What Wi-Fi 6 Means for You

 Aug 28, 2019   |    Black Box Corporation

What Wi-Fi 6 Means for You

We’re all anticipating the arrival of Wi-Fi 6. In this second of two posts on Wi-Fi 6, we will examine the technology behind Wi-Fi 6 and how it’s going to impact how we use Wi-Fi and what we expect from it.

Wi-Fi Generation IEEE Standard Speed
Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax 10-Gbps
Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac 2167 Mbps
Wi-Fi 4 802.11n 300-600 Mbps
Wi-Fi 3 802.11g 54 Mbps
Wi-Fi 2 802.11b 11 Mbps
Wi-Fi 1 802.11 1–2 Mbps

So How Does Wi-Fi 6 Work?

Like some of its older relatives (all backward compatible), Wi-Fi 6 operates in both the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands. But Wi-Fi 6 uses different technologies to achieve significant speed and capacity increases while reducing latency.


Wi-Fi 6 is the first wireless standard to use OFDMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access). This is in contrast to OFMD (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) used by older standards in which APs contend for sequential data transmission producing latency.

On the other hand, OFDMA enables Wi-Fi 6 APs to serve multiple clients simultaneously. It divides the channel to send signals over the 2.4 or 5 GHZ frequency bands. It creates broader channels and splits them into narrower subchannels, each with a different frequency. The result? Simultaneous transmissions—no latency.


Wi-Fi 6 also layers MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output) with OFDMA to enable a large number of devices to use the same access point simultaneously. What’s different with Wi-Fi 6 is that it handles both incoming and outgoing signals. Previous standards used MU-MIMO only for downstream connections. Wi-Fi 6 also uses 1024-QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) to increase throughput. To compare, Wi-Fi 5 uses 256-QAM.

Target Wake Time

Another benefit of Wi-Fi 6 is its ability to improve battery life and reduce power consumption. A time-wake feature enables access points to tell devices when to go to sleep and when to wake. Although these may be very short periods of time, seconds, it adds up over time and results in extended battery life. If you’re enabling hundreds of IoT sensors, that’s a big deal.


Wi-Fi 6 will be a boon for Internet of Things sensors and equipment in congested environments, such as hospitals and smart buildings where you may have tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of devices demanding simultaneous access. It won’t just increase the speed of the network, it will also quadruple the speeds of the individual wireless clients.

When to Upgrade

The answer is to upgrade when you need to, which could be now in terms of accommodating more users and improving wireless capacity. Although the IEEE releases new 802.11 standards approximately every five to six years (Wi-Fi 3/g in 2003, Wi-Fi 4/n in 2009 and Wi-Fi 5/ac in 2013), forward-thinking IT administrators typically upgrade their wireless networks every three years.

Wi-Fi 6 was expected to be ratified in 2019, but that now looks like it’s pushed back to 2020. But the Wi-Fi Alliance is offering a Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ industry certification program to ensure devices meet quality and interoperability expectations.


Part One

In the first post, we examined why the IEEE 802.11ax standard is now called Wi-Fi 6 and why it’s a real game changer in the world of wireless technology.

If you’re thinking about your mobile-first strategy, talk to Black Box now. We can help you make mobility happen with the right intelligent edge foundational technology including DAS, small cells, CBRS, two-way radio as well as Wi-Fi.  When you enable mobility, you enable connectivity at the digital edge.

Learn more at BBOXSERVICES.COM/Mobility

Learn more about all the wireless standards here.

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