An increasing number of devices are using wireless technologies to connect to each other and the internet in offices and homes.  A Consumer Reports article states that a recent report estimated that the average household will have about 50 wirelessly connected devices by 2022. This is especially significant during the current environment of people staying home because of COVID-19, and the fact that more businesses will adopt more remote employees when things go back to “normal.”  Therefore, in many cases, the home wireless network is being used as it has never been used before.  Some may be experiencing a degraded performance of their internet activity, whereas others may believe that it is time to upgrade their wireless network, which was only used in the evenings when the family was home.

Many people are wondering if they should upgrade their home networks to the newest wireless technology. The new wireless technology promises to make your wireless network faster and more secure among other things. It is named Wi-Fi 6 (the technical name is 802.11ax).  The current Wi-Fi technology, 802.11ac, is now called Wi-Fi 5. The group that oversees the Wi-Fi standards has changed the designations of the various Wi-Fi technologies as shown below.

  • 802.11 b is now called Wi-Fi 1
  • 802.11b is now called Wi-Fi 2
  • 802.11g is now called Wi-Fi 3
  • 802.11n is now called Wi-Fi 4
  • 802.11ac is now called Wi-Fi 5
  • 802.11ax is called Wi-Fi 6

Should you replace your current router with a Wi-Fi 6 router?  Will upgrading your current router provide the increased speeds and other benefits of Wi-Fi 6?  First, what are the benefits of using Wi-Fi 6? The basic improvements over past Wi-Fi standards are listed below.

  1. Increased throughput via MU-MIMO (Multi User-Multi-Input/Multi-Output). Up to 8 devices can communicate with the router at the same time in Wi-Fi 6, which is up from 4 in the previous Wi-Fi 5 standard. The more devices that are participating on the Wireless network, the longer the wait time necessary to communicate with the router and that wait-time could become noticeable decreasing performance.
  2. OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access). It causes each wireless channel to be divided into multiple subchannels, thus increasing the number of devices that can communicate on one channel (up to about 30).
  3. Target Wait Time – the Wi-Fi 6 router can negotiate a wake and sleep time for a device so it doesn’t “waste time” trying to communicate with it. This will result in devices having longer battery life since they won’t be transmitting or receiving constantly.
  4. Wi-Fi 6 data packets can contain more data than previous versions of Wi-Fi, thus increasing data speeds, i.e., more data per packet is being sent.
  5. Uses WPA3 security, which is a higher security standard than the current WPA2.
  6. Handles speeds up to 9.6Gbps

You Need Wi-Fi 6 Devices To Benefit From Wi-Fi 6 Improvements

The improvements offered by Wi-Fi 6 are only realized if both the router and the Wi-Fi devices are Wi-Fi 6 enabled.  This does not mean that all of your wireless devices need to be Wi-Fi 6 devices for you to purchase a Wi-Fi 6 router.  For example, you may purchase a new Wi-Fi 6 router and a Wi-Fi 6 enabled laptop, but still have older Wi-Fi 5 devices on the wireless network.  The Wi-Fi 6 router will communicate with the laptop using the Wi-Fi 6 standard and with older devices using older standards.

The point here is that in order to fully benefit from the improvements offered by Wi-Fi 6, you will need to have Wi-Fi 6 devices as well as the Wi-Fi router.


Wi-Fi 6E

The FCC has just approved the use of the 6GHz band.  Currently, Wireless networks operate at 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands.  The 2.4GHz band, which is usually very congested, provides very limited bandwidth.  There are 11 channels that can theoretically be used, though it is only recommended to use only three of them due to channel overlap.  The 5 GHz band provides more bandwidth per channel than the 2.4GHz band. The 6GHz will simply provide more bandwidth for wireless communications.  This helps eliminate some of the congestion in wireless networks.


Should I upgrade to Wi-Fi 6?

If you are currently happy with your Wi-Fi performance and your router is only a few years old, then it may be a good idea to wait until more Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices are available on the market before purchasing a Wi-Fi 6 router.  It may also be a good idea to wait a while as the Wi-Fi 6 standard matures.  For example, there is already an extension to the Wi-Fi 6 standard called Wi-Fi 6E.

However, if you are using a router that is very old (e.g., more than 10 years), then you should at least get a new Wi-Fi 5 router.  Unless you are planning to load your wireless network with an abundance of new Wi-Fi 6 devices, or you want to future-proof your wireless network; a Wi-Fi 5 router will do fine for several more years.


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