Wi-Fi 6 boosts wireless speed and improves security
At least that's what the media wants you to think! Gone are the days when the WPA2 encryption mechanism was considered to be unbreakable. The Key Reinstallation Attacks (KRACK) series of vulnerabilities have recently shaken the wireless world, so it's not a surprise that people are looking forward to WPA3, one of the key features of Wi-Fi 6 which is supposed to fix wireless security problems once again.
First, let's examine the speed-related claims. According to Wi-Fi Alliance, speed will increase from a theoretical 3.5 Gbps (Wi-Fi 5) to a maximum of 9.6 Gbps (Wi-Fi 6). Everyone knows that speeds like these can only be achieved in theory, if you've got a very expensive router, no neighbors, no interference, no data packets loss, and so on. And since most people are getting maximum data transfer speeds of about 300 Mbps from their wireless networks, I estimate that we may be able to get about 500 Mbps with Wi-Fi 6 in real-life scenarios.
When it comes to speed/efficiency features, Wi-Fi Alliance has four aces up its sleeves:
1. Uplink and downlink orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) will make Wi-Fi networks more efficient and will reduce latency. By significantly lowering latency values, users will think that they're getting access to much faster networks, even though they're just getting responses from servers much faster. That's good enough for me, though.
2. Multi-user multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO) isn't necessarily a new Wi-Fi 6 feature, but the most recent implementation boosts throughput, helping routers handle more devices at the same time, and thus giving each device/user the impression that his/her Internet connection performs better.
3. Transmit beamforming helps your router send really focused data streams towards its clients. This feature helps improve data transfer rates and increases network capacity.
4. Finally, 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM) utilizes two phase-shifted carriers to boost network capacity by sending more bits per frequency unit. While the previous Wi-Fi 5 was limited to 256-QAM, this new Wi-Fi 6 feature should improve speeds by about 25%.
So, we can safely say that Wi-Fi 6 will be faster, but won't impress people who are already using 802.11ac-based networks. It's not a surprise that Wi-Fi Alliance has added more features, such as "improved power efficiency", to its "Key Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 technology" list.
Okay, what about network security? The new WPA3 security protocol, which will replace WPA2 (in use since 2004!) is supposed to make the hackers' lives much harder. Cyber criminals used to capture a set of data packets, and then analyze them until they were able to retrieve the Wi-Fi password. WPA3 will render their efforts useless, because it changes the structure of the data after each failed attempt.
The Pre-Shared Key (PSK) has been replaced with Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE), which makes it really hard to crack even some of the simplest Wi-Fi passwords. And even if a hacker manages to connect his/her device to the network, it will be impossible to snoop on other people's traffic, because each device utilizes its own encryption mechanism.
If this article has got you excited, you're not alone. I look forward to purchasing a new WPA3 router myself! However, we'll have to wait at least a few more months, until the first wave of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 devices hits the market. Don't forget that your devices won't be able to make use of all those Wi-Fi 6 features unless they're WI-FI CERTIFIED 6 as well. However, if your router is safe, its slightly outdated clients will have much better chances to withstand a cyber attack.