Wi-Fi 6: The Technology That Will Help Bridge the Digital Gap

Although the new Wi-Fi 802.11ax standard, better known as the sixth generation Wi-Fi, was designed to improve the speed and stability of indoor wireless connections, the social and economic context of Latin America, following the historical trend and thanks to the WISPs, will turn this technology into one of the best allied tools in the reduction of the digital gap.
Why will Wi-Fi 6 be crucial in bridging the digital gap?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B.

Wi-Fi is a technology that was born in 1999 in response to the need to create compatible wireless connections between different devices. The companies 3Com, Airones, Intersil, Lucent Technologies, Nokia and Symbol Technologies joined forces to create the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, or WECA, which developed the IEEE 802.11b standard under the brand name: Wi-Fi [1].

With the Wi-Fi standard, the user was assured for the first time that all equipment bearing this label could connect wirelessly, regardless of the device manufacturer.

The IEEE 802.11 standard was designed to replace the physical and MAC layers of the 802.3 (Ethernet) standard. This means that the only difference between a Wi-Fi network and an Ethernet (wired) network is the way in which data frames or data packets are transmitted without the presence of a cable; the rest follows the same principle [2].

Wi-Fi networks are very compatible, versatile and fast; over time they have been technologically improved. During this time, versions A, B, G, N, and the fifth generation using the AC nomenclature have emerged, which was developed on its predecessor: Wi-Fi N, which in turn is an evolution of the previous ones, so that all previous generations (B, G, N) are included in the fifth generation: Wi-Fi AC, achieving a higher connection speed thanks to a wider broadband, compatibility with more streams (MIMO), as well as a number of built-in technologies.

The best way to explain the advantages to a person unfamiliar with engineering jargon is that the fifth generation of the standard was developed, at least in theory, to achieve speed and stability similar to a network cable [3].

Wi-Fi 1 802.11a
Wi-Fi 2 802.11b
Wi-Fi 3 802.11g
Wi-Fi 4 802.11n
Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac
Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax

The new Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax standard

Wi-Fi 6 (Wi-Fi 802.11ax) was announced in 2018, as a significant improvement over the AC standard, ensuring faster connections, longer range, lower power consumption and above all, great stability in packet management to avoid drops in connections [4].

Wi-Fi 6 technology guarantees lower latency when many devices are connected to the same router simultaneously, efficiently managing heavy traffic thanks to technologies such as OFDMA or others such as the already existing and now improved MU-MIMO.

The marriage of WISP and WIFI

The term WISP refers to Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) [5], which provide Internet connectivity services through wireless networks, generally P2P focused WIFI, which have become widespread and deployed as a solution for small providers in rural areas thanks to the consolidation of these technologies and the reduction in equipment costs.

It is for this reason that rural wireless service operators are nowadays known as WISPs, since they provide low-cost rural wireless internet, which have managed to increase the fixed access of citizens living in the most remote regions of the continent thanks to point-to-point and point-to-multipoint technologies.

The WISPs have spontaneously developed a successful model at a global level, their presence is focused especially in developing countries, both in Asia, Africa and Latin America, becoming one of the most effective formulas (known so far) for the reduction of the digital gap, showing more concrete connectivity results than governmental and multilateral plans, including the appropriation of ICTs, as they have proven to be able to introduce, explain and demonstrate the benefits offered by the Internet in their communities, teaching their own neighbors how to take advantage of technological tools in their daily lives.

For large telecommunications operators, especially multinationals, rural areas with low population density and far from urban centers are not part of their business model in the provision of fixed, residential and flat-rate Internet services, so they seek to avoid their presence in these remote areas, since it is not financially sustainable.

For the small entrepreneurs in the provision of ICT services, the WISPs and small ISPs, this situation became a great opportunity, since most of them cannot compete in urban areas with a multinational, many of them do not even try.

Bridging the digital gap

Although mobile data technology, especially 4G, has been key in reducing the digital gap worldwide, especially through the massification of Smartphones, it is important to note that access to this resource is limited, both in coverage (Latin America has very low coverage in rural areas) and in data capacity, since plans are limited and when unrestricted packages are marketed, they are very expensive for people who are below the poverty line in our continent.

It is for this reason that WISPs, as providers of unlimited fixed and home wireless Internet service, are the main protagonists and responsible for a real and palpable reduction of the digital gap in rural areas, the same areas that large operators do not cover due to financial unfeasibility.


One of the greatest difficulties faced by WISPs is that they use the Wi-Fi protocol as the technical standard for the provision of their services, mainly because it is an accessible technology that operates in free band, either 2.4g or 5. 8g, which allows them to provide the service without the need for special permits from the state for the use of the radio-electric spectrum; however, the same technology that catapulted them, is the one that limits them technologically, as it was originally designed for interiors, so that aspects such as distance, weather, microwave corridors and other external factors, significantly impact the stability of the service, a factor that has been remedied over time thanks to improvements in the Wi-Fi standard, promoting greater stability and quality with the fifth generation (AC).

Undoubtedly, the arrival of the sixth generation of Wi-Fi (802. 11ax), will greatly enhance the scope, coverage and quality of service of WISPs, which will have a standard that was designed for longer distances for the first time, with greater control of packet loss, constant data flow, lower latency and overall, better quality of service, allowing these operators to ensure the smooth, stable and fast provision of data, which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on reducing the digital gap throughout Latin America, and in general, in third world countries.

In conclusion, the arrival of the sixth generation of the Wi-Fi standard (802.11ax) will significantly improve the quality of Internet service provision provided by the so-called WISPs in Latin America, which in turn will help reduce the digital gap throughout the region, especially in the most remote regions, allowing them to guarantee their communities a faster, higher quality service, with lower latency and at a fair cost.
Photo: Misha Feshchak, on unsplash.com

[1] Computer Hoy article on the history of WIFI
[2] Encyclopedic article on the history of Wi-Fi
[3] Article from ICT Blog, Hipertextual, on the evolution of WIFI
[4] Article from ADSLZONE on Wi-Fi 6
[5] Encyclopedic article on WISPs

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources. The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.