Wi-Fi 6 for the business – all you need to know
Despite the best efforts of the technology press and the hyperbole of marketing, most technologies evolve rather than magically appear overnight. A solid case in point is Wi-Fi 6, which is the next step in wireless connectivity. And unlike some of the claims you might read or hear, it’s not going to change your world or the way your organization performs outright.
Here’s the pragmatist business-person’s guide to Wi-Fi 6, what it means and what you need to know:
It’s (mostly) not faster
The speeds at which the new generation of Wi-Fi hardware can send and receive data are much higher than the Wi-Fi (5) you are probably using at the moment, but in practice, you won’t notice any difference. That’s because even though a Wi-Fi 6 network may be capable of transmitting data at 9 Gbps, data always moves from network to network at the lowest available speed.
So, your Wi-Fi 6 laptop may be able to “talk” to the Wi-Fi 6 router newly installed in the office very quickly indeed, but unless you are paying a king’s ransom for your internet connection, the maximum speed you’ll experience will be determined by your ISP, or whatever service you connect to, whichever is slower.
To be accredited by the Wi-Fi Alliance, new Wi-Fi 6 hardware will need to use WPA3 to protect the network. That’s a significant advantage, as it is relatively trivial in many cases to crack Wi-Fi networks’ passwords and gain access. WPA3 will help to alleviate this issue, although WPA3 does not actually need Wi-Fi 6. There are vendors of network hardware whose products support this higher level of security already on the market.
It’s higher capacity
Because of some clever technology, Wi-Fi 6 networks can support a greater number of connections to them without all tenants suffering from traffic slowdowns.
In short, the Wi-Fi 6 access points can address multiple clients simultaneously rather than one after another, so in any given period, more networked clients will be able to send and receive data wirelessly.
It’s better on batteries
Although better battery life will not be an issue in many settings, there are specific use cases, where better power use metrics for Wi-Fi clients (those devices connected to the Wi-Fi 6 access point) will be advantageous. These are when the devices are battery powered and don’t need to transmit or receive very often, which typically means internet of things devices (your laptop’s battery depletion will not be noticeably slowed).
Because a Wi-Fi 6 router dictates to clients when it is available to send and receive data, the device (such as a system-on-chip based IIoT device) will be able to turn off its transmit/receive hardware until it “knows” it will be “heard”. Over prolonged use cases where devices rely on battery power, this will make a noticeable difference to longevity.
The natural evolution of Wi-Fi means that new hardware will gradually start to appear in everyday use-cases. Already there are many options for Wi-Fi 6 hardware, especially from those suppliers who sit higher up the supply chain than end-user devices, such as SoC manufacturers selling chips and boards to OEMs.
At the moment, Wi-Fi 6 hardware is relatively expensive, and early adopters will get few advantages other than better security and bragging rights. But over the next three to five years, the new hardware available to businesses and domestic customers will include the new protocols as a matter of course.
Any strategy to upgrade is probably looking to the medium to long-term, therefore, except for IoT instances. Here there are significant advantages to early adoption: better power management, more nodes-per-access-point, and faster internal communications being the main three, with WPA3 security as a significant bonus — IIoT and IoT are well-known in cybersecurity circles for being poorly protected at present.
If your organization is big in IoT or IIoT, look to upgrade: there may be a significantly attractive set of reasons to consider the steeper cost. It may be a differentiating factor in a competitive landscape, for instance.
Otherwise, let things happen, unless Wi-Fi security is a big issue, in which case, access points, and key hardware will indubitably benefit. Plus early adopters may even accrue some other advantages around the edges — but a faster SaaS experience won’t likely be one of them.