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Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6: Differences Compared

written by Winston • last updated: July 29, 2021

Learn about the differences between Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax).

netgear nighthawk wi-fi 6 router

Wi-Fi 6 is up to 2.5x faster than Wi-Fi 5.

With a max theoretical throughput of 9.6Gbps, Wi-Fi 6 allows you to stream 4K movies, play games and download large files - all simultaneously.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the current latest generation of Wi-Fi standards, having been officially standardised in late 2019. Compared to the previous Wi-Fi 5 generation, Wi-Fi 6 promises up to 2.5x faster speeds, as well as decreased network congestion. It also improves your devices battery life - a must for mobiles, laptops and tablets.

What does AX1800, AX3200, etc. mean?

You may have seen routers advertised with AX followed by a string of numbers, such as AX5400. Let's break down what these terms mean:

  • AX: Refers to the official name of the Wi-Fi 6 standard, which is called 802.11ax. 
  • 3200 (or other numbers): These numbers reflect the maximum bandwidth of the router in Mbps.

So an AX1800 router simply means it's both Wi-Fi 6 capable and supports speeds of up to 1800Mbps. The same applies to AX3200, AX5400 and other routers with the same naming convention.

Just note: These numbers are pretty much just theoretical maximums, and they refer to both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands operating simultaneously. Since your device can only use one band at a time, this number is mostly pointless and your actual speeds will be generally lower.

asus wifi 6 router

How does Wi-Fi 6 benefit me?

There are numerous benefits that Wi-Fi 6 brings over the previous generation.

Faster Wi-Fi speeds

Wi-Fi 5 may have brought us Gigabit internet speeds, but Wi-Fi 6 takes it a few steps further. It's possible to reach transfer rates of up to 9.6Gbps on the latest Wi-Fi generation. For the uninitiated, that's almost 3 times faster than Wi-Fi 5.

What this means is that multiple people can game, stream and download files without slowing down the entire network. It's particularly great for 4K streaming and downloading large files. 

Just remember that the 9.6Gbps speed is only a theoretical maximum. Actual speeds will depend on your internet connection and network provider.

Less network congestion

Have you ever had to wait for your movie to buffer, or experienced slow internet speeds? You might have run into a little problem called network congestion. Too many devices connected to the same Wi-Fi can compete for bandwidth, slowing down the entire network for everybody.

Wi-Fi 6 is designed to combat this problem. 

It uses what's called Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) modulation. This feature allows "simultaneous low-data-rate transmission from several users" (see: Wikipedia), and allows more clients to share a network channel simultaneously. This not only increases the overall capacity of your network, but can also reduce latency.

Increased battery life

Wi-Fi 6 can also benefit your devices' battery life. How, you may ask?

Simple: devices using Wi-Fi 6 can better plan their communications - such as when they'll need to communicate, and for how long. This allows your phones, laptops and tablets to turn off their antennas when they're not needed, resulting in less battery drain. 

And the best thing is that this all happens automatically: no set up required.

tablet with home wi-fi icon

Great, so I should upgrade?

While it's a worthwhile upgrade, you might not actually need a Wi-Fi 6 router yet. Ask yourself the following questions before upgrading:

  • Do I have a lot of devices in my home connected to Wi-Fi?

More devices put strain on your Internet connection.
If you have multiple people streaming movies, downloading files and playing games, it might be worth upgrading for the reduced congestion and faster speeds.

  • Do I need the fastest gaming experience?

If you play a lot of online games, you might find reduced lag and latency with Wi-Fi 6 compared to previous generations.

  • Do I use a router provided by my ISP?

Routers supplied by your ISP often aren't fast enough to take full advantage of your Internet or NBN connection. They might also be slow, use outdated hardware or not cover a large enough area.

Upgrading to a Wi-Fi 6 router from any reuputable brand like Netgear and TP-Link will solve these issues while future-proofing your network for many years to come.

Contents

  1. What is Wi-Fi 6?
    1. What does AX1800, AX3200 etc mean?
  2. How does Wi-Fi 6 benefit me?
    1. Faster Wi-Fi speeds
    2. Less network congestion
    3. Increased battery life
  3. Great, so should I upgrade?

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