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What is WiFi 6 and How Will it Affect Me?

THE UNDERLYING TECHNOLOGY AND STANDARDS WHICH DRIVE WIFI HAVE EVOLVED ALONG WITH ITS USES. COMPARED WITH OTHER WIFI STANDARDS, WIFI 6 REPRESENTS ONE OF THE SMALLER EVOLUTIONARY STEPS, BUT THAT DOESN’T TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM ITS IMPORTANCE.
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What is WiFi 6?

Released in 2019, WiFi 6 is the marketing term used to refer to the sixth generation of wireless local-area networks. Such networks are based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard, a successor to the 802.11ac standard.

WiFi-6

The following table provides an overview of WiFi standards that have been released or announced so far:

Generation Wi‑Fi 7
Standard 802.11be
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 40,000
Released No yet
Radio Frequency (GHz) 2.4/5/6
Generation Wi‑Fi 6E
Standard 802.11ax
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 600 to 9,608
Released 2020
Radio Frequency (GHz) 2.4/5/6
Generation Wi‑Fi 6
Standard 802.11ax
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 600 to 9,608
Released 2019
Radio Frequency (GHz) 2.4/5
Generation Wi‑Fi 5
Standard 802.11ac
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 433 to 6,933
Released 2014
Radio Frequency (GHz) 5
Generation Wi‑Fi 4
Standard 802.11n
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 72 to 600
Released 2008
Radio Frequency (GHz) 2.4/5
Generation Wi‑Fi 3
Standard 802.11g
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 6 to 54
Released 2003
Radio Frequency (GHz) 2.4
Generation Wi‑Fi 2
Standard 802.11a
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 6 to 54
Released 1999
Radio Frequency (GHz) 5
Generation Wi‑Fi 1
Standard 802.11b
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 1 to 11
Released 1999
Radio Frequency (GHz) 2.4
Generation Wi‑Fi 0
Standard 802.11
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 1 to 2
Released 1997
Radio Frequency (GHz) 2.4

As you can see, there are actually two types of WiFi 6: regular WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E. The main difference between them is that WiFi 6E adds support for the 6 GHz band, whereas WiFi 6 supports only the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.

Before the arrival of WiFi 6, it was common for device and software manufacturers to advertise support for WiFi standards (such as 802.11ac or 802.11g) instead of WiFi generations (WiFi 6, WiFi 5, and so on).

The WiFi Alliance, a non-profit organization that owns the Wi-Fi trademark, is recommending that all hardware and software manufacturers adopt the labeling conventions to standardize the information presented to consumers and make it easier for them to tell which technologies do different devices support.

Devices that have passed the WiFi Alliance’s certification process are now labeled “WiFi 6 Certified,” and such devices can be trusted to deliver all of the advantages described in the next section of this article, including superior WiFi 6 speeds and security, among others.

What are the Advantages of WiFi 6?

WiFi 6 is more than just a new name and a set of labeling conventions. There are many significant improvements that are incorporated into WiFi 6 that will make it much more useful to wireless users around the world. Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages of using WiFi 6 technology.

Greater data transfer speed

Each generation of WiFi has provided greater data transfer speed and WiFi 6 is no exception. The theoretical speed of WiFi 6 is 10Gbps. It achieves this speed increase by combining the 2.4GHx and 5GHz spectrum bands and employing MU-MIMO technology for both uplink and downlink data transfers.

Greater data transfer speed

More efficient data encoding leads to the higher throughput. More powerful chips used to encode and decode signals allow more data to be carried by the same radio waves. A single device can achieve up to 40% faster data transfer when using WiFi 6 versus WiFi 5. Even 2.4GHz networks will experience increased speeds when using a WiFi 6 router.

Increased battery life

Another important benefit afforded by the move to WiFi 6 is the increased battery life that devices accessing a WiFi 6 network will enjoy. This improvement is beneficial to the average user and can be a critical factor in enabling low-power devices that comprise the Internet of Things (IoT) to make use of WiFi communication.

Increased battery life

Battery life is extended through a feature known as target wake time (TWT). TWT enables the WiFi access point to communicate with your device to tell it when exactly to turn its WiFi radio to wake up and go to sleep. This helps conserve power as your device will spend more time in sleep mode than with previous WiFi implementations.

