The federal government issues policy and standards for wireless networks and wireless technology through the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST has developed information security standards and guidelines, including minimum requirements for federal information systems and wi-fi networks. NIST has published a special publication for wireless networks that constitutes a mandatory framework for network implementation. NIST has issued similar frameworks for technologies and communications.
Essentially, 802.11 is the wi-fi standard for a wireless network. The letters that follow constitute amendments that have been and are still being made to the 802.11 wi-fi standard. Currently, the amendment ax is being rolled out. Most amendments to the 02.11 wi-fi standard have been backward compatible. This backward compatibility prevents constant obsolescence.
At its core, a wireless (i-fi) network consists of an input device, a transmitter, and a receiver. The input device creates the signal that will be transmitted. From there, the receiver picks up the transmitted signal and recreates it. There are also other components to consider including:
The software that you pay no attention to that runs your wi-fi router is "firmware." Even if it seems to work well, the firmware should be updated regularly. This is also the software that is pre-installed on your router. Most router makers will notify you when this needs to be done and how to do it.
Various terms are used to define parts of your wireless system, and knowing what they mean can aid in understanding how a system works. The following are some of the more essential terms.
The University of Hawaii developed the first wireless network in 1970. In 1991, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) began standardizing these wireless technologies and creating wireless standards. The IEEE ratified the first wireless networking standard, 802.11, in 1997, what we today call wi-fi. In 1999, 802.11a and 802.11b were introduced to the public, delivering painfully slow speeds by today's standards.
Because technology is not destroyed every time the 802.11 standard is amended, there are always multiple versions in use. Some of the more common standards still being used today include:
Wi-Fi 6 is the new official gold standard for the internet. It will be designated as IEEE 802.11ax and will identify technology that meets that standard. Wi-Fi 6 is a tremendous upgrade to existing wi-fi capability. It has feature enhancements, additions, and expansion. Virtually every wi-fi component will be improved with the 802.11ax standard, giving the marketplace better user capacity, faster data rates, better latency states, more network bandwidth, and more efficient use of power.
Wi-Fi 6 offers MU-MIMO, multi-user, multi-input, multi-output capabilities. This allows multiple wireless devices to communicate with the same wi-fi router at the same time. It was originally introduced on 802.11ac WAVE (also known as Wi-Fi 5) and permits concurrent communication. MU-MIMO allows up to eight simultaneous data streams, doubling Wi-Fi 5's four streams, giving significantly improved performance. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 permits smart routers to output data at both 2.4 and 5 GHz to a single user, significantly increasing the total bandwidth.
Wi-Fi 6 changes from 256-QAM modulation to 1024-QSM. This dramatically increases the bits encoded per packet. This allows for a 25 percent increase in throughput, which improves efficiency in high traffic.
Wi-Fi 6 uses a longer orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) symbol, allowing four times as many subcarriers. This makes the system more stable and increases speed by about 10 percent, but it also cuts back on latency.
Wi-Fi 6 largely expands the band and channel width, adding a 160 MHz communication range. Doubling the channel width lets routers handle more users and give more significant streams to each user. Developers of Wi-Fi 6 devices highlight the optimized band and channel range as one of the primary improvements.
Base Service Station Color is a system that identifies nearby networks. It makes signal filtering considerably easier for smart routers and reduces conflicts and interference. BSS Color is another Wi-Fi 6 enhancement that increases efficiency. In an enterprise system, it permits segregated networks to cover the same physical area without interference.
Target Wake Time was built with IoT (Internet of Things) in mind. It lets each device negotiate its wake time for sending and receiving independently. Doing so increases total sleep time and maximizes battery life.
Wi-Fi 6E has been practicing for a couple of years and is now being released with upgrades for Wi-Fi 6 networks. It broadens the use of the expanded bandwidth and channels available on Wi-Fi 6. It has a 1200 MHz spectrum and adds 14 new channels to the 80 MHz band and 7 more supersized channels to the 160 MHz band. This greater width increases data packet capacity so that more data can be sent at one time. It also added a new band, 6 GHz. Overall, Wi-Fi 6E is a highly specialized expansion that will work best in ultra-high traffic environments.
If you're asking whether you need to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, the answer is probably yes, especially if your router is more than three years old. The equipment is now available to take advantage of the offerings, along with faster speeds, longer battery life, and reduced congestion.
Wi-Fi 6 makes the user experience so much better that it's almost impossible to ignore. Higher speed and longer battery life will mean a lot to your users in the IoT. By adding 6E, you'll make them faster and more productive users of your overall system.
Wi-Fi 6 does have a better wireless range, but not because of a higher power. Instead, the improvement is becauseWi-Fi 6 can improve data rates at a given range. Both W-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 operate in the 5 GHz band. The cell range is set by frequency characteristics, antennae patterns, output power, and the operating environment. Basically, since the two use the same power and frequency rules, as set by the Federal Communications System, there won't be much change there. However, Wi-Fi 6 boosts the achieved data rate at any given range. In effect, by improving each range, it provides a better range. It does so with more radio chains, better sensitivity, and even smaller channels. Because these all work together further out on your footprint, it will feel like your range is better even if it technically isn't.
Wi-Fi 6 uses the newest security protocol, Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3). Analysts say it is more comprehensive than WPA2. The pros say that WPA3 has more robust authentication capabilities and more sophisticated encryption. It also uses more robust encryption algorithms as well as enhanced key management systems.
The first Wi-Fi 7 routers will enter the market sometime in 2023 and may not offer the highest speeds. In fact, it may not even be certified until 2024, making early adoption a bit of a risk. Plus, you'll probably wait even longer for a Wi-Fi 7 phone, tablet, laptop, or other wireless device.
Wi-Fi 7 is likely to be expensive when it first comes out. Moreover, like every piece of technology, it will have a certain number of bugs. Waiting a while may result in lower prices and create time for Wi-Fi 7 certification to come about, which are both very desirable goals.