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DeviceDeal.com.au / Network Guides 

AC/AX Routers: What does

AX1800, AX3400 and More Mean?

ax wi-fi router

Every wireless router is advertised as an AC/AX router, followed by a string of numbers. You might have already noticed how brands label their routers as AC1200, AX5400, or any other combination of AC/AX and a number. This naming convention will unsurprisingly make consumers ask, 'What do all these numbers mean?'. And furthermore, 'what is the difference between AC/AX?' These are all valid questions that are important to consider when you're in the market for a new router or mesh Wi-Fi system.

Most would assume that the higher number, the better - but that's not strictly true.

This article will unpack the key points of wireless router naming conventions. We'll go over a few points, including the following below (click on any icon or link to be taken to the relevant section in the article).

DeviceDeal.com.au / Network Guides 

AC/AX Routers: What does AX1800, AX3400 and More Mean?

Every wireless router is advertised as an AC/AX router, followed by a string of numbers. You might have already noticed how brands label their routers as AC1200, AX5400, or any other combination of AC/AX and a number. This naming convention will unsurprisingly make consumers ask, 'What do all these numbers mean?'. And furthermore, 'what is the difference between AC/AX?' These are all valid questions that are important to consider when you're in the market for a new router or mesh Wi-Fi system.

Most would assume that the higher number, the better - but that's not strictly true.

This article will unpack the key points of wireless router naming conventions. We'll go over a few points, including the following below (click on any icon or link to be taken to the relevant section in the article).

Read more ⤵

AC/AX Router Differences

Why are some routers labelled as AC, while others are AX?

It all boils down to the Wi-Fi standard that the router supports. Every few years, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) releases a new Wi-Fi standard. The official terminology for Wi-Fi standards is denoted by the numbers '802.11', followed by a combination of letters. 

The latest generation is 802.11ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6.

This is in contrast to the last generation, which was known as 802.11ac, or Wi-Fi 5.

Essentially, any router with AX in its name (e.g. AX1800, AX5400, etc.) supports the Wi-Fi 6 standard, or 802.11ax. Similarly, routers with AC in their name (AC1200 for example) only support the previous Wi-Fi 5 standard 802.11ac.

white router on desk

AX = Wi-Fi 6, while AC = Wi-Fi 5

white router blue background

Essentially, AC1200 routers can theoretically transmit 1200mb/s in total (AC5400 = 5400mb/s, and so on).

What do the numbers mean (AX1800, AX5400, AX11000)?

If you've looked at wireless routers, you probably would have noticed they're advertised as either AC/AX followed by a number. For instance:

  • TP-Link Archer AX11000
  • Netgear Nighthawk AX6600
  • D-Link AX1800 Dual-Band

But what do these numbers mean?

They refer to the theoretical maximum bandwidth that the routers can handle on all bands simultaneously, in megabits per second. An AC or AX1800 router, for example, should in theory be capable of transmitting and/or receiving up to 1800mb/s. 

You'll generally find more expensive routers capable of handling vast amounts of data. However, note that these numbers can be misleading.

They refer to the theoretical maximum transmission on all bands simultaneously (including both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands); however, devices can only receive/transmit on one band at a time.

So when a router claims to be able to transmit 11000mb/s, it does not mean that you will actually achieve those speeds. It may only be able to transfer 5000mb/s on the 5GHz band, and even less on the 2.4GHz band.

The numbers can be misleading.

Why numbers are misleading

Manufacturers like to provide numbers which represent theoretical, rather than real-world, speeds.

They refer to the theoretical transmission on all bands operating simultaneously (including both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands). However, they don't mention that your devices can only receive/transmit on one band at a time.

So when a router claims to be able to transmit 11000mb/s, it does not mean that you will actually achieve those speeds. It may only be able to transfer 5000mb/s on the 5GHz band, and even less on the 2.4GHz band.

Compounding this, these routers were tested in laboratory conditions far removed from actual home environments. For instance, manufacturers use state-of-the-art equipment and offer a direct line of sight to the router in order to find the fastest speed it's capable of operating at - not the actual speed most people will find it capable of.

router lights

Devices can only transmit on one band at a time, whereas routers are rated for all bands operating simultaneously (very sneaky...)

abstract speed

Actual speeds in reality

When you compare manufacturer-quoted speeds to real-world conditions, actual speeds will be much lower than advertised. This means an AX11000 router won't actually make your downloads skyrocket to 11000mb/s. 

There are a few reasons for this, including:

  • Manufacturers provide theoretical speeds in very optimal laboratory conditions that are impossible to replicate in reality
  • Quoted speeds such as AX/AC5400, AC3000 etc. describe all bands operating simultaneously, while devices can only connect to one band at a time
  • Internet and device network speeds are not capable of reaching the theoretical maximums defined by the manufacturer

To illustrate this point, CNET had tested a dual-band AC1750 router, which has supposed transfer rates of up to 1300mb/s on the 5GHz band, and 450mb/s on the 2.4GHz band (in theory, anyway).

In reality, the router could only reach maximum speeds of 163mb/s on the 2.4GHz band and 802mb/s on 5GHz - far below the defined theoretical speeds.

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