Wi-Fi 6 is the newest generation of Wi-Fi. It operates on the 2.4 and 5 GHz channels.
The 2.4 GHz band has 3 non-overlapping 20MHz bandwidth channels and one 40MHz channel. The 2.4 GHz band is ideal for sending moderate amounts of data over long distances.
The 5 GHz band has 25 non-overlapping 20MHz channels, 12 40MHz channels, six 80MHz channels, and two 160MHz channels. Wi-Fi 5 devices only use the 5 GHz band. Wi-Fi 6 devices are capable of using the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. The 5 GHz band is capable of delivering and receiving exponentially higher amounts of data but over shorter distances than 2.4 GHz.
Wi-Fi 5 operates exclusively on the 5 GHz channel. Because the "generation" and the channel share the number 5, many people are misled into thinking that the numbers match on purpose. They do not. IEEE is the governing body that has established what it calls the "802" standards for Wi-Fi. However, because their labels were hard to remember, manufacturers began to describe each iteration of Wi-Fi standards using just a number. To clarify which generation corresponds with which set of standards as well as which channels each generation uses, see below:
Wi-Fi 1 = 802.11b operates on 2.4 GHz
Wi-Fi 2 = 802.11a operates on 5 GHz
Wi-Fi 3 = 802.11g operates on 5 GHz
Wi-Fi 4 = 802.11n operates on 2.4 and 5 GHz
Wi-Fi 5 = 802.11ac operates on 5 GHz
Wi-Fi 6 = 802.11ax operates on 2.4 and 5 GHz
Wi-Fi 6e = an extension of Wi-Fi 6 operates on 2.4, 5 and now 6 GHz
The true benefits of Wi-Fi 6 have less to do with speed than they do with capacity. Wi-Fi 6 processes 9.6 Gbps as opposed to Wi-Fi 5 at only 3.5 Gbps. However, those are theoretical numbers users are unlikely to reach in real-world applications; rather, they are in the aggregate. Instead, the real benefit is that 9.6 Gbps can be split up across massive networks with numerous connected devices, increasing speed for each device. As more and more devices are added to home and business networks, Wi-Fi 6 solves the very real problem of network congestion, maintaining high speeds even as more devices connect.
Two key technologies allow Wi-Fi 6 to operate efficiently: MU-MIMO and OFDMA.
MU-MIMO stands for “multi-user, multiple input, multiple output." It allows a router to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously instead of one after another. Wi-Fi 6 routers can currently communicate with up to eight devices at the same time.
OFDMA stands for “orthogonal frequency division multiple access.” It takes MU-MIMO a step further by allowing one transmission to deliver data to multiple devices at once. The two technologies complement each other. OFDMA splits a channel into sub-channels while MU-MIMO uses those sub-channels to send and receive data.
Wi-Fi 6 also uses a feature called Target Wake Time (TWT) to conserve energy and increase battery life. It also uses the latest security protocol called WPA3, which makes it harder for hackers to crack passwords and renders some data useless even if they do succeed in breaking in.
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