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Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E and Detection

Amy Devine


Throughout the last decade, Wi-Fi has undergone some major changes and upgrades. Wi-Fi 6 — or 802.11ax — is the latest iteration of wireless fidelity technology and the new Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard for wireless local-area networks as outlined by the Wi-Fi Alliance. This version of the tech was first made available in 2019.

Let's take a look at what Wi-FI 6 really is, what it's capable of, and explore the differences between it and Wi-Fi 6E.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

802.11ax is the successor to 802.11ac: a.k.a. Wi-Fi 5, which was introduced in 2014. One of the major differences between 2014's version and Wi-Fi 6 is that 802.11ax provides 12 streams across its 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. Wi-Fi 5 is limited to 8 streams in a dual-band configuration.

Even with the modulation changes and upgrades to the 802.11 standard, 802.11ax is backward-compatible with all other 802.11 standards. This is because Wi-Fi 6 utilizes the same management and control frames as its previous versions. The only difference is that 802.11ax adds a High Efficiency Signal (HE-SIG-A/B) as a preamble to the same clear-to-send (CTS) and request-to-send (RTS) frames. This allows 802.11ax to avoid collisions with older Wi-Fi standards when deployed in crowded Wi-Fi environments.

Here's a table for comparison:

Gen/IEEE StandardFrequencyMaximum LinkrateYear
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)2.4/5 GHz600-9608 Mbit/s2019
Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)5 GHz433-6933 Mbit/s2014
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n)2.4/5 GHz72-600 Mbit/s2009

The 802.11ax dimensions are as follows, according to Cisco:

  • Denser modulation using 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) enables a speed burst of more than 35%.
  • Orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA)-based scheduling helps reduce overhead and latency.
  • Robust high-efficiency signaling allows for better operation at a significantly lower received signal strength indication (RSSI).

Another differentiator between legacy 802.11a/g/n/ac and 802.11ax lies in their modulation. For the former WLANs use Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), whereas the latter uses Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). Leveraging OFDMA allows for greater throughput and minimizes most of the interface issues that may affect OFDM in a crowded RF environment.

Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6E

Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E both support 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, but Wi-Fi 6E extends just a touch further. In fact, the E in Wi-Fi 6E stands for "extended:": It literally reaches beyond the spectrum capabilities of Wi-Fi 6, as it is currently the only Wi-Fi protocol that supports the new 6GHz frequency band.

Through that extension, Wi-Fi 6E offers even lower latency and faster speeds than Wi-Fi 6.

The increased spectrum of Wi-Fi 6E inherently offers more channels, which, in turn, means severe interference is considerably less likely. Otherwise, the 6 and 6E standards are largely similar.

The benefits of Wi-Fi 6

Wi-Fi 6 allows for more predictable experiences when using advanced applications and better, more stable support for wireless LAN users in dense environments.

Some examples of advanced applications that perform more predictably on Wi-Fi 6 are:

  • 4K or 8K video.
  • High-density, high-definition collaboration apps.
  • All-wireless offices.

802.11ax offers several other notable benefits, such as:

  • Increased throughput speeds (even when congested).
  • Optimized battery life on Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices.
  • Reduced bandwidth congestion.
  • Enhanced support for internet of things (IoT) devices.

Better security

Wi-Fi 6 also offers stronger security than its predecessors. Thanks to its beamforming feature, it's capable of transmitting Wi-Fi signals directly to clients, rather than over a broad spectrum.

Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices can also handle WPA3 encryption — the newest iteration of Wi-Fi security. WPA3 offers more robust password protection than its precursors and uses 256-bit encryption algorithms, making it notably harder for people to hack into your network.

Wi-Fi 6 availability

Wi-Fi 6 is supported by a swath of commercial products for leading manufacturers, such as Apple, Dell, Lenovo, HP, Microsoft, Huawei, and more.

Beyond new smartphones, laptops, and other gadgets, 802.11ax support also ships with other commercial products from network equipment providers, such as Aruba, Cisco and Netgear. With increasing support for Wi-Fi 6, it's so important to have detection capabilities.

Wi-Fi 6 detection

Epiq Solutions' Flying Fox Enterprise sensor system has you covered for 802.11ax sub-6GHz. Flying Fox can detect, identify, and geolocate Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices just as it does for older Wi-Fi protocols, with zero false positives — giving you peace of mind and security.

Flying Fox Enterprise sees the management and control frames of all beacon and probe frames being transmitted. The system can then pull the MAC address and device manufacturer information from these devices and present them as it does other Wi-Fi protocols.

Contact Epiq Solutions to learn more about Flying Fox Enterprise and our other solutions.

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