A new Wi-Fi era slowly apporaches

The Wi-Fi 6 certification is set to make next-gen speeds a widespread reality

The next generation of Wi-Fi has been trickling out over the past year, but since Monday, its official launch is going to accelerate. This comes after the Wi-Fi Alliance, the organisation that oversees implementation of the Wi-Fi standard, informally kicked off the widescale adoption of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard.

As with the group's previous certification programs, the Wi-Fi 6 certification program is focused on verifying the interoperability and feature sets of IEEE 802.11ax devices, ensuring that they work well with each other and that the devices feature all of the required performance and security capabilities of the new standard.

"With adoption of the latest Wi-Fi generation increasing, product vendors and service providers can trust Wi-Fi Certified will distinguish Wi-Fi 6 products and networks that meet the highest standards for security and interoperability," says the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Wi-Fi Alliance's new certification, though, comes as device manufacturers have already been shipping Wi-Fi 6 products for the last several months – essentially seeding the hardware ecosystem to get to this point. So the first task for the group's members and test labs will be to certify existing Wi-Fi 6 devices. This includes existing access points, routers, and client devices, including Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10, which has become the first smartphone to receive certification.

Under the hood, however, the new standard takes a bit of a departure from past Wi-Fi iterations by focusing more on improving performance in shared environments, as opposed to solely boosting peak device transfer rates. This is particularly important because of just how many devices we all have these days - it’s not unusual for a family to have a dozen or more gadgets all connected to a Wi-Fi network at once.

“The home scenario today looks like the dense deployment of yesterday,” says Kevin Robinson, marketing leader for the Wi-Fi Alliance.

So the point of Wi-Fi 6 is to boost speeds within a crowded network. The theoretical maximum speed for Wi-Fi is increasing, too - to 9.6 Gbps from 3.5 Gbps - but those numbers don’t really matter since you’ll never get them at home. What matters is that Wi-Fi 6 has a bunch of tools allowing it to operate faster and deliver more data at once, so the speeds you actually get will be higher than before. Those gains will be most noticeable on crowded networks, where the efficiency improvements will make up for the higher Wi-Fi demands. (Wi-Fi 6 also mandates a major security improvement.)

Nevertheless, today’s launch is largely a formality. The Wi-Fi certification program — while important, and very much marking the beginning of the Wi-Fi 6 era — isn’t required, and companies have been rolling out Wi-Fi 6 devices for months that likely work just fine. But the Wi-Fi Alliance is made up of members of the tech industry big and small, and its actions represent what wireless features and technologies they’re interested in delivering, so this is a clear sign that Wi-Fi 6 has arrived.

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