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Wi-Fi 6 Is Coming And Will Impact Your Business

Wi-Fi is as ubiquitous as a technology can get. It is widely used and widely understood. In part because of its widespread acceptance, the standards that make Wi-Fi work are slow to change. But a new change is coming and it will make dramatic improvements to how our devices communicate with each other.

This post provides some insights into the new Wi-Fi standard aimed at the business and government executive. We review some of the opportunities and risks that will soon present themselves because of the new version, and will do so in a way that will help leaders consider how this change will impact your strategy for success in the market.

A Brief History of Wireless:

Wi-Fi was first released to the market in 1997 and was in widespread use by 2000. The first version allowed for speeds of up to two megabytes per second of data transfer. The protocol was meant to provide security but the security community quickly found easily exploitable vulnerabilities. Attacks could be taught to anyone with an interest in reading someone else’s traffic.

For the next decade standards were improved. By 2010 the standard (called 802.11n) provided higher data rates (up to 54 megabytes per second of data transfer), more sophisticated security, and wider range. This standard was improved again to the current version, known as 802.11ac, which can have up to four times the data rate of the previous version.

WiFi 6 is the New Version of WiFi: 

The newest standard of WiFi has been in the works for years and devices that can use the new standard are already starting to ship, but it will take some time before this version of the standard is ubiquitous. That said, the benefits of this version lead us to assess that proliferation will be fast.

The new standard comes with a new way of branding that will be used from now on. Instead of having to know the jargon of the standard (this version is officially 802.11ax), users now just need to know it is Wi-Fi 6.

As part of this re-branding, the Wi-Fi Alliance is using Wi-Fi 5 to describe the current fielded standard (802.11ac). The older 802.11n can be called Wi-Fi 4.

Here is what you need to know about Wi-Fi 6:

  • Wi-Fi 6 router systems are available for purchase now. Models are available for businesses and homes. So what every you buy from now on, look for the Wi-Fi 6 brand.
  • Wi-Fi 6 is designed to be backwards compatible. So older devices will work on a new Wi-Fi 6 network, and new Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices will still work on old networks.
  • Wi-Fi 6 is already available in some devices (like the new iPhone 11 and the Samsung Galaxy S10). Once there are more Wi-Fi 6 networks available for these devices to join it may drive faster upgrade to these devices and that will set up a virtuous cycle that speeds adoption even more.
  • The new standard provides performance increases at a network level. It operates smarter so more devices can move more data at the same time. This is badly needed since the old protocols are having a hard time keeping up performance when multiple devices are moving data at the same time.
  • Individual devices can be expected to see a four to five times improvement in the amount of data that can be moved in a given amount of time.
  • Devices using Wi-Fi 6 can not only move more data faster, but can do so in ways that require less power so are easier on battery life.
  • Network range is increased. Wi-Fi 6 capable devices on a Wi-Fi 6 network can expect to have high performance connectivity at up to 100 yards away from an antenna.
  • The standard comes with more security options. The security standard, called WPA3, is much harder for adversaries to break.
  • Weaknesses of the new Wi-Fi strategy include its inability to serve large, outdoor, long-range use cases. These use cases will require use of cellular or space based communications.
  • Wi-Fi 6 will, like all current Wi-Fi, require backhaul connection to the Internet.

Considerations For Your Business Strategy

  • Businesses of all sizes should budget for wireless router refresh to upgrade to the new Wi-Fi 6 standard 2020. But this is just a foundational step. Engage your line of business leaders in a dialog over how this new standard can improve productivity by bringing more devices online and by moving more data faster.
  • The dramatic increase in functionality with the new Wi-Fi 6 standard will be coming at about the same time that two other revolutions in capability will be coming to market. 5G cellular systems will deliver more bandwidth over cell systems, and space based Internet will deliver global throughput at high bandwidth and low latency from space. This abundance of options for comms will give new flexibility to organizations. Enterprise technologists should open a dialog with communications hardware and software vendors to ensure maximum flexibility for the organization that will want to leverage all these options for communication.
  • The security strengths of Wi-Fi 6 are a positive, but configuration of security is always key. If devices are mis-configured or operated poorly then adversaries can exploit the networks and can do so at higher bandwidths than before. Enterprises must ensure appropriate security configuration and testing.
  • It is now more important than ever to know when rouge devices are trying to join your network or when adversaries are trying to bring devices into your spaces. Put detection technologies in place to mitigate these risks.
  • The higher bandwidth available to end users may require provisioning of higher bandwidth for backhaul to the Internet as well as upgrade of the security stack at the network level.
  • Consider how this new capability, as well as the new capabilities of 5G and Space based internet, can enable work to be done without traditional endpoints or even smartphones/tablets. In just a few years from now the age of ubiquitous computing and always on high speed communications from everywhere may mean there is less need to carry smartphones, tablets, laptops or other devices. The environment will be full of ways to interact with the computing power you need.


Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of OODA LLC, the technology research and advisory firm with a focus on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity which publishes Bob is the co-host of the popular podcast The OODAcast. Bob has been an advisor to dozens of successful high tech startups and has conducted enterprise cybersecurity assessments for businesses in multiple sectors of the economy. He was a career Naval Intelligence Officer and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Find Bob on Defcon.Social