Most marketers are guilty at one point or another of hyping up a minor improvement as if it were a major innovation. Think of the relatively unimportant year-over-year changes made to mature household products: it’s unlikely that that new lawnmower you bought a few days ago is really as game-changing as the manufacturer wants you to believe, at least when compared to last year’s model.
The technology industry is by no means innocent in this regard — plenty of tech products are heralded as revolutionary upon release, even if their improvements are more iterative than transformational. Every so often, however, the tech world gives birth to a game-changing invention that moves the goalposts and results in rapid adoption.
For these types of generation-defining technological changes to happen, a whole host of forces needs to move. In the music industry, for example, the shift from digital downloads to streaming occurred quickly thanks to the rapid proliferation of smartphones, the availability of fast cellular data, and the decoupling of individual tracks from albums that services like iTunes had enabled in the early 2000s.
The creation of the newest generation of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6, represents a similarly meaningful shift. Consumers are adopting network-connected devices faster than ever before; wireless vendors (including Cisco Meraki) are introducing Wi-Fi 6 enabled networking devices at breakneck speed; and a brand new cellular standard, 5G, is already making waves in the world of wireless. In other words, the whole ecosystem is moving in lockstep toward a faster, better wireless future.
If past patterns are any indication, Wi-Fi 6 will have a major impact on the entire industry and see quicker adoption than any previous Wi-Fi generation. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Wi-Fi 6: built on a set of proven, foundational technologies
While Wi-Fi 6 introduces a new collection of breakthrough technologies, like BSS Coloring and Target Wake Time (TWT), it is based on a number of foundational, trusted technologies that have been enhanced instead of being rebuilt from the ground up. For example:
- Wi-Fi 6 makes the jump from 256 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) to 1024 QAM. The higher the number, the greater number of packets that can be sent efficiently. This increase means up to a 2.5x increase in throughput and a 25% increase in spectral efficiency.
- Multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO), a technology introduced with Wi-Fi 5, allows APs to send and receive packets to and from multiple clients simultaneously. Combined with 8×8 support, this will result in significantly faster speeds in different directions.
- OFDMA, which replaces the older OFDM, significantly reduces overhead and latency, especially when a multitude of clients are connecting to the network. OFDMA is based on trusted technology from LTE.
What’s the upshot here? Though Wi-Fi 6 will be a revolution in wireless, it’s also in many ways an evolution of existing technologies. The rollout of Wi-Fi 6 networking hardware and devices alike should be relatively smooth, so consumers will be able to start using Wi-Fi 6 quickly.
2. More devices — and more demands — than ever
There’s a good reason the Wi-Fi Alliance sat down way back in 2013 and started hashing out its plans for Wi-Fi 6. Since the mid-2000s, there has been an absolute explosion of smartphones, laptops, and tablets, and this trend shows no signs of waning: four billion Wi-Fi equipped devices will ship in 2019, and by the end of this year, the 30 billionth Wi-Fi device will have shipped — that’s three times the cumulative number (10 billion) reached in 2014! And all of these devices, of course, rely on consistent connectivity to function. For that reason alone, Wi-Fi 6, with its focus on high density coverage, is long overdue.
But Wi-Fi 6 offers even more than this.
First, it’s a much more power-efficient standard, because thanks to a feature known as Target Wake Time (TWT), devices will check for new data packets on a schedule rather than constantly pinging the network. This feature can help devices like phones, IoT devices, and applications achieve up to 67% lower power consumption.
Second, we’re on the verge of some incredible new technologies that will only reach their potential if there’s a Wi-Fi standard robust enough to match. Think IoT (plus its cousin, IIoT), augmented & virtual reality, and factories laden with smart sensors to make operations more efficient. The performance of these futuristic tools and applications is dependent on fast wireless speeds, since long latency times can completely ruin the experience. Wi-Fi 6’s speed increases are therefore instrumental in unlocking these new services.
3. The long-term consequences of Wi-Fi 6 + 5G are immense
There’s another wireless standard brewing that the entire industry can’t wait for: 5G. While cellular data in some form has been available for over two decades (remember GPRS?), it really grew in importance once smartphones exploded onto the scene in the late 2000s and cellular made its way into other devices, like tablets and mobile hotspots.
So what does 5G have to do with Wi-Fi 6, and what’s so special about it?
5G and Wi-Fi 6 are actually closely intertwined. They’re built on the same technical foundation, and as a result, they both bring significant performance improvements. As evidence of the close linkage between 5G and Wi-Fi 6, a Cisco technology called OpenRoaming will allow consumers to roam seamlessly between 802.11ax and 5G networks without having to deal with service interruptions.
But both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are about much more than speed — they represent a fundamental transformation in what’s possible with connected devices, whether they’re large automotive vehicles (like self-driving cars) or small IoT devices (like smart speakers). While 5G will reign supreme in most outdoor scenarios, Wi-Fi 6 will take precedence inside buildings and with devices that don’t move around too often. Also important to note is the fact that Wi-Fi 6 adoption will outpace the adoption of 5G by a wide margin for years, according to ABI Research.
At the end of the day, the combination of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G’s strengths will completely transform our wireless world, no matter where users or their devices are.
The hype around Wi-Fi 6 has reached a fever pitch, and for good reason: manufacturers and consumers alike will quickly adopt the latest Wi-Fi standard in droves. At Cisco Meraki, we couldn’t be more bullish on Wi-Fi 6, and we’re incredibly excited for what the future of wireless will bring.
Check out our recently introduced Wi-Fi 6 compatible APs and the latest Wi-Fi 6 content, including other blog posts and customer webinars.