Better performance in congested settings

One of the ways that WiFi performance can be negatively affected is when it is used in crowded areas where there is competition for the signal. WiFi 6 employs a number of new technologies to increase the utility of WiFi by minimizing the problems of network congestion.

Better performance in congested settings

One way this is accomplished is with a technology known as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). This allows a wireless channel to be divided into a number of sub-channels that can each be used to carry data for a different device. This allows a single access point to communicate with more devices simultaneously.

Improvements in Multiple In/Multiple Out (MIMO) capabilities now allow a router with multiple antennas to both send and receive data transmissions from multiple devices at the same time. WiFi 5 could only send, but not receive multiple signals at once. This will lead to better performance in situations where many users are attempting to access the network.

Improvements in beamforming are also part of the WiFi 6 standard. Beamforming focuses a stronger signal in the direction of connected devices rather than broadcasting at the same level in all directions. The router attempts to optimize the signals that it sends to a specific device.

These are some of the ways that WiFi 6 alleviates the problems of accessing WiFi in congested settings such as sports arenas or entertainment venues. It promises to make connecting to wireless networks more efficient no matter where you are located.

Stronger Security

All WiFi 6-certified devices must support Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3), the newest security standard for wireless networks. The standard replaces WPA2, which suffers from several vulnerabilities, some of which can be used to intercept and steal transmitted data.

Stronger Security

WPA3 addresses the weaknesses of WPA2 by replacing the authentication method referred to as the pre-shared key (PSK) exchange with a much stronger authentication method, called the Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) exchange.

SAE is used in WPA3-Personal mode together with AES-128 WiFi encryption. In WPA3-Enterprise mode, multiple Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) methods are used instead, and they’re optionally paired with 192-bit WiFi encryption.

In addition to personal and enterprise networks, WPA3 also helps improve the wireless network security of open WiFi networks, such as those found in airports, by providing unauthenticated data encryption using the Wi-Fi Enhanced Open wireless encryption standard.

WiFi 5 Vs WiFi 6

There are many people with WiFi 5 routers who want to know if getting a new WiFi 6 router is worth the money and effort. Let’s compare WiFi 5 vs 6 directly to reveal how wide the gap between the two standards is and whether it’s worth crossing:

WiFi 5 WiFi 6
Release date 2014 2019
Radio Frequency (GHz) 5 2.4/5
Maximum Linkrate (Mbit/s) 433 to 6933 600 to 9608
Security WPA, WPA2 WPA, WPA2, WPA3
Modulation 256-QAM 1024-QAM
MIMO MU-MIMO (downlink) MU-MIMO (bidirectional)
Response time Longer Shorter
Energy usage Higher Lower

As you can see, WiFi 6 is technologically superior to WiFi 5 in every way — just like one would expect a newer WiFi standard to be. Its superiority is visible the most in the following three areas:

  • Throughput: WiFi 6 supports considerably higher maximum data transfer speeds than WiFi 5, and its latency is much lower.
  • Coverage: Because WiFi 6 devices can broadcast in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands (WiFi 6E can additionally broadcast in the 6 GHz), they can achieve better coverage, especially in high-density scenarios.
  • Security: Unfortunately, WiFi 5 devices are stuck with WPA2 security, which is no longer strong enough to protect against the latest threats. WiFi 6 devices, on the other hand, can use WPA3.

The good news is that WiFi 6 routers have become quite affordable, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money to take advantage of everything the standard has to offer.

Should I Consider Upgrading to WiFi 6?

Here are some factors to consider if you are thinking about upgrading to WiFi 6:

Equipment upgrades are necessary — You will obviously need a new router at some point. If you already have multiple devices that support WiFi 6, such as smartphones, laptops, and smart home gadgets, then it makes a lot of sense to purchase a router that supports the WiFi standard so that you can use them to their full potential. If you don’t have any WiFi 6 device, then there’s no rush since you wouldn’t be able to enjoy any real benefits.

