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WiFi 6 vs WiFi 5 speed: Which is better?

In 2018, the WiFi Alliance announced WiFi 6, a fresher, faster generation of WiFi that builds off of the old framework (802.11ac technology). Now, after beginning to certify devices in September of 2019, it's arrived with a new naming scheme that's easier to understand than the old designation.

Some day in the near future, many of our connected devices will be WiFi 6 enabled. For example, Apple iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy Notes already support WiFi 6, and we've seen Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ routers recently emerge.  What can we expect with the new standard?

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The new technology offers connectivity improvements for WiFi 6 enabled devices while maintaining backwards compatibility for older devices. It works better in higher-density environments, supports an increased capacity of devices, improves the battery life of compatible devices, and boasts higher data transfer rates than its predecessors.

Here’s a breakdown of the previous standards. Note that the older versions have been designated with updated naming schemes, however, they are no longer widely in use:

WiFi 6 to identify devices that support 802.11ax (released 2019)

WiFi 5 to identify devices that support 802.11ac (released 2014)

WiFi 4 to identify devices that support 802.11n  (released 2009)

WiFi 3 to identify devices that support 802.11g (released 2003)

WiFi 2 to identify devices that support 802.11a (released 1999)

WiFi 1 to identify devices that support 802.11b (released 1999)

WiFi 6 vs WiFi 5 speed

First, let's talk theoretical throughput. As Intel put it, "Wi-Fi 6 is capable of a maximum throughput of 9.6 Gbps across multiple channels, compared to 3.5 Gbps on Wi-Fi 5."  In theory, a WiFi 6 capable router could hit speeds over 250% faster than current WiFi 5 devices.

WiFi 6's higher speed capability is thanks to technology such as orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA); MU-MIMO; beamforming, which enables higher data rates at a given range to increase network capacity; and 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), which increases throughput for emerging, bandwidth intensive uses by encoding more data in the same amount of spectrum.

And then there's WiFi 6E, great news for network congestion

Another addition to the WiFi "upgrade" is WiFi 6E. On April 23, the FCC made a historic decision to allow unlicensed broadcast over the 6GHz band. This works the same way that your router at home can broadcast over the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Now, WiFi 6E capable devices have a new band with a whole new set of WiFi channels to reduce network congestion and dropped signals:

"6 GHz addresses Wi-Fi spectrum shortage by providing contiguous spectrum blocks to accommodate 14 additional 80 MHz channels and 7 additional 160 MHz channels which are needed for high-bandwidth applications that require faster data throughput such as high-definition video streaming and virtual reality. Wi-Fi 6E devices will leverage wider channels and additional capacity to deliver greater network performance." - WiFi Alliance

This decision almost quadruples the amount of bandwidth that's available for WiFi utilization and IoT devices—1,200MHz of spectrum in the 6GHz band available for unlicensed use. To put this into perspective, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands combined currently operate within about 400MHz of unlicensed spectrum.

Post time: Apr-01-2020