How Wi-Fi’s Next Generation Could Help Keep Meetings Connected

While Wi-Fi 6, the next iteration of the widely used wireless protocol, could make things faster, its real benefit will come in the form of decreased device congestion—including at events.

Ever find yourself in a conference room so crowded with phones and laptops that the Wi-Fi has essentially slowed to a crawl?

We’ve all been there—despite ample attempts to help strengthen that signal over the years. But the latest attempt to modernize our Wi-Fi might be worth getting excited about.

Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of wireless technology, is starting to emerge—the technology was officially released this week and will appear in the forthcoming iPhone 11—and it has a lot of potential benefits for lots of industries, including meetings and events.

(Notably, it’s also the first generation of Wi-Fi to take on the Wi-Fi Alliance’s new, more consumer-friendly naming scheme, which eschews the more technical names used previously.)

So what’s the big to-do? Well, to put it simply, there will be a lot more bandwidth to go around. While the wireless technology will be faster—per CNET, the maximum data rate tops out at 9.6 gigabits per second, nearly triple the rate of the existing Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) technology—that’s simply a theoretical rate that the average laptop or smartphone will never be able to reach.

Get a room of smartphones and laptops together, though, and that’s a whole lot of extra headspace. In a piece about the technology for Smart Meetings, writer Malik Anderson explained how this could help out in an expo hall:

Wi-Fi 6 features more channels—double the number provided by Wi-Fi 5—thereby providing more room to send and receive data from the various devices in the event space. That will increase the number of devices that can operate simultaneously on each channel. Planners, suppliers, and attendees will be able to do business and exchange information much quicker than they were previously able to do.

Another benefit worth pointing out: The newest generation of Wi-Fi may be able to use an entirely new tier of wireless spectrum that older technologies won’t have access to. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission has been discussing opening up a 1,200 megahertz area of spectrum around the 6-gigahertz band that would  be made available exclusively to the new Wi-Fi variant. (Currently, most common variants of Wi-Fi rely on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.) This is somewhat controversial, and some groups such as the National Association of Broadcasters have raised concerns about expanding the spectrum into new areas. But if it goes through, it could help ease competition for wireless bandwidth.

Of course, while the faster Wi-Fi might be worth writing home about, it may be a while before it actually reaches your conference. So what’s the problem? Well, like prior variants, the new technology needs devices to support it, and because of the way that Wi-Fi works, it will take time for it to reach a mass scale.

“To be clear: This is not something you’ll want to run out to the store and buy a new laptop just to get. It’s not that game-changing of an update for any one device,” The Verge writer Jacob Kastrenakes explained earlier this year. “Instead, new devices will start coming with Wi-Fi 6 by default. As you replace your phone, laptop, and game consoles over the next five years, you’ll bring home new ones that include the latest version of Wi-Fi.”

And already, such devices are entering the market, with the Wi-Fi Alliance managing a certification program. That said, it will take a while for saturation to reach a point where it’s common for both devices and networks to support it.

But one thing you’ll want to be sure to invest in—or that your event venues should plan to invest in—are new routers that support the next-gen wireless technology in the coming years. After all, it takes two to tango when faster wireless is on the line.

(elenabs/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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