Over the last generation of computing, there has been an explosion of devices that no longer have or need the capability of connecting to a hard-wired Ethernet connection, and that trend shows no intention of slowing down. When Personal Computers first started to utilize wireless Network Interface Cards (NICs) they would almost always be the sole device on the network. Fast forward to today, and practically every home has multiple devices, if not dozens, where the devices communicate using radio waves, either over a cellular connection, or over a home wireless network featuring Wi-Fi.

In the PC space, which is the focus of this article, cellular connectivity certainly exists, but almost exclusively in niche roles. While there are advantages to offering directly cellular connection on the PC, the extra recurring cost, especially in North America, means that most laptop owners will use Wi-Fi for network communication.

The term Wi-Fi is something that is omnipresent today, but if based on the Wi-Fi Alliance and adoption of IEEE 802.11 standards for local area networking over wireless. Although the Wi-Fi Alliance has recently renamed their standards, Wi-Fi has in the past been named directly based on the 802.11 standards as follows:

Wi-Fi Names and Performance
Naming Peak Performance
Branding IEEE
Standard
1x1
Configuration
2x2
Configuration
3x3
Configuration
Wi-Fi 4
Channel Width 20/40 MHz
802.11n 150 Mbps 300 Mbps 450 Mbps
Wi-Fi 5
Channel Width 20/40/80 MHz

Optional 160 MHz
802.11ac 433 Mbps



867 Mbps
867 Mbps



1.69 Gbps
1.27 Gbps



2.54 Gbps
Wi-Fi 6
Channel Width 20/40/80/160 MHz
802.11ax 1201 Mbps 2.4Gbps 3.6 Gbps

In an effort to simplify branding, the latest three standards of 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax have been rebranded to Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6, respectively. In the long term, the new branding should be much easier for most people to grasp, since larger means newer, although we’ve already got some confusion with Wi-Fi 6E – the 6GHz band addition for Wi-Fi 6 – so we shall see how that goes.

One of the many Wi-Fi 6 routers announced at CES 2019 - TPLink AX1800

Today, most homes should have at least Wi-Fi 4, or what used to be 802.11n. After all, this standard came along in 2009. Many will even have Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ac, which offers some speed upgrades and a few optional extra features to help with scaling. Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is a very new standard, and until the end of 2019 there were not even that many devices which could connect over it. So, what is the point of this new standard, and do you really need to upgrade your home network?

This article intends to help answer those questions, as well as show how we at AnandTech are transitioning to Wi-Fi 6 for future reviews.

Wi-Fi 6: What’s New
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  • Samus - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    I have yet to see a residential media converter that has >1Gbps throughput, let alone >1Gbps port. I have AT&T Fiber here in Chicago and get 980Mbps\960Mbps from my Gigabit connection and it's mostly bragging rights...no sites, even my private torrent community, can actually feed my connection.

    Though that could be a limitation of the AT&T backend for residential service. I have no clients in the city with commercial gigabit connections so I have nothing to compare it too.
    Reply
  • TheUnhandledException - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    because in any realistic scenario you aren't going to hit 1 Gps data rate. The 160 MHz tests in the article are next to useless in anything but the most remote scenarios. While Wifi 6 with 160 channels and devices a few feet away can exceed 1 Gbps under any realistic scenario (80 MHz, 15 feet away, wall between device and ap) you are going to be in the 300 to 600 Mbps range. Reply
  • hescominsoon - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    Because not many folks have multi-gig for their wan connections so the invested the money into a 2.5 gig lan port instead. Reply
  • valinor89 - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    My usual question is, can the WIFI 6 advantages be of use if there are less advanced devices in the same network? It used to be that even if both the AP and Device support the highest standard as long as there exist other devices that use the same network that don't support the new features they end up not usable. Reply
  • haukionkannel - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Those devices that support Wi-Fi 6 does benefit even if there Also Are those older devices. The router can handle both / all types of trafic at the same time. Reply
  • 5080 - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Make sure your router support DL OFDMA. Some WiFi 6 router need a firmware update to add OFDMA. Reply
  • Makaveli - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    I'm also using an RT-AX88U on Merlin firmware i'm picking up a Galaxy S10 today which is has AX so will be testing that tonight. Reply
  • spamcops - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    I dont want 802.11ax, I want 802.11ay Reply
  • haukionkannel - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Just wait some years and you have it! Reply
  • spamcops - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    yep, that will be revolution! Reply

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