WiFi 6, Explained: The Tech Behind the New WiFi Standard

The dawn of WiFi has certainly revolutionized the way individuals live their lives, bringing with it a welcome touch of convenience and connectivity. In homes, multiple electronic devices often remain connected to a shared network, allowing for simultaneous use.

But that’s where the familiar, pesky problem of slow connection sets in. As the demand for wireless bandwidth increases, the capacity of a traditional router is spread thin, resulting in reduced speed and higher latency.

The new WiFi 6 standard is designed to address such issues. With the promise to usher in a new era of WiFi. WiFi 6 builds upon the existing structure of its predecessors, and also seeks to hold certified partners to an enhanced set of standards that includes faster speed, larger capacity, wider coverage, and better battery efficiency.

The first thing to note is that the underlying WiFi technology works using radio signals. To send a WiFi transmission, devices have to modulate the frequency signal on a specific radio channel, which will then be received by the recipient device in the form of binary code. Known as quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), the process involves the modulation of radio waves in different ways to convey digital data, where the router’s performance is determined by the scale of binary code being sent out.

Take a 2-QAM access point as an example. As it is only able to alter the WiFi radio waves in two ways, each transmission would end up being a one-digit code (either a ‘1’ or a ‘0’). Its 4-QAM counterpart, in comparison, can send out two-digit transmissions (‘00’, ‘01’, ‘10” or ‘11”) with its ability to modulate waves in four distinct ways.

With WiFi 6 however, the ante goes up. Clocking in at 1024-QAM, it allows devices to send 10-digit binary transmissions that boast speeds up to 25%, and increases the throughput for intensive use cases. Simply put, the more binary codes a router can transmit, the stronger and faster it is – here’s a comparison of the peak data rates across the board at 80MHz and 4x4 devices:

● WiFi 5 256 QAM (common): up to 1733 Mbps
● WiFi 5 1024 QAM (only a few routers): up to 2167 Mbps
● WiFi 6 1024 QAM (common): up to 2400 Mbps

QAM isn’t the only term to know – meet OFDMA, short for Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access. A new feature belonging to WiFi 6, it works on a divide-and-conquer principle, allowing devices to serve different clients at the same time within just one channel.

This process is further enhanced with its additional ability to divide the transmission channel on the 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands into smaller digital entities called resource units (RUs). These provide another platform for routers to transmit information – think of the many arms of modern-day ASUS routers – which results in improved, higher speeds.

Because WiFi 6 allows multiple users to connect to the network all at once, there’s a need to ensure that the timing for data transmissions remains as precise as possible across the board, too. To achieve a larger network capacity, interference between simultaneous users has to be minimized, and WiFi 6 manages to make this work through synchronizing the trigger frame broadcast of access points.

A trigger frame is, in simpler terms, a new framework adopted by WiFi 6 to allocate RUs and set transmission timings for each client, such that upstream transmissions can be coordinated. As such, devices will be assigned to a specific individual transmit timing, the syncing of which brings about better bandwidth.

With WiFi 6 also comes more sophisticated beamforming capabilities as well. In contrast to the traditional way of broadcasting WiFi signals in all directions, beamforming focuses on projecting them in a particular direction, such that the signal is stronger and more concentrated. What this translates to is a longer range that results in better reception for devices, as well as fewer dead zones for increased coverage.

Last but definitely not the least, WiFi 6 access points and routers will boast better battery efficiency. Courtesy of the new Target Wake Time (TWT) technology, devices are put on a schedule to receive data, giving them more time to stay engaged in sleep mode. This not only helps to conserve battery life, but also reduces signal congestion and collision, both of which are extremely handy features in the Internet-of-Things (IoT) era, where constant connectivity is the way of life.

Despite being in its early stages, the potential of WiFi 6 proves to be extremely optimistic. The recent launch of its certification program is a great leap toward large-scale adoption, and more parties have started to embrace the new WiFi standard. ASUS is active in that field, rolling out one WiFi 6 device after another, from WiFi routers and notebooks to motherboards and PCs.

Throw into the mix the most complete WiFi 6 router line-up, and the team is more than ready to enter a new age of WiFi. Alongside the above benefits, ASUS’ ecosystem will have in store its proprietary technology as well, which will elevate the WiFi 6 experience to greater levels of satisfaction and enjoyment.