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Wi-Fi 6, what’s all the buzz about? Explanations

by LukeStellar
Posted10.16.19 IoT Trends Wi-Fi 6 WLAN
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Wi-Fi has permeated our lives that we now have the expectation that no matter where we travel, what we do, or where we’re at, we need to be connected to Wi-Fi. We cannot imagine life without it. It has now become one of the most important technologies that all industries use to make them more efficient and more connected for real-time data to make business decisions.

 

1- Wi-Fi: a must have for industries

 

The transportation industries use this in airports, airplanes, subway’s and even buses to name a few. The hospitality industry uses Wi-Fi to connect customers. Many times, the customer’s experience is influenced by how well the Wi-Fi performed. After-all, if we travel for business or leisure, we must have reliable and secure wireless to stay connected to our customers, family and our home office. Hospitals need Wi-Fi for patient telemetry to better care for those in their care. They also use it for connecting medical devices and staff communication, not to mention tracking important lifesaving equipment like crash carts to ensure they are at the right places at the right time. Education uses Wi-Fi for instructing students whether at a K-12 school or college campuses. Most students now have a connected device for school as well as their personal devices. College students use Wi-Fi for connecting with other students, friends and family as well as accessing curriculum, testing, and video. Some colleges are even offering scholarships for e-sports. This will translate to mandating higher-speed wireless.

All of these industries are expected to have exponential growth over the next few years for IoT devices. There is a myriad of IoT devices, but one thing they all have in common is the requirement to be wirelessly connected. 

Due to the ubiquities and proliferation of Wi-Fi and the continued growth of the number of personally consumed devices we need to have more bandwidth, enhanced security, and the ability to connect more devices to an access point. Especially with all of the expected growth of IoT devices. This is what all the Wi-Fi 6 buzz is about?

Wi-Fi 6 offers enhanced security by the requirement of WPA3, the benefit of the AP acting more like a switch by allowing multiple users to communicate at the same time, so it is much better suited for dense environments. Not only is Wi-Fi 6 more efficient in dense environments by offering greater bandwidth but it also offers increased battery life by the nature of the timers that are used to wake clients. Users should notice their device battery power being extended before it requires a recharge.

So now let’s take a deep dive into how this is done.

Wireless uses modulation schemes by changing amplitude, frequency and/or phase. OFDMA/Orthogonal Frequency Division, Multiple Access was introduced as part of Wi-Fi 6. OFDMA is an extension of OFDM which provided up to 54 Mbps and operates on the 5GHz band. OFDMA makes it possible to better utilize the RF spectrum by using sub-carriers. These sub-carriers make it much more efficient and able to transmit frames more quickly and to multiple users. This all means better performance in dense environments like airports, subways, stadiums, and educational institutions.

 

2- Target Wake time: What is it and why is it great?

 

 

This target wake time aka TWT is what makes a devices power last longer, which is a benefit to all of us. Essentially it allows your device to sleep longer by waking only when the AP sends the TWT. This feature reduces energy consumption of the device because it will only need to wake when it receives the TWT. This is a major benefit of Wi-Fi 6. The number of devices has increased over the years, but battery technology hasn’t changed that much if at all. While we wait for better battery technology, we can use wireless to increase the time between recharging our devices.

What is a QAM? QAM otherwise known as Quadrature Amplitude Modulation is used to map signals to data bits by the use of constellations. The constellation represents binary data bits. Wi-Fi 6 is capable of 1024-QAM. The larger the constellation size the more data can be transmitted. We started out with 64, 256 and now with Wi-Fi 6 we can used 1024-QAM which increases bandwidth by 25 percent. Although there are some limitations because of noise factors in the RF. At close range 1024-QAM can be achieved. Essentially the larger the constellation size the more data bits can be sent. This accounts for higher speed Wi-Fi which is also one more advantage of Wi-Fi 6.

 

 

3- Wi-Fi 6: what about security?

 

 

We have previously discussed some of the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 like increased speeds, more users per AP and extended battery life,but what about security. Security should always be on top of mind. For years we have been using WPA2/AES for encryption. It was thought as very secure, it was even adopted by the U.S. Government.  This worked for years but as CPU processors became faster it was now possible to do some serious penetration testing.  It turns out that WPA2 was vulnerable. This made big news a couple of years ago. It turns out the 4-way handshake was exploited through a method called KRACK which is a key reinstallation attack. This attack manipulates replaying cryptographic handshake messages. Where a new key is installed therefor exploiting the encryption key so now all the packets are visible to the perpetrator. Because of this, it was necessary to find another secure authentication method. This is accomplished through WPA3.

WPA3 is a requirement of Wi-Fi 6. The good news WPA3 can also be used with Wi-Fi 5 but is optional, whereas it’s a requirement of Wi-Fi 6.  WPA3 offers better security against brute force “dictionary” attacks, more secure public Wi-Fi and stronger encryption. WPA3 uses 128-bit or 192-bit encryption. Essentially the more bits, the better security and less chance of exploiting the key.128-bit is used for personal networks and the 192-bit encryption is used for “enterprise” networks.

Some of the most unsecure Wi-Fi networks are in public places, like coffee shops, airports etc. These networks are normally unencrypted because they are “open” networks. WPA3 has a mechanism called “Opportunistic Wireless Encryption”, OWE, that prevents eavesdropping on “open” networks. So even these networks are encrypted and will have a level of security.

Lastly, WPA3 adds another layer of security called “Simultaneous Authentication of Equals”, SAE. SAE uses the “forward secrecy” protocol. This protocol means that even if a private key is compromised the perpetrator would have limited data because SAE uses a new encryption password for every connection. So, once they disconnect, they would not know the new key.

Wi-Fi is constantly on the move and will continue to evolve in the coming years, offering faster speeds and better security as the requirements for high density usage will continue to push the envelope of the technology.

Wi-Fi 6 is definitely worth the buzz and offers higher bandwidth, greater density and improved security.

To follow the author on Twitter: @LukeStellar

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