Richard Jeffares, CTO of Glide looks at the latest Wi-Fi updates

Wi-Fi 6 is the sixth and latest in a series of improvements to wireless technology. While it’s not yet ready to be adopted by everyone, various organisations like Asus have already announced upgrades compatible with 802.11ax that deliver a better performance for their users.

Each new Wi-Fi standard has brought improvements in performance. However, demand for speed, reliability and accessibility has often outpaced improvements particularly in complex environments. 802.11ax (or Wi-Fi 6 as it has been designated by the Wi-Fi Alliance) is designed specifically for high-density public places like sports stadiums, student accommodation, city centre public and residential spaces, and large business campuses.

According to analysts, it promises to be typically 3 times faster than Wi-Fi 5 and promises to speed things up where there are multiple devices on the network. This is hugely beneficial in IoT deployments, apartment buildings and offices where bandwidth hungry technology such as video conferencing and streaming is widely used and offers a great leap in performance in leisure spaces where Wi-Fi is crucial to guest satisfaction.

The next Wi-Fi standard needs to be ready to support the next generation of gigabit-capable devices

The fundamental problem with Wi-Fi is that bandwidth is shared among devices. The access points used to connect to Wi-Fi can have overlapping coverage areas and maintaining quality for end users moving between coverage areas can be challenging. In high-density environments with hundreds of end users, each attempting to stream Ultra High Definition (UHD) video at the same time, performance suffers. Wi-Fi 6 increases the total number of available channels, making it easier for devices to find a free path through the air to the access point. It also allows for up to eight simultaneous streams from the device to the access point, increasing throughput.

With the onset of gigabit broadband, Wi-Fi 6 means next generation devices will access Wi-Fi at the speeds they were designed. The UK is already committed to universal fibre broadband coverage with effectively unlimited capacity and future-proofing for the next 25 years. So, we know the infrastructure will be ready - but operators and users need state-of-art devices to feel the benefit - starting with the access points and routers used to connect devices wirelessly to the internet.

What is the benefit for customers?

Wi-Fi 6 enables significantly faster throughput in high density environments where many devices must use the same wireless access point. Managed, pervasive Wi-Fi guarantees coverage over every inch of a residence whilst ensuring privacy and security. Wi-Fi 6 pervasive Wi-Fi will ensure faster, more robust connections across public spaces and campuses and create new guest experiences.

Student accommodation operators see hundreds of thousands of connected user devices across their properties. With universities turning to blended learning post-COVID, bandwidth usage is only set to increase - so operators need to make sure they have the bandwidth to support residents’ needs. By making building connectivity future-proof with technology like Wi-Fi 6,- operators can differentiate properties and continue to be amongst the foremost of innovators in their marketplace.

With the explosive growth and anticipated continuation of home working, residential properties also need to be equipped with the best and most reliable Wi-Fi. Digital connectivity is already an important factor for many residents when choosing where to live. The rise of home working is only increasing its importance and operators need to be able to guarantee ultrafast, reliable connectivity to stay ahead of the competition.

Wi-Fi 6 offers all of the benefits of 5G with none of the limitations

Advocates will say 5G will replace expensive fibre broadband infrastructure. There will be no need for cables under our streets and into our homes - 5G will be beamed wirelessly into our 5G Home Hub or wirelessly into our Smart Devices, while residents will deal directly with their 5G provider, likely the same provider as their mobile phone. Landlords of apartment blocks will have a separate 5G commercial agreement to provide for back office services and communal spaces. However, 5G providers will regrettably face the same challenges as with 3G and 4G. 5G can’t defy physics and the costs to guarantee the same coverage as Wi-Fi massively outweigh the benefits. 5G technology can’t penetrate every building material which means coverage will always be unpredictable.

Mobile data is by some margin the most expensive. Residents will depend on 5G data services being available and deliver capacity to a range of increasingly bandwidth hungry devices to support applications like UHD streaming and online gaming. In the current market the best residential 5G deals are approximately £75 for 100GB per month. It’s possible that this would suffice for a typical online gamer but the comparable fibre services are uncapped, significantly more affordable and reliable and future-proof for the next generation of technology.

5G is a fantastic technology. However, rollout will be staggered and the impact of deteriorating relationships between the West and China creates significant uncertainties. 5G will not provide as much resilience and will neither be as reliable or future-proof as gigabit fibre broadband with Wi-Fi 6. This makes running critical building systems on 5G a risk and will limit the appeal of a rental property to the next generation of renters. With Wi-Fi 6 taking a front seat, it will be extraordinary to watch the impact that transforming connectivity standards will have on buildings and the rest of society.