If you care about connectivity, you’ve heard about the new WiFi standard on the block. What is WiFi 6? How does it compare to the old WiFi standards? How does it improve connectivity for users, and what does that mean for landlords and building owners?
What is WiFi 6?
Wireless standards are rebranding. Up until now, WiFi standards have had catchy names like “802.11ac” – now, it will be known as WiFi 5. Far easier for the less tech-savvy among us to remember. The versions you will encounter are:
- Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n, released in 2009)
- Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac, released in 2014)
- Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax, certification programme released earlier this year, ratification expected in 2020)
There are three even older WiFi versions, but these are no longer widely in use. The Wi-Fi alliance, the organisation which develops and names WiFi standards, announced the rebranding in 2018. They have also stated that they want to see these numbers used to label WiFi networks, so you know which one is best to connect to. WiFi 6 is the newest standard and offers the best connectivity.
What does WiFi 6 offer?
So what makes WiFi 6 better than WiFi 5? You can expect a faster connection and better performance on congested networks, among others.
- Faster speeds: Compared with WiFi 5, a WiFi 6 access point with a single device connected should see 40% higher data transfer rates, more for dense environments with many devices. The ability to communicate with multiple devices at the same time (MU-MIMO), with more efficient data encoding (OFDMA) that allows a single transmission to deliver data to multiple devices at once, results in higher data throughput, even on 2.4GHz networks. Response times will be faster.
- Better dense area performance: WiFi 6 promises 4x improved average throughput per user in dense or congested environments. This can greatly improve performance of public and shared networks. Many more devices can be comfortably connected, both those of the building occupants and IoT devices for the building itself.
- Longer device battery life: The WiFi 6 standard incorporates a “Target Wake Time (TWT)” feature. This means that once an access point has talked to a device, it can put the WiFi radio to sleep until it’s time for the next transmission. That means that power is conserved. This is a big advantage for battery-powered IoT devices and mobile devices alike.
- Increased security: The new WPA3 security protocol makes it harder for hackers to guess passwords using brute force algorithms. Better encryption of data offers better protection against stolen data. WPA3 was released in 2018 and, whilst some WiFi 5 devices support it, WiFi 6 certification makes WPA3 support a requirement.
Is WiFi 6 better than 5G?
WiFi 6 is a short-range wireless access technology, while 5G is a mobile network technology. Both promise faster speeds (more data), and more efficient use of bandwidth (more connected devices). For now, it seems neither one is better or worse than the other – they are complementary technologies. We will continue to see mobile technology dominate users on the move, while wireless remains ubiquitous in static environments.
What does it mean for the built environment?
Firstly, WiFi 6 is a new standard and many end devices do not support it yet. As adoption becomes more widespread, end users will expect WiFi 6 levels of speed and congestion management. Commercial landlords must be aware of what this entails for their buildings. In high density environments, such as conference spaces, auditoriums or busy office environments, this level of connectivity will be expected to allow attendees to work, potentially affecting their choice of venue.
For the landlord or building owner, adopting WiFi 6 could require a number of hardware improvements. First, to ensure all wireless access points (WAP) and connected devices are WiFi 6 certified. WiFi 6 certified access points support higher wireless speeds – potentially reaching the capacity of a single data cable. Running two data cables to each WAP is already considered good practice, but with WiFi 6 may be a necessity.
The WiFi 6 standard will affect how commercial tenants choose their building. We have recently updated our scorecard to award credits for WiFi 6 public WiFi for our top rating. A ‘tick box’ approach, sticking a home type router behind a reception desk, just won’t cut it going forward. A fit for purpose design will need to be in place, providing service to the right spaces whilst taking into account factors such as user capacity and an appropriately sized internet connection. This will result in a functional and secure public WiFi service.
Successful WiFi provision is secure, uninterrupted and provides adequate speeds for all devices connected to the network. As WiFi 6 adoption increases, the expectations of end users and commercial tenants will also increase. It is down to landlords and building owners to adapt and meet these new demands.