An increasing number of wireless devices — As the number of wireless-capable devices in the average household increases, the benefits of employing a WiFi 6 network are more evident. If you plan on implementing smart home technology or just want to be prepared for future growth, your next router purchase should be a device of the WiFi 6 variety.

If you are satisfied with your current WiFi network and its performance, you should file away the WiFi 6 information for when you are preparing for your next purchase. Perhaps you will be faced with WiFi 7 as an option by then.

A good route to follow if you are considering an upgrade is to conduct a detailed WiFi site survey of your current WiFi network and its coverage area. Using a dedicated WiFi analysis tool like NetSpot will help you find issues with your WiFi network as well as plan for a new implementation. It’s a great tool for anyone who is responsible for maintaining a wireless network.

Best WiFi 6 Routers and Mesh Systems

Since the release of the WiFi 6 standard, many great routers and mesh systems have been released. Here are our favorites.

Best WiFi 6 routers

Here are a few quality WiFi 6 routers for you to consider if you’re thinking about upgrading to WiFi 6:

  1. ASUS RT-AX88U
  2. Netgear Nighthawk AX8
  3. TP-Link Archer AX6000

choice #1
  • Not Enough Ratings

This router by ASUS conforms to the 802.11ax standard and supports MU-MIMO and OFDMA technology. It contains 8 LAN ports and 4 antennas and is compatible with ASUS mesh WiFi systems. It also offers commercial-grade security through its AiProtection feature.

Asus RT-AX88U

Pros and Cons

  • Fantastic performance
  • Broad connectivity options
  • Commercial-grade security
  • Expensive

choice #2
  • Not Enough Ratings

Netgear’s Nighthawk AX8 fully supports the WiFi 6 standards and provides for up to 4 simultaneous WiFi streams. It is backward compatible with all of your current wireless devices and is easy to set up and manage. The router’s powerful 64-bit processor delivers a smooth streaming and gaming experience.

Netgear Nighthawk AX8

Pros and Cons

  • Interesting design
  • Powerful CPU
  • Easy setup with the Nighthawk app
  • Prepare for a sticker shock

choice #3
  • Not Enough Ratings

The Archer AX600 by TP-Link is another router that promises to deliver the increased speed and connectivity inherent in the WiFi 6 standards. It supports OFDMA for better performance in congested settings and uses intelligent band steering to direct users to less used bands. Parental controls and anti-virus protection are built into the device for increased network protection.

TP-Link Archer AX6000

Pros and Cons

  • Great parental controls
  • Class-leading speeds and coverage
  • Built-in malware detection system
  • Takes up a lot of space
  • Enthusiast pricing

Best WiFi 6 mesh systems

If you live in a large house or want to cover a lot of space with one seamless WiFi network, then the following best WiFi 6 mesh routers are just what you need:

  1. TP-Link Deco X20
  2. Netgear Orbi RBK752
  3. Eero 6 Plus

choice #1
  • Not Enough Ratings

The TP-Link Deco X20 is the best WiFi 6 mesh router because it’s affordable yet perfectly capable of covering an entire home with fast WiFi capable of reaching speeds up to 1,800 Mbps. The router is loaded with extra useful features that address everything from modern-day cybersecurity threats to the need of gamers and remote workers for low latency.

TP-Link Deco X20

Pros and Cons

  • TP-Link HomeShield
  • Compact size
  • Great range and performance
  • Fairly affordable
  • Lacks customization options

choice #2
  • Not Enough Ratings

If you don’t let the large size and steep price of the Netgear Orbi RBK752 put you off, then the WiFi 6 mesh system will reward you with blazing-fast WiFi speeds and the ability to cover up to 5,000 sq. ft. with just two units. Of course, you can expand the system to cover an even larger area. The companion smartphone app makes it painless to add and configure additional units.

Netgear Orbi RBK752

Pros and Cons

  • Simple setup with the Deco app
  • NETGEAR Armor internet security
  • Two units cover up to 5,000 sq. ft.
  • Large
  • Pricey

choice #3
  • Not Enough Ratings

Eero 6 Plus is one of the best WiFi 6 mesh systems for fans of smart home products because it supports Thread and Zigbee devices. While it doesn’t cost all that much to buy the system, that’s only because some features are locked behind a subscription. If you don’t like subscription-based pricing, then you better avoid this product.

