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Samsung's latest Galaxy smartphones usher in a new era of faster WiFi known as WiFi 6. Here's what that means

Samsung's latest Galaxy smartphones usher in a new era of faster WiFi known as WiFi 6. Here's what that means

Samsung Unpacked 2019

Samsung Unpacked 2019

Samsung Electronics CEO Dong Jin Koh

  • Samsung's new flagship phone has officially ushered in a new era of faster WiFi.
  • The company announced that Samsung's latest lineup of devices will support WiFi 6.
  • WiFi 6 is not only faster than the current version, it has other benefits, too.
  • As of yet, Apple hasn't been publicly talked about support for WiFi 6, although rumor has it that it will discuss it when it announces its next version of iOS.

While the world has been waiting with bated breath for the rollout of 5G, there's a new, and arguably more important, wireless network that is almost already here: WiFi 6.

And Samsung's newest flagship phones support it, Samsung announced at its Galaxy Unpacked event on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Apple has not yet formally said anything about WiFi 6 support yet, nor is it listed in the spec sheet for Apple's current flagship phone, the XS.

The rumor is that WiFi 6 will be part of Apple's next version of iOS (iOS 13), but we'll see. If the wireless chips that Apple has built into its current top-of-the-line phones are WiFi 6 compatible, they will be able to support the latest WiFi standard with a software upgrade. If not, WiFi 6 can't come to Apple phones until it uses a wireless chip that supports it.

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Chances are you've never heard of WiFi 6, in large part because the organization that oversees this wireless standard, the WiFi Alliance, adopted a new way to name all the different versions of WiFi late last year.

WiFi used to be labeled with alphabet soup: 802.11n (which has now become WiFi 4), 802.11ac (which has now become WiFi 5) and various combinations of "a," "b," and for a time, "g."

In any case, as of 2o19, that's changed. Today, WiFi 6 tops the list. In the network engineering world, it was also known as 802.11ax.

But WiFi 5 (also known as 802.11ac) is the one that is currently used in most currently available devices. Apple notes that its flagship phones use 802.11ac with Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO). MIMO means the device has multiple antennas for sending and receiving, which reduces error rates and boosts speed. WiFi 5 supports speeds of up to 3.46 gigabits per second (Gbps), as Network World's Keith Shaw describes it.

In comparison, WiFi 6 supports speeds of up to 9.6 Gbps.

Samsung Galaxy Fold


Samsung Galaxy Fold

But it's not just faster (although faster is always good). WiFi 6 is designed to improve WiFi in congested spots, such as during a keynote speech at a conference or at a stadium. And it saves battery life. It's even supposed to help improve speeds when WiFi 6 devices are using older WiFi networks.

This should help reduce dropped phone calls, too, not just data, as voice calls are increasingly handed off to WiFi networks behind the scenes.

To be sure, WiFi 6 support on your phone won't automatically make a single device on your home network faster, even if you go out and buy a new WiFi 6 router. Your home network is limited by your internet provider's speeds. Even if you have a massive 1G internet connection, WiFi 5 already supports 3X that speed.

But WiFi 6 will help improve the experience when lots of devices are connected at the same time. That's its whole jam. It should help when everyone is home and on their devices. When one person is watching Netflix, another playing a game, another video chatting, another working from home, WiFi 6 will allow more of these devices to maintain their max speed more of the time. This should help as people upgrade their homes with smart devices, or buy AR/VR headsets and other internet-connected devices.

There is a catch though: All of your home devices need to have the chips that support it to get the best network performance. So you won't see all the benefits until people in your house stop using old PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart lights and so on. While WiFi 6 devices are hitting the market in 2019, like the Samsung phone, it will still take a couple of years to be everywhere.

Meanwhile, WiFi 6 is also expected to be good news for the chip makers like Broadcom, Qualcomm, and Samsung Electronics. A billion Wi-Fi 6 chip-sets are expected to be shipped annually as of 2022, analysts estimate.

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