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When WiFi 6 is not WiFi 6

Blog

Nov
02
2020

When WiFi 6 is not WiFi 6

802.11ax standard offers real performance benefits and is especially effective at giving all users consistently high bandwidth in higher-density environments – but writes Patrick Hirscher, EMEA Wireless Market Development Manager at Zyxel, warns buyers that they should be aware that there are important differences between access points that offer WiFi 6.

“When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar.” Most people will have heard this old riddle at some time. It only works in English, of course, and it is merely an amusing play on words – the English word ‘ajar’ meaning ‘open’.

But if you were to ask me “when is WiFi 6 not WiFi 6?”, the answer I’d have to give you would be more serious because, unfortunately, what is sometimes marketed as being WiFi 6 is not entirely WiFi 6 and won’t give you all the benefits. Many products are available that only support 802.11ax on the 5GHz frequency, and not on 2.4GHz. This means that capacity for users to connect using WiFi 6 will be limited on these access points, as most devices will connect to the 2.4GHz signal, and will therefore, only be able to use the previous 802.11ac standard.

True WiFi 6

First of all, let me make it absolutely clear that all Zyxel WiFi 6 access points will give you a full WiFi 6 experience. Our AX series access points are true WiFi 6 devices that provide 802.11ax connectivity on both the 5GHz and the 2.4GHz frequencies. This means that you can maximise the benefits that are delivered by orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) and Basic Service Set (BSS) colouring. These technologies make WiFi 6 much more efficient than previous versions of the WiFi standard.

OFDMA allows more than one signal to be sent over the same line or channel at the same time. This effectively streamlines connections and allows more transmissions without contention. BSS colouring is similar but is used to reduce delays between access points, rather than on the connection itself. When used together these technologies make it possible for more users to get the best performance out of WiFi.

This is the real benefit of WiFi 6; it means that users will not start to see any drop-off in performance when the network gets busy. With WiFi 6, it really should not matter how many users or devices are connected – they will all get a good response.

Drop-off

Here is where the problems start for devices that currently on the market that only support 802.11ax on the 5GHz frequency. They will therefore not get the benefits associated with WiFi 6. As soon as that frequency gets a little bit busy, those users will start to notice a fall-off in speed.

This is why we talk about the Zyxel AX series offering “true WiFi 6” because, really, those access points that only support 802.11ax on 5GHz, are not offering the full and latest specification. These devices will be cheaper to buy, and while it is possible to use 802.11ax on 2.4GHz with them, they won’t give users access to all the benefits of WiFi 6.

The reason for this is that they are using an older ‘v1’ chipset that supports the earlier version of the 802.11ax standard. Rather than design access points that could only provide limited WiFi 6 connectivity, Zyxel waited for ‘v2’ of the standard, which also supports full-featured WiFi 6 connections on the 2.4GHz band, as well as the 5GHz frequency. As a result, we offer much better performance and excellent support for higher-density environments, such as hotels, schools, and conference centres.

In the end, riddles are just riddles. They are a form of mild amusement but never factually correct. A door is always a door – even when it is open. And you will only get all the benefits of WiFi 6 when it’s true WiFi 6. With Zyxel that’s exactly what you get, and you should not settle for anything less.

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