Eero 6 Plus

Pros and Cons

  • Small
  • Straightforward setup
  • Built-in Thread and Zigbee support
  • Subscriber-only features

What Other Devices Use WiFi 6?

Since its release in 2019, WiFi 6 has spread like wildfire, and the list of devices that support the standard is now as long as it is diverse:

  • Routers: Of course, the WiFi 6 standard is supported by many routers, including those described in the earlier section of this article. Such routers are faster, more secure, and more reliable than their WiFi 5 counterparts, and their average price has dropped significantly since the introduction of WiFi 6.
  • Smartphones and tablets: Virtually all mid-range and high-end smartphones and tablets released this year support WiFi 6. Examples include the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro, the Google Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, or the 10th-generation base iPad.
  • Laptops: From the M2 MacBook Air to the new Microsoft Surface PC, WiFi 6 is making laptops more efficient and capable of achieving satisfactory download and upload speeds even when used in dense urban areas.
  • Smart home devices: The smart home market has embraced the WiFi 6 standard with open arms because the new Wi-Fi Easy Connect technology makes it much easier to connect new devices to WiFi networks. Smart home devices also benefit from decreased latency and superior security provided by WPA3.

What Is WiFi 7? Meet the Newest WiFi Standard

If you’ve been paying attention when reading this article, then you’ve probably noticed that WiFi 6 (or even WiFi 6E — its 6 GHz sibling) isn’t the newest WiFi standard. That honor goes to WiFi 7, or IEEE 802.11be Extremely High Throughput (EHT).

WiFi-7

The catch is that WiFi 7 hasn’t been released yet, and we’re still waiting for the announcement of the WiFi 7 release date. What we do know is that WiFi 7 will use the 2.4, 5, and 6 GHz frequency bands and deliver speeds of up to 30 Gbps, rivaling today’s wired connections.

The massive performance boost that’s expected to be delivered by WiFi 7 can be attributed to better utilization of non-contiguous spectrum, enhanced Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) protocols, Multi-Access Point (AP) Coordination, 4096-QAM, and several other proposed features.

To Sum It Up

WiFi 6 is here and its benefits are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore as our reliance on wireless connectivity grows. If your wireless network is impacted by issues of congestion or slow performance, the move to WiFi 6 may well be your best move.

Even if you are satisfied with your current WiFi situation, future purchases should be made with an eye toward the eventual shift to WiFi 6. You will want to ensure that your money is well-spent and the devices you obtain can make use of this wireless standard.

FAQ

What is WiFi 6 and do I need it?

WiFi 6 is the marketing term used to refer to the IEEE 802.11ax standard, a successor to the 802.11ac standard. If you already own a couple of WiFi 6-compatible devices, then you should strongly consider buying a router that also supports the standard so that you can use them to their full potential.

How much faster is WiFi 6 than WiFi 5?

WiFi 6 has a maximum throughput of 9608 Mbit/s, whereas WiFi 5 networks can reach only 6933 Mbit/s.

Is WiFi 6 worth it over WiFi 5?

Definitely! Even if you’re on a tight budget, you should be able to find a WiFi 6 router that you can afford, and you can expect the router to be faster and more secure than any comparable WiFi 5 router.

What's the best mesh WiFi 6 system?

The top 3 best WiFi 6 mesh systems are:

  • TP-Link Deco X20
  • Netgear Orbi RBK752
  • Eero 6 Plus

Which WiFi 6 router is best for home?

The top 3 best WiFi 6 routers are:

  • ASUS RT-AX88U
  • Netgear Nighthawk AX8
  • TP-Link Archer AX6000

How do I know if my device is WiFi 6?

To determine if your device is WiFi 6 compatible, we recommend you check its official specifications online.

Is WiFi 6E better than 5G?

WiFi 6E is a standard for wireless local-area networks, and 5G is a technology standard for broadband cellular networks, so it’s like comparing apples to oranges.

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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

If you want to dive deeper into this Wi-Fi thing, check out the following articles about Wi-Fi security, the best apps for wireless networking, inflight WiFi, etc.
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