Late last year the WiFi Alliance explained that 2019’s new wireless connectivity standard would be called WiFi 6, with 802.11ax now given an easier name for manufacturers and consumers to understand.

At the time there were few devices supported WiFi 6, but that’s changed over the past couple of months, with smartphones like the Galaxy S10+ catering to it. Add to that a wave of new routers expected to enter the market, and now it’s time to consider whether upgrading to new hardware is needed.

As such it’s important to ask what the introduction of WiFi 6 means for the end-user.

“Wi-Fi 6 will be introduced during 2019 with the aim of being fully operational in 2020,” anticipates Greg Antic, a network engineer at Smart Technology Centre (STC). 

One of the big selling points for WiFi 6 will be its ability to better handle areas and networks that are densely populated with connected devices.

As Antic points out, that aspect has been one of the biggest challenges facing WiFi previously, as it often has to compete with other devices that operate on the 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio bands, such as baby monitors or microwaves.

“A welcome improvement in Wi-Fi 6 is its ability to handle client density more efficiently through its new channel-sharing capability, allowing Wi-Fi 6 to perform better in congested areas,” adds Antic. 

“Wi-Fi 6 will also deliver efficiency improvements with at least four times more throughput than the current Wi-Fi 5 can offer. In a nutshell the recent improvements involve some clever engineering to get more bandwidth out of the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz that your router already employs, meaning more capacity with less interference on the same channels, and faster data transfer speeds,” he explains.

When looking at whether you should make the necessary investment in hardware and upgrade your system to WiFi 6 supporting hardware, the network engineer advocates a case by case basis.

“If you are expecting to do an upgrade soon or if you are investing in new equipment and you would like it to last for the next five or so years, then upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 is ideal.  Likewise, if your business is already struggling with its Wi-Fi signal strength, then it may be a necessity to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 as soon as it is available,” says Antic.

He adds that the fact that WiFi 6 will be backwards compatible with older hardware as another reason to invest in the connectivity standard. “If you buy any new gear that supports the new Wi-Fi 6 protocol, it will still work with the current setup—you just won’t be able to get the faster speeds until everything is Wi-Fi 6 enabled,” he adds. 

While noting that it will take time for WiFi 6 to roll out, and a wider range of devices to support it, Antic says companies and consumers should start making the choice to switch now, just as STC has. 

“We have made the decision to switch to the new Wi-Fi 6 standard as soon as the hardware is available, both for our business and for the solutions we supply to our clients,” he concludes.

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.