8 Things to Consider before migrating to Wi-Fi 6
Wi-Fi is a huge part of our lives. We all use it in our homes and offices, and it is essential for our smart devices like mobile phones and laptops. In business and enterprise environments, security and speed are important for wireless communications, so they are often the first to upgrade to newer standards like Wi-Fi 6. These new standards and technologies are constantly being worked on, and currently, Wi-Fi 6 is the migration path many businesses are taking.
An Overview: What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6, as well as Wi-Fi 6E, are wireless standards that increase speed, lower latency, and support more device connections. Wi-Fi 6 is the newest standard that still supports 2.4GHz and 5GHz devices, while Wi-Fi 6E is an enhancement that extends the Wi-Fi signal into the 6GHz band.
Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E differ in another way too. Wi-Fi 6E has additional (up to seven) channels in the 160 MHz range. The idea behind this feature is that it creates a priority lane for newer devices, allowing them to take advantage of the faster speeds on offer. It also separates those newer devices from older legacy Wi-Fi traffic, helping to keep things running smoothly.
Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible with older Wi-Fi devices on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but Wi-Fi 6E is not. Be mindful of this when deciding on the type of Wi-Fi standards you want your network to support. Supporting the newer Wi-Fi 6E standard will require additional planning if you want to roll it out to your entire organization, so remember to take that into consideration as well.
Wi-Fi 6 officially is named with 802.11ax as its standard, and it has been around since around 2019 and offers a fair amount of improvements over the older Wi-Fi 5 version. It provides better network speeds, greater capacities, and better performance for client devices that use Wi-Fi, like laptops and smartphones. Another benefit for user devices is TWT or Target Wake Time. This helps to keep battery usage down and allows the user to get extended use out of their device between charges.
What Are Some New Wi-Fi 6 Features?
We know that Wi-Fi 6 offers backward compatibility with Wi-Fi 5 devices, but what's new? Here is a list of features that explain some of the more important new features that Wi-Fi 6 has to offer.
MU-MIMO (multi-user multiple-input multiple-output): MU-MIMO has the ability to allow many wireless devices to send and receive data at the same time, which reduces latency and improves the overall efficiency of the network.
OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access): OFDMA is a technology in Wi-Fi 6 that improves wireless network performance by establishing independently modulating subcarriers within existing frequencies. This allows concurrent transmissions sending and receiving at the same time for many devices all at once.
1024-QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation): More advanced modulation techniques allow higher data rates and more data to be transmitted. Mobile internet users require fast network speeds and low latency, both of which are provided by 1024-QAM in 5G and LTE technologies.
BSS Coloring: The purpose of BSS Coloring is to tell the difference between the BSS of access points and the clients on the same RF channel. In Wi-Fi 6, all HE transmissions from devices in an Access Point will include a BSS color value (from 1 to 63), known as the BSS header value. A client or AP will defer the transmission only if another frame is heard on the same channel and color identifier.
Target Wake Time: With Target Wake Time (TWT), devices connected to Wi-Fi networks can "sleep" longer, reducing power consumption. These latest standards will help alleviate the battery drain caused by connecting to Wi-Fi if you have ever experienced it.
6GHz Band: Wi-Fi 6E operates in the 6GHz frequency band, providing more available bandwidth, faster speeds, and reduced congestion compared to previous Wi-Fi standards. As we have discovered, 6E is not compatible with older devices.
Wi-Fi will continue to grow and evolve as the demand for internet connectivity and other services increases. You can use our list of considerations to decide whether Wi-Fi 6 is right for your organization if you are considering the move.
8 Wi-Fi 6 Migration Considerations You Should Know About
We have compiled a list of considerations that you will need to consider if you will implement Wi-Fi 6.
Device Compatibility: We have already discovered that Wi-Fi 6 is backward-compatible with earlier Wi-Fi standards operating in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz ranges. Wi-Fi 6E, however, is not able to communicate with older Wi-Fi 5 technologies, so if you are looking to implement that as a solution, then you will need to make sure that you still cater to older devices if you have them.
Cost: Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e routers and access points are generally more expensive than older Wi-Fi models, as they are not as readily available because they are newer. This is set to change as time goes by, so it is not a permanent state of the Wi-Fi market. Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E may require additional hardware, software, and network configuration for some devices.
Coverage: Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E use different frequency bands: 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz. The higher the frequency, the faster the speed but, the shorter the range. Wi-Fi 6e uses exclusively the new 6 GHz band, which offers a “fast lane” for compatible devices and applications but has a limited coverage area. Therefore, it is important to plan the placement and number of routers and access points carefully to ensure optimal coverage and avoid dead zones.
Interference: Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E have made great improvements when it comes to preventing signal interference, thanks to the implementation of orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) technologies that we looked at earlier. Multi-device sharing means multiple devices can share the same channel without causing interference, so it is better at avoiding interference.
Security: Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E offer enhanced security thanks to their use of WPA3 encryption, which makes it far more difficult for intruders to infiltrate your Wi-Fi network. You want to make sure your devices support WPA3 if you want to use it.
Bandwidth: One of the most appealing aspects of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E is the speed improvements and the potential for better bandwidth throughput. If you don’t have sufficient need to use Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E, then you might not notice as much of a difference if your applications and user traffic do not already come close to saturating the current network.
Technical Support: You will need to make sure that your technical staff are well versed with the latest Wi-Fi standards if they are going to be supporting those wireless networks.
Future-Proof Equipment: If you invest in an upgrade now but don’t have any immediate plans to start using Wi-Fi 6 devices, you run the risk of sitting with equipment that will age quite a bit before you start using it. Rather plan on the medium term and see how your network infrastructure evolves.
We have covered some of the most important things you need to know before migrating to Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. What we have learned is that while Wi-Fi 6 is indeed an upgrade that many people are starting to undertake, it might not be a necessary upgrade that everyone needs to do.
If you do decide to undertake an upgrade like Wi-Fi, then your user equipment must be certified as compatible is one of the biggest factors to consider. If you are not sure, then an equipment audit is necessary.
If you are not looking to roll out all of the Wi-Fi 6 equipment at once, then a phased installation could be a good way to gauge the technical challenges that users could come across before you cut over all at once.