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Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)

Wi-Fi 6 is the name given to the IEEE 802.11ax standard by the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry organization that provides thought leadership, spectrum advocacy, and industry collaboration. The new numbering makes it easier to distinguish between the different Wi-Fi generations. Wi-Fi 6 is designed to improve efficiency with up to 4x faster speeds and more capacity than Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). It also offers stronger guest and password security.

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Wi-Fi 6 Explained

Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, expands on the 802.11ac standard. Wi-Fi 6 provides increased speed, flexibility, and scalability to support growth in the number of IoT and client devices, increased use of cloud, and digital transformation initiatives. It enables IT to keep pace with increased demand for Wi-Fi leveraging the same 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands as Wi-Fi 5.

Why Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)?

The demand for wireless access is dramatically increasing, and the number and variety of devices and applications continues to grow. Wi-Fi 6 helps accommodate the growing number of mobile and IoT devices by increasing network efficiency and speed to better meet IT and business requirements. 15B+ IoT devices are expected to connect to enterprise infrastructure by 2029 (IDC, 2021).

Wi-Fi 6 Benefits

  • Higher data rates with 1024 QAM
  • Increased capacity
  • Improved performance in environments with many connected devices
  • Improved power efficiency
  • Enhanced support for IoT devices


Wi-Fi 6 Features

  • Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) effectively shares channels to increase network efficiency.
  • Multi-user multiple input, multiple output (multi-user MIMO) allows more downlink data to be transferred at one time, enabling access points (APs) to concurrently handle more devices.
  • Target Wake Time (TWT) significantly improves network efficiency and device battery life, including IoT devices.
  • IoT handling operating mode for low-power, low-bandwidth devices like sensors, automation, and medical devices.
  • WPA3 and Enhanced Open strengthen user privacy in open networks, simplify configuring security for headless IoT devices, and add higher levels of security to meet government, defense and industrial requirements.

Wi-Fi 6-Enabled Access Points
AP-555 AP-534/ AP-535 AP-514/ AP-515 AP-504/ AP-505
AP-518 AP-565/ AP-567 AP-565EX/ AP-567EX AP-574/ AP-575/ AP-577
AP-575EX/ AP-577EX AP-584/ AP-585/ AP-587 AP-585EX/ AP-587EX  

Wi-Fi 6 Access Point

Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6

  Wi-Fi 5 (802.11n/ac) Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)
Channels available 20/40/80/160 MHz1 20/40/80/160 MHz1
Bands used 2.4 and 5 GHz 2.4 and 5 GHz
Maximum # Spatial Streams (SS) to increase peak data rates 4×4 8×8
Highest order of modulation to increase bits/symbol and decrease error margin 256-QAM 1024-QAM
Multi-user MIMO to increase efficiency by providing concurrent user uploads downlink only uplink and downlink
OFDMA to increase efficiency by combining short packets No Yes
IoT Target Wake Time to conserve battery life No Yes
BSS Coloring to increase capacity and channel reuse No Yes
Enhanced Open to provide encryption on open, non-password protected networks No Yes
WPA3 for more robust authentication No Yes

Note: 1 Although 80/160 MHz channels are supported, they are not typically used due to high channel utilization. Wi-Fi 6E and the 6 GHz channel addresses this by providing up to seven additional 80/160 MHz channels.

How do I choose a Wi-Fi 6 vendor?

Your Wi-Fi vendor should:

  • Demonstrate industry leadership as recognized by leading analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, and IDC.
  • Deliver built-in security with unified policy enforcement across wired and wireless networks.
  • Simplify operations by using AI and machine learning to automate optimization and provide actionable recommendations to remediate issues.
  • Offer secure, energy efficient IoT capabilities to enable you to leverage APs as an IoT connectivity platform using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Zigbee, or USB ports.
  • Provide the flexibility to manage on-prem or in the cloud and to deploy with or without gateways.

Related Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) resources

Wi-Fi 6 delivers greater efficiency, security, and IoT innovation to support more users and devices – without increasing the number of APs.

What is Wi-Fi 6E?

Describes Wi-Fi 6E and how it differs from Wi-Fi 6.

Learn about Wi-Fi 6E

Wi-Fi 6 Quick Reference Guide

Summarizes Wi-Fi 6 information including channel information, data rates, highlights, and benefits.

Read the guide

What makes Wi-Fi 6 work?

Describes what Wi-Fi 6 is, how it solves today’s digital challenges, and how you can deliver this enhanced technology.

Read the solution overview

WPA3 and Enhanced Open: Next Generation Wi-Fi Security

Describes the advantages and benefits of WPA3 and Enhanced Open and how they are a long overdue evolution for Wi-Fi security.

Read the whitepaper

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