Welcome to Wi-Fi 6

In the era of 5G and IoT, the objective is not only to connect every device but make sure they share, analyze, and implement actions on their own. Achieving such an objective requires low latency, high bandwidth, and continuous connectivity, without any downtime. The combination of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 promise to deliver all of the above.

Counterpoint Research has written about the impact 5G will have on IoT earlier. Here, we provide an overview of Wi-Fi 6. To begin with, it is important to note that not all IoT devices will come with an embedded 5G module/SoC (system on a chip). There exists an eternal dilemma within small and medium enterprises as well as those deploying IoT devices scattered across large outdoor areas, on whether to link the devices with a Wi-Fi network or embed a 5G module in each device. We believe that a significant number of IoT devices will come only with a Wi-Fi module.

Exhibit 1: Wi-Fi 6 Chipset Availability


What is Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)?

On September 16, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the official launch of the Wi-Fi Certified 6 certification program. Wi-Fi 6 is the renaming of 802.11ax, the latest generation of Wi-Fi, and the successor to Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n). Apart from speed, Wi-Fi 6 increases the capacity of the network to provide optimal throughput to access points. The upgrade in Wi-Fi 6 opens the door for new applications, with almost four times higher throughput capacity than that of Wi-Fi 5. Additionally, Wi-Fi 6 includes the ability to use both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz for several use-cases.

Features that differentiate Wi-Fi 6 from its predecessors:

  • Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA):
    • In Wi-Fi 5 and earlier forms, devices used to compete with one another to send data. However, in Wi-Fi 6, multiple devices with variable bandwidth needs can be served, as each device is simultaneously scheduled to transmit data in parallel.
    • It divides a radio channel into multiple sub-channels in the frequency domain to form resource units (RUs). These RUs carry the device data and do not occupy the entire channel.
    • It ensures optimal utilization of the allocated spectrum, particularly in case of 5G, where the network is slicing and allocating spectrum for each application.
  • Multi-user Multiple Input/Multiple Output (MU-MIMO):
    • Wi-Fi 6 enables multiple concurrent transmission in the same frequency space. Introduced initially in Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2, with up to four devices, this feature has seen an enhancement in Wi-Fi 6 and it now allows up to eight devices to transmit simultaneously using a dedicated channel per device.
    • Additionally, Wi-Fi 6 supports uplink MU-MIMO and allows for concurrent uplink transmission. This is a new functionality of the WI-FI 6 standard, which did not exist in any of the previous versions of the Wi-Fi standard.
  • Target Wake Time (TWT):
    • TWT reflects Wi-Fi 6’s commitment to embracing IoT devices. This feature will allow a device, or a group of devices, to negotiate a scheduling scheme to remain inactive until it’s their turn to transmit data.
    • It will not only support OFDMA and MU-MIMO but also reduce battery consumption, which is an essential requirement for the IoT devices with a lifespan of 10-15 years.
  • Dedicated IoT Operating Mode: Wi-Fi 6 comes with a dedicated IoT operating mode. This separates low-power, low-bandwidth devices from an 802.11ax AP, using a 20 MHz-only channel that works in either the 2.4 or 5GHz bands. It will benefit devices like sensors used for automation and medical devices.
  • Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3): Wi-Fi 6 is providing WPA3 security, which builds upon its predecessor WPA2. In doing so, it tackles network security concerns for both personal and enterprise use.
    • WPA3 makes it necessary to use Protected Management Frames (PMF), whereas the PMF was optional for WPA2.
    • WPA3 uses the Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) to replace WPA2’s Pre-Shared Key (PSK) exchange protocol. Further, SAE is the more secure protocol for managing the initial key exchange.

Exhibit 2: Wi-Fi 6 Products Already in Abundance in the Market

WI-FI 6 Devices

Impact of Wi-Fi 6 on IoT and 5G

Wi-Fi 6 will have a backhaul of 5G network or fiber, and it will play a pivotal role in the transformation from IoT to IoE (Internet of Everything). Wi-Fi 6 is an ideal match for the 5G network, and this amalgamation of different orders of the cellular and non-cellular spectrum will connect billions of devices over the next decade. The deployment will cover from for enterprises, industrial, retail, smart infrastructure application and other IoE applications, for providing better coverage and a secure channel of communication.