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Patty Luxton

By: Patty Luxton on September 17th, 2021

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Should I Upgrade To Wi-Fi 6? Why Or Why Not?

Wireless

We all know when it is time for a new mobile phone. The battery doesn’t hold a charge. The screen is cracked. It takes forever to do anything. Or the service provider lets us know an upgrade is available. We look at the new offerings, evaluate the staying power and benefits, and decide whether to switch. 

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy to know when to upgrade our Wi-Fi. We don’t see it, and we only really think about it when we add a device, it doesn’t work quickly, or we can’t remember the password. 

Wi-Fi has a four- to five-year refresh cycle.  If you’re running on older gear and experiencing significant lags, it is likely time for an update.

You may have heard about Wi-Fi 6, the latest and most up-to-date Wi-Fi option on the market today. As senior vice president of engineering services for Kelser Corporation, a managed IT services provider, I’ve worked in complex Wi-Fi environments for years.  I can help you figure out whether Wi-Fi 6 is right for your organization or not. 

Hidden Reasons Behind Slow Wi-Fi 

Most people have no idea how many devices are currently fighting for bandwidth on their Wi-Fi. As the Internet of Things (IoT) evolves and remote workforces expand, we connect more “smart” devices to the Internet every day. 

Many organizations only think about upgrading their Wi-Fi when they need to expand the physical distance they need to cover (or “extend the reach”). The problem with that approach is that Wi-Fi doesn’t work that way. 

Physics limits how far you can “stretch” an access point (AP) before the Wi-Fi quality is diminished. Rather than distance, think of Wi-Fi in terms of speed and density. How fast can your Wi-Fi support your users? How many can use the Wi-Fi at once without sacrificing speed? 

What Is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the latest iteration of wireless technology available on the market today. Known as 802.11ax, it is quickly becoming the industry standard as demand for expanded access point technology grows. 

What Are The Advantages Of Wi-Fi 6? 

You may be pricing different options and notice that Wi-Fi 6 is more expensive. Why should you invest the extra money in Wi-Fi 6? Will it be backward compatible with the applications you already have in place?

If you are experiencing more network or bandwidth congestion as you add devices or transition into Wi-Fi devices, Wi-Fi 6 may be right for you. Most of us don’t realize how many devices we are adding to our Wi-Fi daily. 

Past generations of Wi-Fi technology have limited bandwidth available to share among users. Wi-Fi 6 changes that.

Some of the advantages of Wi-Fi 6 include: 

1. Increased ability to operate multiple devices optimally 

Think about this in terms of your home. 

Many people have 40-50 devices connected without realizing it. Everything from lights to security systems, thermostats to music, televisions to security systems, and more. 

Most of us have experienced the lag that occurs when one person is streaming content. The bandwidth can only support so much information at once and often only one person can transmit at a time.

Now let’s scale that up and think about public spaces.

Offices (brick-and-mortar or remote), warehouses, hospitals, education complexes. If your Wi-Fi isn’t up to date, your communication is not efficient. 

With 20 people on an AP, Wi-Fi 6 does a much better job of scheduling things out and answering multiple demands for bandwidth at the same time.

It will not solve all problems because you still may be limited by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to some extent. But with optimized Wi-Fi capability, you can rest assured that the bottleneck is not in your network. 

2. Better Mobile Features 

As mobile devices become Wi-Fi 6 compatible, you want an infrastructure that can support the advanced features available.

For example, Wi-Fi 6 natively offers WPA3 for better encryption and security. It also improves battery life by putting your device to sleep when it’s not being used. 

Right now, you are either connected or not connected. When you are connected, you are sending beacons back and forth. With Wi-Fi 6, you may get some energy savings in addition to faster response time.

3. Backward compatibility 

Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible with previous wireless standards.  Devices that don't support Wi-Fi 6 will still function. However, they won't get those additional features and benefits such as the Wi-Fi "sleeping" or improved battery life.

What organizations are a good fit for Wi-Fi 6? 

Anyone who has outdated Wi-Fi and is suffering from Wi-Fi performance issues is a good candidate for Wi-Fi 6. Typically, Wi-Fi 6 is good for organizations with more than 25 connections per AP and higher density usage as well as those that use lots of sensors, equipment, and scanners. 

Some examples include:

  • Offices
  • Advanced manufacturing operations 
  • Health care facilities
  • Energy companies
  • Education centers
  • Utility providers  
  • Warehouses and Distribution Centers

In simplest terms, it comes down to the number of users, the density of usage, and speed. Organizations that need higher speed or more bandwidth for sharing big files (like video or voice over internet protocol or VoIP files) will benefit. 

If you have a local access requirement, Wi-Fi 6 is a good option for you. The problem with going out to the Internet is you are usually capped by your Internet bandwidth. So if you are staying local, you want to be able to file share as quickly as possible. 

Distribution centers can use Wi-Fi 6 to track inventory or equipment or other supply chain items. Do we have any stock? Looking for a forklift? Check your scanner. Wi-Fi 6 provides quick access to that kind of information. 

Education centers are often a complex environment with multiple buildings, classrooms, cinder block walls, glass doors, and security needs. Wi-Fi 6 can handle challenging settings where there is a lot of interference. 

Who might not be a good fit for Wi-Fi 6 today?

Wi-Fi 6 is great, but it might not be for everyone today. If you’ve recently upgraded your Wi-fi, you can likely wait a bit. Eventually, though, you will want to upgrade to take full advantage of its benefits.  

If you have one big, flat office space with typical email cloud access through the Internet, a limited number of IoT devices, and fewer than 20 connections per AP, you might be able to skate by with your existing Wi-Fi for now. 

But the next time you refresh, definitely upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 because it’s becoming the industry standard and it’s worth the extra investment.

Think You’re Ready to Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6?

Before you upgrade, investing in a proper site survey can help maximize the best placement for your APs end-to-end and save you time, money, and frustration.

A lot of companies learnt this lesson the hard way when they eyeball where to place their APs, and soon find out that they need Wi-Fi around the corner from an AP, but there are cinder block walls that it can't go through. Other companies may put four access points up because that's what they think they need, when they could have gotten by with one or two. 

Kelser can help your organization figure out how the latest technology will (or won’t) be a good match for your needs by performing a site assessment. 

We start with a full interview to understand your needs, users, devices, and what type of demand you expect from your WiFi. We then map out your space and provide a proper heat map of your current usage patterns as well as what you can expect from a good coverage environment.

While the Wi-Fi 6 wireless standard holds a lot of potential and boasts some great features, simply going out and buying Wi-Fi 6 capable hardware could be a costly mistake if you don’t plan first. 

If your business is in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or a nearby state, talk with my team about your wireless concerns.

We’ll help you figure out the root cause for your wireless issues or concerns and work together on the next steps to get your business the best wireless experience possible.

Talk to a Specialist

About Patty Luxton

Patty is Kelser's Senior Vice President of Engineering Services and an industry veteran with 25 years of experience in the field.

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