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WPA3 for WiFi 6 and 6E: Requirements, Backwards Compatibility, and Transition Tips

The WPA3 and WiFi 6 combination, along with WiFi 6E, is a significant leap forward in wireless network security and performance. WPA3, the latest WiFi Protected Access standard, brings crucial security enhancements, while WiFi 6 (802.11ax) and its extension into the 6 GHz band (WiFi 6E) deliver faster speeds and better efficiency. Let’s explore what you need to know about using WPA3 with WiFi 6 and 6E.

WPA3 and WiFi 6: A Perfect Match

WPA3 introduces several advanced security features, such as Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE), Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE), and stronger encryption algorithms. It comes in two modes: WPA3-Personal for home networks and WPA3-Enterprise for businesses. Further exploration into these modes and their comparisons to WPA2 can be found in “What is WPA3 and what are the differences with WPA2?”

WiFi 6E and 6 GHz Band

But does WiFi 6 require WPA3? The answer is no for WiFi 6 devices operating in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, where WPA3 is optional. However, for WiFi 6 devices in the 6 GHz band, WPA3 is mandatory. So, if you want to take full advantage of WiFi 6E, a WPA3 setup is recommended.

WPA3 and Older WiFi Standards

Now, you might be wondering, does WiFi 5 support WPA3? The answer will depend on when your Wi-Fi 5 device was released:

  • Before 2018 – These devices are unlikely to support WPA3, as the official certification process began in June 2018. Still, some manufacturers have provided firmware updates to enable WPA3 compatibility on these devices.
  • After 2018 – These are more likely to support WPA3, as manufacturers strive to introduce the latest features.
  • After 2020 – Since WPA3 became mandatory for new WiFi certifications in 2020, most devices released after this year should support it.

The good news is that WPA3 is backwards compatible with WPA2 devices in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. So, your older devices can still connect to a WPA3 network if transition mode has been enabled, although they won’t have the enhanced security benefits.

Transitioning to WPA3 and WiFi 6E

To get the best WPA3 WiFi experience, you’ll need a WiFi router that supports the new standard. Look for a router that advertises WPA3 and WiFi 6E capabilities.

When setting up your network, consider creating a separate WPA3 SSID for your WiFi 6E devices, while keeping an existing WPA2 SSID for older devices (you could also use WPA3 transition mode). This approach allows you to take advantage of the WPA3 benefits on compatible devices, while still supporting your legacy equipment.

The Benefits of WPA3 and WiFi 6E

With WPA3 and WiFi 6E working together, you can expect:

  • Enhanced security: WPA3 protects against offline dictionary attacks, provides forward secrecy, and offers a more secure handshake.
  • Increased performance: WiFi 6E opens up the 6 GHz band, offering wider channels, more spectrum, and less interference, translating to faster speeds and lower latency.
  • Better efficiency: WiFi 6 introduces features like OFDMA and OBSS, which improve network efficiency, especially in high-density environments.

Conclusion

The transition to WPA3 and WiFi 6E is an essential step in future-proofing your wireless network security and performance. By understanding the requirements, compatibility considerations, and benefits of these technologies, you can make informed decisions when upgrading your devices and setting up your network. Embrace the WPA3 WiFi 6 and 6E combination to experience a faster, more secure, and more efficient wireless future.

Author Bio –
Product Manager – Wireless

Julio Petrovitch is a product manager at NetAlly, plus a certified CWNA/CWAP/CWDP/CWSP. He’s worked with network design, testing and validation for more than 15 years. Throughout he’s career he has had the opportunity to work with multiple networking technologies, including POTS, DSL, Copper/Fiber Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and BLE.

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