The 20th anniversary of WiFi: High-efficiency WiFi 6 is here!

November 8, 20194 minute read time

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of WiFi, the wireless connectivity technology that revolutionized how users interact with devices in the late 1990s.

To mark this occasion, let’s rewind for a minute to the inception of consumer Wi-Fi. Boybands, the Matrix, and low-rise jeans ruled pop culture back in 1999, and many of us were relying on painfully slow dial-up internet to work and socialize back then. Wi-Fi changed everything, and the standard continues to evolve and improve to this day.

The anniversary of Wi-Fi: 20 years strong

Wi-Fi is an international standard for wireless networking technology that originated by accident.

Australian radio-astronomer Dr. John O’Sullivan and his team spent the early 1990s researching how to detect exploding black holes the size of a mini-particle. The team’s blackhole project missed the mark, but they produced one of the key patents behind Wi-Fi. IEEE later produced the first Wi-Fi protocol, 801.11, in 1997. Two years later, the International Wi-Fi Alliance was born.

The first consumer release of Wi-Fi provided speeds of 11 Mbit/s, which is 1,300 times slower than cutting-edge technology today.

There were numerous milestones on the road to the 20th anniversary of WiFi, and here are just a few key developments from the last two decades.

  • 2003: The release of the 802.11g standard marked the first time Wi-Fi capabilities caught up with the speed of wired connections.
  • 2009: The 802.11n standard introduced MIMO capabilities and the use of multiple antennas for higher-bandwidth transmissions.
  • 2012: The 801.11 standard brought a fourfold speed increase and greater bandwidth capabilities.

Meet Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax

The IEEE is celebrating the 20th anniversary of WiFi with standard 802.11ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6 or High-Efficiency Wireless. This latest innovation carries a theoretical bandwidth capability of 14 Gbps and better WiFi security due to a WPA3 requirement.

Wi-Fi 6 is the first standard to use orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (ODFMA), which connects more devices to a single-access point. This creates a more efficient route between the device and the Wi-Fi signal for better traffic flow. It’s like adding lanes to a highway instead of increasing the speed limit.

Wi-Fi 6 also offers an innovative feature called Target Wake Time (TWT), which schedules short windows of engagement between connected devices and the access power to conserve bandwidth and device battery. Access points can now collect data from connected devices at scheduled intervals, and you can pack more Wi-Fi-enabled IoT devices on a single energy-efficient network.

What Wi-Fi 6 means for the enterprise

The Wi-Fi 6 standard probably hasn’t reached it’s final form, but it’s stable enough for adoption today. It could hit the mainstream by 2020. But how much better is it than today’s de facto standard, Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ac? Substantially. Wi-Fi 6 is a huge leap forward:

  • 4x improvement in average user throughput, especially in crowded areas
  • Increased network efficiency by more than 4x.
  • Significantly lower battery consumption, extending battery life dramatically in industry tests
  • Seamless integration of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 on IoT networks
  • Better WiFi security due to WPA3 and 256-bit encryption requirements

Wi-Fi 6 unlocks next-gen innovations

Wi-Fi’s faster speed and greater throughput capabilities could usher in the next era of enterprise IoT innovation. Wi-Fi 6 is efficient enough to support broader adoption of virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), beacons and sensors, and HD video streaming. Innovative use cases involving high-bandwidth, latency-sensitive operations will undoubtedly emerge. A few exciting applications of the new standard include:

  • Immersive employee training with VR and AR applications
  • HD Video as a standard for workplace collaboration
  • Better one-to-one digital customer and employee experiences
  • Integration of RFID, sensors, and beacon data streams for digitized workflows

In the future, it will be possible to seamlessly integrate 5G and Wi-Fi 6 capabilities into more secure IoT networks. Organizations in manufacturing, healthcare, and other industries will expand IoT deployments into real-time data streams for intelligent, immersive results.

Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6

High-efficiency Wi-Fi routers have begun to hit the market, but they’re not an automatic key to the new standard. To access Wi-Fi 6, your devices also need to be 6-enabled, or equipped with an aftermarket adaptor. In order to receive Wi-Fi alliance certification for 802.11ax, devices must be able to handle several different capabilities and stronger WPA3 encryption.

There’s no need to rip out your infrastructure to prepare for Wi-Fi 6. However, replacing older routers from the Wi-Fi 4 era with Wi-Fi 6 technology is a smart bet as we prepare for next-generation connectivity.

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