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Faster Wi-Fi officially launches today

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But Friday’s iPhone 11 launch is arguably the bigger deal

Photo by Nilay Patel / The Verge

The next generation of Wi-Fi has been trickling out over the past year, but this week, its launch is going to accelerate. The Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization that oversees implementation of the Wi-Fi standard, is launching its official Wi-Fi 6 certification program. That might sound boring, but it means the Wi-Fi 6 standard is truly ready to go, and tech companies will soon be able to advertise their products — mostly brand new ones — as certified to properly support Wi-Fi 6.

Wi-Fi 6 includes a bunch of new technologies that combine together to make Wi-Fi more efficient. This is particularly important because of just how many devices we all have these days — it’s not unusual for a family to have a dozen or more gadgets all connected to a Wi-Fi network at once. “The home scenario today looks like the dense deployment of yesterday,” says Kevin Robinson, marketing leader for the Wi-Fi Alliance.

So the point of Wi-Fi 6 is to boost speeds within a crowded network. The theoretical maximum speed for Wi-Fi is increasing, too — to 9.6 Gbps from 3.5 Gbps — but those numbers don’t really matter since you’ll never get them at home. What matters is that Wi-Fi 6 has a bunch of tools allowing it to operate faster and deliver more data at once, so the speeds you actually get will be higher than before. Those gains will be most noticeable on crowded networks, where the efficiency improvements will make up for the higher Wi-Fi demands. (Wi-Fi 6 also mandates a major security improvement.)

Really, though, today’s launch is largely a formality. The Wi-Fi certification program — while important, and very much marking the beginning of the Wi-Fi 6 era — isn’t required, and companies have been rolling out Wi-Fi 6 devices for months that likely work just fine. But the Wi-Fi Alliance is made up of members of the tech industry big and small, and its actions represent what wireless features and technologies they’re interested in delivering, so this is a clear sign that Wi-Fi 6 has arrived.

All that said, this week’s biggest news for Wi-Fi 6 has no immediate connection to the Alliance: it’s that the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro go on sale, and both support Wi-Fi 6. That’s going to quickly put millions of Wi-Fi 6 devices into people’s hands, meaning adoption of the new tech will very suddenly be well underway.

Publicly, at least, Apple hasn’t certified any of its devices with the Alliance for years (though it remains a member), but it’s hard to imagine the phones won’t work just fine. The Alliance says Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 will be the first smartphone certified for the new standard. Other older products can receive certification if they apply for it and meet the requirements. But because Wi-Fi 6 requires new hardware, most products currently on the market won’t be able to be updated to support it. Instead, expect new gadgets you buy from here out to be increasingly likely to support it.