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The Ultimate Guide to WiFi 6
Your home WiFi network is getting an upgrade.
WiFi 6, the next generation of wireless technology, is faster, more stable, and better at managing multiple connections than WiFi 5.
But how does it all work? Why is WiFi 6 faster? Can you upgrade by just getting a WiFi 6 router, and will your old devices work with it? What phones and laptops support it? What does upgrading WiFi even entail? Is the upgrade worth it?
It seems like a complicated process, but it isn’t. Let’s explore what WiFi 6 is, what devices support it, and how (and when!) to upgrade in Optimum’s Ultimate Guide to WiFi 6.
What is WiFi 6?
WiFi 6 is the newest version of WiFi, the technology that allows you to connect wirelessly to the internet. Without getting too in the weeds, WiFi 6 has a bunch of new technologies and efficiencies that make it faster than the previous generation, WiFi 5.
WiFi 6 allows for speeds of up to 9.6 gigabits per second (Gbps), up from WiFi 5’s 3.5 Gbps. 9.6 Gbps is the theoretical maximum speed of WiFi 6: you’ll probably never reach those speeds in practice. But it’s still nearly triple the bandwidth of WiFi 5, which means more speed for every device on a network. In general, WiFi 6 is much better at handling situations where multiple devices are connected to a network at the same time. The average US household already has a pretty staggering amount of WiFi-connected devices, and that number is increasing. WiFi 6 couldn’t come at a better time.
Adding a wrinkle to all of this is WiFi 6e. WiFi 6 devices are only able to use the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless spectrum bands. There’s a limited number of channels on each band for WiFi signals. Too many devices and connections will start to slow down and drop, no matter how fast your internet is. Spectrums aren’t unique to your network, either. If a neighbor’s router is in range, it’s also taking up space.
6e devices can use the 6GHz wireless spectrum. 6GHz has quadruple the number of channels available, which means significantly less signal interference.
So why can’t all WiFi 6 devices use the 6GHz spectrum? When companies started producing WiFi 6 chipsets in 2016, it was against the law to use the 6GHz band. The FCC opened it up for use in 2020. Needless to say, 6e is very much the bleeding edge of WiFi technology.
What Devices Support WiFi 6?
Unfortunately, getting WiFi 6 isn’t as simple as downloading a software update. The new generation requires new hardware, so only the newest routers, phones, laptops, and game consoles will support it.
You might already have a few WiFi 6 devices. Every iPhone since the 11 has supported the standard, the same goes for Samsung’s Galaxy S10, S20, Note 10, and Note 20 devices. All Apple computers with M1 processors also support WiFi 6, as does the Sony Playstation 5.
All major router manufacturers—Asus, Netgear, Linksys, D-Link, et al—make WiFi 6 routers. They run the gamut from basic options to mesh networks and premium gaming super-routers, depending on what you’re looking for. Routers are very important, you won’t see any advantages from a phone or laptop with WiFi 6 if there’s no WiFi 6 router to connect it to.
If a router supports WiFi 6, it’ll typically say so right on the box or in the description if you’re shopping online. You can also look for routers with “AX” somewhere in the name. WiFi 6’s technical name is 802.11ax, so if you see those two letters it means the router probably supports it.
WiFi 6e support is much more niche. The Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone and a few routers are the only devices that support it. For now, WiFi 6e is a future concern.
Is it Worth Upgrading to WiFi 6?
This is an interesting question. If you don’t already have a WiFi 6 device or two, fully upgrading would involve getting a new router, phone, and laptop. The only other device available that supports WiFi 6 is the Playstation 5. WiFi 6 smart TVs, streaming devices, and smart home appliances aren’t available yet.
WiFi 6 only really sings when there are multiple devices connected to the router. It’s not worth getting a new laptop or breaking a phone contract just to upgrade now, you likely won’t even notice the difference. Instead, upgrade naturally. As you replace your devices over time, you’ll naturally start to upgrade. That’s when you’ll want to look into getting a WiFi 6 router.
With that said, if you’re in the market for a new router now, it’s worth looking into a WiFi 6 model. A WiFi 6 routers work with WiFi 5 devices, though the latter won’t see any real benefits. Still, you’d be futureproofed.
The same can’t be said for WiFi 6e. There are only a few routers out that support it, and they are very expensive. If you want the absolute best available technology then go for it, but consider you probably won’t see any advantages for two or three years.
Overall, it’s worth getting a WiFi 6 router now if you can. You might not notice the difference immediately, but your network will be good to go as you naturally upgrade devices. You’ll have to upgrade eventually, doing it now will make life easier (and your internet faster!).
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