Vivian Susko

WiFi standards explained: Is WiFi 6 worth it?

If you’ve purchased a new smartphone, laptop, game console, or tablet with the “WiFi 6” designation on the box in the past year, then you already own devices with WiFi 6 compatibility. Originally announced by the WiFi Alliance in October of 2018, this most recent generation of wireless connection is becoming the new standard for WiFi devices rolling out onto the market. These products often carry a hefty price tag, however— WiFi 6-compatible routers are nearly double the price of WiFi 5 routers. So, with the added expense and inconvenience of purchasing new devices, is upgrading to WiFi 6 really worth it?

Is WiFi 6 worth it?

What is WiFi 6?

Right about now, you may be thinking: What is WiFi 6? I didn’t even know there was a WiFi 5!” Don’t worry— you’re not alone, and you probably haven’t heard about this until now because it’s taken some time for consumer-grade devices to appear on the market.

Unlike DSL or fiber, WiFi 6 isn’t a new form of internet connection. Instead, it’s an upgrade to the same WiFi you already know and love. To make the designation of previous WiFi iterations more accessible to consumers, the WiFi Alliance classified 802.11ac technology as WiFi 5, 802.11n technology as WiFi 4, and so on. WiFi 6 is 802.11ax.

Complete with backwards-compatibility for all of your WiFi 5 devices, a WiFi 6-enabled router will allow your new devices to transmit signals more efficiently.

WiFi 6 vs. WiFi 5

As you might expect from any upgrade, WiFi 6 claims to trump WiFi 5 in a variety of ways, including faster speeds, increased network efficiency, and improved security. You may want to read a bit further before you add it to your shopping list, though, because the performance of WiFi 6-enabled devices is a bit more nuanced than you may think. To get a better idea as to what you can expect from this latest generation of connectivity, read on!

Does WiFi 6 give me better security?

Most WiFi 6 devices will offer improved security once the WiFi Alliance's new certification program launches. Whereas current routers and devices have the option to support the newest security protocol available (WPA3), it will soon be mandatory with WiFi 6.

According to the WiFi Alliance, there are many benefits to integrating WPA3 into this sixth generation of WiFi. Our personal favorite is more robust password-based authentication, which makes it harder for hackers to guess your network password, and protects your sensitive data more efficiently if it becomes compromised.

Does WiFi 6 improve my data capacity?

Your home WiFi is available in two WiFi frequency bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. These bands transmit data between your devices using several streams, which WiFi 6 increases from a maximum of 8 under WiFi 5 to a new high of 12. In other words, your network will have an increased data capacity, allowing it to deliver more data at once. As video streaming, interactive gaming, and virtual reality are all demanding greater amounts of immediate data moving forward, this increased capacity from WiFi 6 is a game-changer.

Does WiFi 6 improve battery life?

WiFi 6-compatible devices come with a new technology called Target Wake Time (TWT). TWT is a great feature for WiFi 6-compatible routers because it allows the router to control which devices can connect to the internet at once, minimizing the bandwidth usage and allowing the devices you regularly use to have boosted data transfer speeds.

Another plus to TWT technology is the extended battery life of internet-connected devices. WiFi 6-enabled devices in your house like printers, smart hubs, and other various IoT deviceswill automatically switch into sleep mode when not in use, and then turn back on when needed.  AI technology helps with this process, and TWT becomes an automated tool that adapts to your use schedule. If you're on a particular device more during the day than at night, for example, TWT-enabled devices will adjust to this schedule, anticipate that they won’t be used in the evenings, and shut themselves off accordingly.  

Does WiFi 6 give me faster speeds?

In short, the answer to this question is yes, but this is where it gets a little tricky. WiFi 6 is designed to boost the maximum speed of your Internet to 9.6 Gbps, blowing the previous max data rate of 3.5 Gbps out of the water. But here’s the catch: both of these speeds are theoretical. This would kind of be like saying the highest you could jump is 1.651m—it may be possible for the world record holder, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever jump that high. To put it another way, you probably won’t ever actually reach these theoretical speeds, or even need them in the first place.

Even though the blazing-fast 9.6 Gbps speed boost is theoretical, a considerable speed increase to your home WiFi network is certain. Larger homes with more connected devices will benefit the most from purchasing a new WiFi 6 router, but even smaller homes with avid gamers or work-from-home employees will see a huge difference in ping and latency.

[ Is your WiFi slow and laggy? Take an internet speed test to find out what speeds you’re actually getting! ]

Does WiFi 6 allow me to own more devices?

WiFi 6 will transform the way your router handles the growing number of devices in your home. MU-MIMO technology, which stands for Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output, is what your router uses to communicate with many devices at the same time. This technology is already being used in current routers for up to four devices at a time (4x4), but WiFi 6 will increase this limit to allow up to eight devices to communicate with your router simultaneously (8x8).

This is where WiFi 6 will make the most significant impact moving forward. Nowadays, the typical home already has an average of 12 internet-connected devices (with high-end users having as many as 33). Knowing that each additional gadget on your network can slow down your connection, WiFi 6 was designed to handle the future of smart home connectivity more efficiently.

In conclusion: is upgrading to WiFi 6 worth it?

WiFi 6 boasts clear advantages for public places with many devices, but smaller homes with fewer devices or homes without WiFi 6-enabled devices might not see a drastic change. However, there are plenty of other advantages to having a WiFi 6-enabled router, like longer battery life, increased speeds, lower latency, and less dropped calls. Many of the older gadgets you own won’t support the maximum speeds provided by WiFi 6, but a WiFi 6-enabled router will give a little bit of a speed boost to the devices you already own thanks to the bandwidth optimization of this new technology. Another important thing to keep in mind is that the speeds offered by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) do put a cap on your local area network. As impressive as this update is, WiFi 6 routers aren’t able to override these limits.

However, if you’re ready to upgrade, you’ll need to purchase a new WiFi 6 router to see improvements with your WiFi 6 gadgets. Likewise, you’ll need devices compatible with this new standard to reap the full benefits. Your older devices will still be able to connect to your new router, so we recommend starting there.

In conclusion, WiFi 6 isn’t something you need to rush out to buy right away. If in the next few years you can see your home becoming packed with many smart devices, then a WiFi 6 standard across the board is definitely something to consider. Until then, if your network performance isn’t up to par, you may want to think about upgrading with a WiFi extender or mesh network instead.

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