Windows 11 is finally available to the public. With the new PC operating system comes performance enhancements for many different aspects of the computing experience. One significant gaming-related improvement is Direct Storage, a feature previously only available on the Xbox Series X that promises to enable much faster game load and resume times. Another of the new features in Windows 11 is Wi-Fi Dual Station, a technology developed in partnership with Qualcomm that promises to improve online gaming performance. As more and more gamers use their laptops as their primary PC gaming experience, online gaming performance has become increasingly important—especially for more latency-sensitive games. Let’s take a closer look at Wi-Fi Dual Station and what Microsoft hopes to accomplish with it.
What is Wi-Fi Dual Station?
Wi-Fi Dual Station takes advantage of the inherently low latency nature of Wi-Fi 6 to deliver two simultaneous streams of packets from a game server to the client device. In the event of collisions or packet loss over wireless (either due to interference or poor signal), the technology mitigates the fallout by switching to the best available connection. To enable this, Microsoft pairs the dual-band feature, common in most routers, with Qualcomm’s FastConnect 6900, which supports 4-stream DBS (Dual Band Simultaneous) and can send two simultaneous streams of data over 2.4 GHz and 5GHz (or 6GHz where available). Games are far more latency-sensitive than they are bandwidth-intense, allowing them to take advantage of potentially better signal on either band.
What are its requirements?
Wi-Fi Dual Station requires tight integration between the game, game server, router, and client device. This means that games will need to specifically support Wi-Fi Dual Station if they are to take advantage of the new feature. Qualcomm claims that its own testing, using off-the-shelf Wi-Fi 6 routers and notebooks with Wi-Fi Dual Station, showed a four-times reduction in latency. Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Valve worked closely together to enable this feature, integrating it both into Windows 11 and the Valve Steamworks SDK. Valve is already shipping Wi-Fi Dual Station support in its games, most notably DOTA 2 and CS:GO. Again, users require a Windows 11 machine with Qualcomm’s FastConnect 6900 chipset to take advantage of the feature. One last thing to understand is that Wi-Fi Dual Station does not aggregate the total speed of these streams since they are effectively streaming the same data in parallel. So, while this technology will improve latency and jitter, it is unlikely to improve speeds.
Qualcomm appears to be leading the Wi-Fi Dual Station charge, having already announced partnerships with OEMs, such as Acer and Lenovo, and chipmaker AMD. This could give AMD and its OEMs an edge on Intel, whose Wi-Fi solutions do not support 4-Stream DBS or Dual Station. It will be interesting to see how AMD’s laptop OEM partners take advantage of this. Additionally, I’m curious to see if the motherboard vendors that today utilize Intel for desktop Wi-Fi solutions will switch to Qualcomm’s FastConnect 6900. If so, Wi-Fi Dual Station could provide an even higher-level gaming experience. With some of the high-end desktop motherboards shipping for over $500, customers would be justified in expecting the best possible Wi-Fi experience. This feature could also find its way into VR headsets, which can always benefit from lower latency. Looking to the future, Wi-Fi 7 will likely enable Wi-Fi Dual Station for all Wi-Fi chipsets, including Intel and MediaTek. However, Wi-Fi 7 isn’t expected to be available until roughly 2023 or 2024, and that’s a long time for online gamers looking for latency and jitter relief to wait.