Understanding WiFi 6/6E
WiFi 6 was fully ratified and published back in May 2021 and whilst new standards seem to appear just as quickly as the latest iPhone models, we look at some of the core differences that distinguish Wi-Fi 6/6E from Wi-Fi 5 and what makes this newer version different.
So, What's New?
There have been multiple improvements made with Wi-Fi 6 that have all been designed to improve throughput and traffic management efficiency. Where high client capacity is required, Wi-Fi 6 can provide higher performance benefits.
Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA)
OFDMA is one of the most important enhancements that was introduced with the 6/6E standard. OFDMA enables concurrent AP communication with multiple clients by sub dividing channels in to smaller Resource Units. Based on the needs of the client traffic, the AP can allocate a whole 20MHz channel to one single client or alternatively can create partitions within the channel to serve multiple clients at the same time.
If we compare this to how older versions of Wi-Fi operated, in that only one device could transmit at any one time on a channel you can quickly see how this translates in to much greater performance and efficient communication.
Wasn’t that in Wi-Fi 5??
Not quite. Wi-Fi 5 used OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) The key difference was that this was based around a single client. OFDMA is designed around varying payloads to multiple clients.
If we use trucks as an analogy, Wi-Fi 5 trucks would carry only a single users cargo. OFDMA ‘trucks’ can be loaded with multiple users cargo and can be optimised for speed and efficiency.
credit Cisco Systems
Improvements to Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO)
MU-MIMO was introduced with 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5, but with Wi-Fi 6 it has been improved.
Initially it allowed simultaneous transmission of multiple frames to different clients on the same channel using up to 4 RF streams and was only supported for downlink. Wi-Fi 6/E adds support for for up to 8 spatial streams and also uplink transmissions too!
As we love a good analogy in Wi-Fi, think again like a motorway. Initially you had 4 lanes in which you could only travel in one direction. Now you have 8 lanes and can travel in both directions.
Overlapping Basic Service Set - OBSS
Older versions of Wi-Fi had a listen before talk process meaning as device had to listen for any channel noise before transmitting. Even if that noise was on a distant channel it still had to be clear before talking. OBSS enables the AP to utilise a colour to uniquely identify a network. This means that traffic can be correctly identified and if the colour is different than the local network then traffic can be transmitted.
Target Wake Time - TWT
TWT purpose is to improve power management. It allows the AP to schedule a series of times for a station to wake at predertermined intervals to exchange data. This allows stations to sleep for longer periods and reduces energy consumption. This is a crucial requirement for mobile and IoT devices.
Perhaps the second biggest enhancement in Wi-Fi 6/6E is Tri Band Support.
In Wi-Fi 5 only 5Ghz band was supported ; when connecting on 2.4GHz you were using 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4).
Wi-Fi 6/6E can operate in all 3 bands as below:
2.4GHz – Access to 14 20MHz channels – 3 non overlapping.
5GHz – Access to 25 20MHz channels
6GHz – Access to 59 20MHz channels.
This is hugely important as if you break it down, 802.11ac gave you access to only 25 20MHz channels and now with Wi-Fi 6 you have access to 98 20Mhz channels! More channels helps reduce co-channel and adjacent channel interference and allows the use of larger channel widths.
Enhanced Security with WPA3 and Management Frame Protection MFP
With Wi-Fi 6 operating in the 6GHz band, no backward compatability is required with earlier standards as in the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. Now, Wi-Fi6 devices operating in the 6GHz band require you to also step up your security and use the WPA3 encryption.
WPA3 replaces Pre-Shared Key PSK authentication with Simultaneous Authentication of Equals SAE. SAE is resistant to dictionary based attacks and should make networks in homes and small business more secure. Enterprises should continue to use 802.1X and WPA3-Enterprise.
Tools to Design, Verify and Troubleshoot Wi-Fi6/6E
NetAlly EtherScope nXG 300
Portable tester for wireless (Wi-Fi6) and wired (up to 10G) networks. Includes AirMapper surveying and spectrum analysis with inbuilt radio.
View in our shop HERE
EKAHAU Site Survey & Sidekick 2
Ekahau has been developed to design, validate and maintain Wi-Fi networks. Use the Sidekick 2 to give full 6Ghz Wi-Fi 6 visibility.
View in our shop HERE
NetAlly AirMagnet Survey Pro
Use AirMagnet Survey Pro on your laptop to design, deploy, validate and maintain Wi-Fi networks. Use in conjunction with AirMapper on AirCheck G3 or EtherScope nXG to get full Wi-Fi6 visibility.
View on our shop HERE