It’s become second nature – an instinctive behavioral modern-day trait, if you like. 

Yes, we seek ‘Wi-Fi’. Admit it, we’re all guilty of seeking that all-important connection, irrespective of our location and context; I mean context, in terms of whether we are at a social or business event – it doesn’t matter, we simply forego all etiquette – we need it!

In fact, even my daughter’s new Range Rover has Wi-Fi, with its modest 500MB of monthly cellular data ready to serve her in-car needs despite her 4G capable smartphone! Okay, here’s my soapbox moment: Wi-Fi isn’t the internet – it’s a means of connecting to the internet – now stepping off my soapbox and tipping my fedora.

Last minute tweaks with software updates

Just in case you’ve missed it, the Wi-Fi Alliance has adopted a more consumer-friendly Wi-Fi labelling scheme by using a generational increment to its advancement in capabilities – you know, Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and so on. You might recall, in previous years the Alliance used the Heinz Alphabetti-like soup method to denote the next generational step in its technology advancement. So, I can only assume that labelling the generational advancement with a letter or two confused the greater public. I have to admit, the simplification of the incremental advancement is admittedly a better adoption. After all, no one actually reads the finer details!

With that said, Wi-Fi 6 is in the process of being ratified, although we will have to wait until the end of 2019 for that. Nevertheless, in true industry fashion, and always eager to deliver the next big thing, there are already many routers and access points purporting 802.11ax functionality. In fairness, it’s an educated bet, since the hardware would be fairly established and stabilized and is unlikely to change at this stage. In other words, any last-minute tweaks or whatnot to the specification would only warrant software updates, so manufacturers of early products could simply issue a software patch to overcome any late changes.

Providing faster data throughput

Wi-Fi 6 offers a better and faster Wi-Fi experience. More specifically, with the reliance on the technology for all our devices to connect whether that’s at home, the office or in public areas, Wi-Fi inevitably suffers from congestion and lag in throughput. It’s been predicted that over the next five years or so, “connected” household devices will increase exponentially. More so, with the myriad of such devices within the home, all under the guise of the internet of things (IoT) it would seem that Wi-Fi 6 has arrived just in time. For example, just before Christmas, I learned how my daughter and her partner purchased a new dishwasher, where my daughter’s partner took delight in the ability to start the dishwasher cycle from his smartphone; … and there’s more – he can also use Alexa to start the dishwasher! 

Whoop-de-doo: What a senseless use case!

Well, the new Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax specification focuses on overcoming congestion in environments where there is greater use, such as public areas or within the home. Moreover, the essential remit is to ensure that multiple users still enjoy fast data throughput, irrespective of the number of devices that are connected to an access point or router.

The “6GHz band” is essential

The enhancements to the new specification build upon the success already enjoyed by 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 4). However, it now offers over 50 additional features, with some of the emphasis driven by how adopters use the technology. For example, a more robust bandwidth and performance serves users who stream HD content on one or more devices within the home and, in turn, will enjoy the benefits offered by the new specification. Of course, the Alliance provides backward compatibility with earlier versions of Wi-Fi still supporting 2.4GHz and 5GHz, whilst future features will include support for both1GHz and 6GHz. 

You see, with the increased demand and expectation from industry to future-proof the longevity of Wi-Fi technology, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has requested “public comments” regarding the expansion of the band. In fact, several companies collectively submitted a proposal strongly in favor of utilizing the 5925-7125MHz frequency bands. As such, its use is expected to satisfy the next generation of wireless broadband services and, in its paper Expanding Flexible Use in Mid-band Spectrum Between 3.7 and 24GJz, the FCC describes, “Our diverse companies – spanning the consumer equipment, internet media, software, cloud services, semiconductor, enterprise and service provider broadband, and rural connectivity industries – all agree that Part 15 access to the 5925–7125 MHz band (the “6 GHz band”) is essential to meeting demand for the next generation of wireless broadband services.”

What’s the point?

The paper continues, “By opening this entire band to unlicensed radio local access network operations, the Commission will allow us to bring consumers faster service, lower latency, and more pervasive coverage, and allow the nation to reap the economic and public safety benefits that are associated with unlicensed technologies.”

This leads me to raise the question: “Whilst our personal area networking (PAN) technologies, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technology, for example, are becoming better and faster, shouldn’t we also look to improve the wider connectivity where our wide area network (WAN) infrastructures, such as broadband, 4G and 5G, should now start to shadow the data rates offered by our PAN technologies?” Otherwise, what’s the point?

Until next time…

Currently, I’m enjoying broadband speeds of up to 80Mbit/s over copper with fiber to the cabinet but my internal home network, which is partly enabled through Ethernet, supports data rates of up to 1Gbit/s, along with various 802.11ac access points – this mismatch clearly needs to be addressed. 

In fairness to my internet provider, they do quite well to deliver 80Mbit/s, with future plans to offer G.fast (offering speeds up to 100Mbit/s) but, of course, the reality in levelling this mismatch will most likely be achieved through fiber to the home. However, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

So, this is where an “I want to stream faster” Dr G, signs off.