Ran­dom ac­cess

Do you re­ally need to up­grade to Wi-Fi 6?

APC Australia - - CONTENTS -

Wi-Fi 6 is the next gen­er­a­tion of wire­less net­work com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­to­cols and since it’s been in ex­is­tence for a cou­ple of years now it’s prob­a­bly some­thing you’ve heard of at this point. Yet with the first routers re­ally only be­com­ing avail­able at the start of 2020 there’s a good chance you don’t ac­tu­ally know what Wi-Fi 6 re­ally is, why it was cre­ated, and whether it’s worth up­grad­ing to yet.

If you’re any­thing like us you’ve ac­cu­mu­lated a lot of smart home tech over the years, but even if you’re not into in­stalling smart speak­ers in ev­ery cor­ner of your home, chances are you have a TV that can stream Net­flix or a printer that’s Wi-Fi only. Be­tween the smart lights, Wi-Fi scales, smart­watches, and net­work-con­nected gam­ing con­soles there’s likely to be a lot more tech con­nected to our lo­cal net­works these days and the trend doesn’t look like it’ll slow down any­time soon.

For those run­ning full smart light ar­rays off a home router you’ve prob­a­bly al­ready no­ticed that it can im­pact the band­width you get on your smart­phone, PC or TV, even if you have a top notch multi-an­tenna MU-MIMO router. Multi-User Mul­ti­ple In­put Mul­ti­ple Out­put (MU-MIMO) was kind of a stop-gap so­lu­tion for 802.11ac that pre­vented con­ges­tion when many de­vices con­nected to the same net­work by par­ti­tion­ing the to­tal avail­able band­width into mul­ti­ple streams.

This 2x2, 3x3 or 4x4 seg­men­ta­tion meant that mul­ti­ple con­nected de­vices could ac­cess the router si­mul­ta­ne­ously. While this re­duces wait time, it means the router needs to di­vide the max the­o­ret­i­cal speed amongst the to­tal num­ber of avail­able streams. 802.11ac is the­o­ret­i­cally ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a light­ning fast load of 3.5Gbps, but once you di­vide that by 12 (4x4) you’ve only got about 36MB/s left of trans­fer speed per stream, which is about the rate of a USB 2.0 con­nec­tion or just un­der a third of a HDD write speed.

Even the best Aus­tralian NBN speeds give you only 100Mbps (12.5MB/s), so there’s no need to chuck out your cur­rent mul­ti­antenna router just yet. How­ever, it’s pretty clear that you wouldn’t want to con­strain that 36MB/s max speed fur­ther by adding even more chan­nels. Which brings us to the need for

Wi-Fi 6, since 12 con­nected de­vices isn’t re­ally all that many any more (two smart­phones, two lap­tops, one PC, one TV, one printer, two smart lights, two smart speak­ers and a smart­watch are enough to break it).

Wi-Fi 6 ups this to­tal speed through­put to 9.6Gbps, but as you may have guessed this speed boost is used to al­low for more de­vice con­nec­tions rather than bol­ster max­i­mum through­put speed per de­vice. These MU-MIMO con­nec­tions have also been opened up to al­low both up­link and down­link com­mu­ni­ca­tions, which fa­cil­i­tate ac­cess points han­dling even more de­vices than cur­rent MU-MIMO routers.

802.11ax ( Wi-Fi 6) runs over the newly opened up 6GHz band­width and of­fers ei­ther seven or 14 chan­nels to net­work over. This new 6GHz range of­fers the po­ten­tial for re­duced la­tency, faster trans­fer and a less con­gested net­work.

Other than this there’s re­ally just a few mi­nor fu­ture-proof­ing im­prove­ments, which means Wi-Fi 6 isn’t a ma­jor pro­to­col trans­for­ma­tion that of­fers mas­sive ben­e­fits over ex­ist­ing 802.11ac so­lu­tions. Most peo­ple will be fine us­ing their cur­rent net­work for at least a cou­ple of years, or at least un­til you have a hand­ful of Wi-Fi 6 ca­pa­ble de­vices. If you’re plan­ning on buy­ing up a tonne of Wi-Fi 6 smart home de­vices when they even­tu­ally land (we haven’t seen any yet), then it could be worth do­ing the ground­work for a fu­ture proof Wi-Fi 6 net­work, but it’s still a bit early to need it.

JOEL BURGESS When not re­view­ing PCs for APC and writ­ing our funny pages, Joel likes to pon­der tech and how it’s used.

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