Welcome to WiFi 6!

Published May 14, 2019, 10:21 am IST
Updated May 14, 2019, 10:29 am IST
The first home products to offer the superior speeds of a new wireless standard are here.
Last week two companies rolled out WiFi 6 technology in India.
 Last week two companies rolled out WiFi 6 technology in India.

Lewis Carroll's Alice in "Through the Looking Glass" is taught a lesson by the Queen: "...We must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” They call it the Red Queen Effect and it is turning out to be a mantra of wireless communications in home and office.

We were only recently offered home WiFi speeds of 100 MBPS by broadband service providers. And now we are being told: 'That's all history. Get ready to work (and play) with 1000 MBPS -- that's 1 GBPS.' Gigabit Internet is here. Just weeks ago in this space, I had shared a heads-up that a new avatar of the wireless communication standard to be called WiFi 6 was coming soon.  Well, soon is now:


Last week two companies rolled out WiFi 6 technology in India: Netgear became the first maker of consumer routers to unveil products working at the zippier speeds of the new standard -- up to 5 GBPS max... in practice about 4 times faster than the fastest router today.

And in a complementary announcement, Aruba, a networking company of Hewlett Packard, announced the industry's first WiFi 6 access points for service providers --  used to create WiFi hotspots in public places.
I have been trying out one of the first Netgear WiFi 6 routers to reach India -- the Nighthawk AX-8 (RAX80) -- and it is a disrupter, not least in its aerodynamic shape that hides the antennae which create 8 separate WiFi streams --  four in the 2.4 GHz band and 4 in the 5 GHz band. It's not just the 4-fold speed boost it can offer: A clever new technology called OFDMA or Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access complements MU MIMO or Multi-User Multiple In Multiple Out. Forget the tongue-twisting jargon: the net effect is: no matter how many devices you tag on to your home WiFi network and how heavy their data demand, they will all get equal and simultaneous attention -- instead of waiting in queue to be served.  Think of it as a congestion-free expressway instead of a log-jammed street.

One confession: I could not honestly test the WiFi6 speeds with the AX-8 in my home because no one offers WiFi 6 speeds -- yet. To confirm the speed, I went to the Bangalore office of Netgear and tried the router there. To check out a device, I used a Samsung Galaxy S10, the only phone in the world,  that is WiFi6-ready. And sure enough, a speed meter that is helpfully provided by the Netgear app, showed the data speed crossing into the gigabit range... almost as exciting as seeing an aircraft crossing the sound barrier to hit Mach 1!

In other ways, the Nighthawk AX-8 is as simple to set up as its slower cousins and is available for Rs 39,999. A 4-stream version, AX-4, costs Rs 10,000 less. Not peanuts -- but that's the price of future proofing for 5 years at least and I'm guessing many customers won't mind.

Aruba's WiFi 6 campus Access Point

The campus of the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore is fully covered by Aruba's WiFi network. Last week during a seminar on networking, portions of the network in the CV Raman Block, sported shiny new access points: making that building one of the first in India to be WiFi 6-ready.

Aruba has launched two series -- 530 and 550 -- of campus access points for the new standard and hopes to leverage the early mover advantage.


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