Why is WiFi 6's Uptake so Slow? A Look at the Current Technological Environment

VirtualArmour Team

August 16, 2021

Why is WiFi 6’s Uptake so Slow? A Look at the Current Technological Environment

WiFi 6 offers a lot of benefits over its predecessors, but uptake remains sluggish. In this article, we will explore the factors in the current technical environment that are impacting this revolutionary new approach to WiFi’s slow uptake.

The Risk of Being an Early Adopter

WiFi 6 was first announced in 2018 by the WiFi Alliance, making it still relatively new. As such, many organizations aren’t yet ready to make the switch. There also aren’t a whole lot of WiFi 6 clients out there yet, limiting choice and making it more difficult for organizations to find equipment that they know will meet their needs. Though some individuals and organizations pride themselves on being early adopters, most are more inclined to wait until any bugs or potential issues have been addressed before taking the plunge. 

Companies in particular, who would need to invest large sums of money upgrading their entire networks to ensure compatibility, risk investing in unreliable equipment that may offer a poor UX experience or suffer from incompatibility issues. When you buy and deploy too soon, you might not be able to upgrade without re-purchasing everything again, dramatically increasing deployment costs. While larger enterprise-sized companies may be able to absorb the cost of re-purchasing equipment should they discover a compatibility issue or other problem, SMBs tend to have fairly limited IT budgets, which make re-purchasing a hard expense to handle.

Not All Devices on the Market Support WiFi 6

WiFi 5 remains the default when it comes to devices, so even if you upgrade your WiFi network, chances are most BYOD employees, customers, and visitors won’t likely notice the difference. WiFi 5 devices can work on WiFi 6 networks, but because they can’t broadcast in the 6GHz band, they will be limited to WiFi 5 speeds.

Samsung has already announced compatible products, and Intel has begun manufacturing WiFi 6E compatible devices (though they have done so without any fanfare or even a press release or announcement of any kind). However, Apple remains a holdout and has yet to announce a WiFi 6 compatible device. One source speculates that once Apple gets on board, we will see a noticeable increase in interest. 

Once more WiFi 6 compatible devices (including smartphones, desktops, laptops, and tablets) begin to emerge, companies and individuals alike may become more inclined to make the switch so they can enjoy all the benefits WiFi 6 offers. 

WiFi 5 is Still Going Strong

If it isn’t broken, why fix it? For many organizations, their WiFi 5 network and devices are still in good condition and continue to meet their needs. While upgrading to WiFi 6 will offer some benefits (assuming they invest in WiFi 6 compatible devices as well), many organizations are more inclined to stick with what works than invest in new equipment prematurely.

WiFi 6 Equipment is Still Quite Expensive

Because it is still relatively new, WiFi 6 compatible equipment and devices are still relatively expensive compared to their perfectly functional, tried-and-true WiFi 5 counterparts.

Most organizations can’t risk investing large sums of money in equipment that may present issues (such as the compatibility issues we will discuss later in this article) or be unable to meet their needs and are therefore more likely to upgrade with extreme caution. 

Not Every Organization is Ready to Upgrade

Upgrading your entire network, or even just your employee’s work devices, is a large expense. As such, many SMBs need to plan their upgrade cycle’s carefully and do their best to get the most out of their current equipment before investing in an upgrade. Many WiFi 5 routers and other WiFi 5 devices and equipment are still in excellent condition, so it may not make sense to invest in a whole new network right now when your current solution continues to meet your needs. 

Depending on where an organization is in their upgrade cycle, it may be a few years until a new networking solution is needed and everyone is due for new work phones and laptops. And even if organizations are ready to upgrade now, they may opt to stick with what they know and wait to adopt WiFi 6 on their next upgrade cycle once more devices, APs, routers, and other equipment options are available and have a proven track record.

Upgrading Your Whole Network is Inherently Disruptive

Upgrading is also disruptive, impacting productivity while the network is offline and potentially presenting a learning curve as workers familiarize themselves with new devices and equipment. As such, many organizations try to minimize the number of times they upgrade or may time their upgrades for periods of downtime when business is likely to be slow, and the impact of the disruption can be minimized. 

Your WiFi Network & Devices are Just One Piece of the Enterprise Network Puzzle

When most companies think of WiFi, they think of the devices that rely on the network and the visible equipment, such as APs, that support them. However, upgrading your WiFi network, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and desktops is only the beginning. 

To fully enjoy the benefits WiFi 6 offers, organizations will need to upgrade their entire network infrastructure, which can be costly and highly disruptive. Only upgrading your WiFi can present compatibility issues with the rest of your IT infrastructure, so you will need to conduct a holistic review of your existing IT ecosystem before committing to WiFi 6.  

WiFi 6 Currently Presents Compatibility Issues

Because WiFi 6 is still relatively new, it presents a number of compatibility issues organizations need to be aware of. For example, a number of WiFi adapters produced by Intel have known issues with WiFi 6. Though Intel has released driver updates to fix this issue, these updates are not included in any Windows updates, so they will need to be updated manually. 

Compatibility issues can wreak havoc on your network, preventing your workers from completing tasks and bringing productivity to a grinding halt. As such, it is critical that you do your research before you commit to upgrading and consider consulting the experts to ensure you’ve covered all your bases. 

Whether you choose to upgrade now or continue to wait, it is vital that your equipment is correctly installed and configured to ensure your network remains secure. For more information about WiFi 6, or to begin planning your network upgrade, please contact our team today.

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