2020 is the year when Wi-Fi 6 becomes mainstream. It comes with better performance and security than ever for wireless devices. If you are running a business, you need an adoption strategy. Do you want to be an early adopter, upgrading as quickly as possible? Are you going to hang onto the old technology as long as you can? Or is the best approach somewhere in the middle, adding updated equipment in the course of regular replacements?
The best answer depends on your business's needs and how well the current infrastructure meets them, but generally, you should wait until the technology matures some more.
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Until recently, new versions of the Wi-Fi standard had confusing names as editions of IEEE 802.11. To make the versions easier to follow, the Wi-Fi Alliance has created a new terminology. The dominant standard as of 2019, 802.11ac, is now also known as Wi-Fi 5. The new standard is 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6. For all but the most technical purposes, the names mean the same thing.
Newly shipped Wi-Fi 6 devices are backward compatible with older clients. If you get a Wi-Fi 6 router, your old devices will likely communicate as they always had. If the client's phone or computer supports Wi-Fi 6, it has access to faster speeds and better security while experiencing less interference from other devices.
What is new in Wi-Fi 6?
The new version of Wi-Fi gives you advantages in three main areas.
Devices share bandwidth more efficiently. The latest standard supports a new multiplexing method, called OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access). It divides the available frequency into groups or sub-channels that are assigned to different client devices. This technique reduces contention and packet overhead. The advantage is especially significant when the packets are short, as they often are in highly interactive applications.
Higher data rates are possible. The theoretical maximum data rate is 9.6 Gbps. Not all devices need or support the top speed, but it means a higher ceiling on the rate of transmission. More devices can connect to the same access point without reaching the maximum data capacity.
New frequency band creating more channels. Wi-Fi 6 branches off from its predecessor, most notably in its change, are frequency band. Everyone is familiar with the 2.4 and 5 GHz dual-band radios touted by modern Wi-Fi routers, but Wi-Fi 6 is actually in the 6 GHz band. The advantage of this is the additional availability of channels, but there is one hurdle yet. The FCC has not yet signed off on the usage of this band for the fledgling Wi-Fi standard. However, this hasn't stopped manufacturers from developing and shipping products. The vote to officially ratify the 6 GHz band for use by Wi-Fi 6 is scheduled to occur towards the end of April 2020 and is widely expected to pass.
Do you need it, and why?
While Wi-Fi 6 will provide some significant benefits, there is no reason to rush into it.
If your current network is performing well enough, there is no urgency. If your company has many devices and their connections are sometimes sluggish, Wi-Fi 6 will help considerably. If you work in a busy office building and many neighbors have routers within range, Wi-Fi 6 will keep them from slowing down your network as much. However, the choice of equipment is still limited.
Wi-Fi 6 will likely reach widespread availability in 2020 or 2021, pending the vote from the FCC. The cost of routers that support it is going down. When you are ready to move forward, you should look for devices that say "Wi-Fi Certified 6" on them. The "certified" part is essential; other devices may have only partial support or follow pre-release versions of the standard.
Upgrading the client-side will take longer. Some high-end phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and S10 and the iPhone 11, support Wi-Fi 6. Support will trickle down to the less expensive models. Adapter cards are available to upgrade existing computers. There is no need to replace all your hardware; you can decide on a case-by-case basis whether the new wireless protocol is necessary.
How long can you wait?
New devices shipping with Wi-Fi 6 are still backward compatible, so your regular devices will maintain connectivity even after the upgrade. Five years from now, your network may look outdated, but there is no immediate danger of obsolescence. Because the approach should be to phase in Wi-Fi 6 and phase-out of the older technology over some time, appropriate planning will mitigate most difficulties. In the long run, Wi-Fi 6 will become the new standard for organizations. For now, though, our recommendation is to wait to implement it, because it is so new.