t ready for the new technology, not a lot happens. Let’s assume you’re a data packet being sent by a 2.4 GHz device. That would feel like you were an articulated truck with trailers in a high-speed lane intended for sports cars. Nothing happens, and you can step on the gas as much as you want, but you’ll never be able to travel at the speeds that are possible.

What are the factors in favor of 6?

  • Speed: WiFi 6 is three times faster than WiFi 5. It has a maximum bandwidth of 10 Mbit/s. However, you should note that the actual speeds always depend on the maximum speeds defined by your Internet service provider (ISP).
  • Multitasking: Whereas the router handles all its “jobs” one after the other with the existing WiFi standards, in other words, also with the current predecessor WiFi 5, WiFi 6 can serve multiple users simultaneously.
  • Enhanced standard of security

Does it make sense to switch now?

Professor Peter Richert from Münster University of Applied Sciences believes it is too early to start using WiFi 6 privately, as he stated in an article in WELT. “At present, it is mainly industry that can benefit from it, for example in production chains where a large number of machines are controlled wirelessly. It is more of nice to have for private households.”

“If you already have the predecessor WiFi 5 and it’s working well, you can take your time in replacing it.” The expert reckons that WiFi 6 will not be able to unleash its full impact until 2022.

At present, experts believe the new standard mainly makes sense for campus networks. They are closed wireless networks where companies, institutions or event centers want a lot of users to be connected up simultaneously. “WiFi 6 can boost efficiency here and also enhance the user experience,” says Olaf Hagemann to the German magazine Spiegel. All experts agree that the new standard will also catch on with consumers sooner or later. Current smartphones, such as the latest iPhones or the new iPad mini, already support WiFi 6, and further products will follow suit.

“WiFi 6 is backwards compatible, so devices that have been in use up to now and supported one of the previous standards can still be integrated and operated in the network,” explains Olaf Hagemann. “However, they won’t be able to leverage the key advantages of WiFi 6.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *