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WiFi 6 coming

Article for: Everyone
Difficulty: Easy
Importance: Useful but not critical

 The WiFi alliance has simplified the naming of WiFi versions. They will call WiFi 802.11n, which came in 2009 WiFi 4, 802.11ac released in 2014 is WiFi 5 and the new 802.11ax released in 2019 is WiFi 6. Versions largely out of service now from before 2009 802.11b, a, and g are WiFi-1, 2, and 3 respectively.

Here's what WiFi 6 promises:
  • 4x better in dense, congested environments
  • 40% faster for peak data rates for a single user
  • Increased network efficiency
  • Extended battery life
  • Improvements will occur on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks

The new chips will do more efficient compression and encoding before sending the data. We are seeing WiFi 6 official logos. Soon, we'll see devices and routers with that certification. Both the access point and the client device must be WiFi 6 compatible to take advantage of the new spec.

With luck, though not part of the specification, we'll also see the new WPA3 security standard.

Asus, Netgear and TPLink, among others are offering these routers. I no longer recommend TPLink because they have a poor record for security updates.

Expect that routers will be backward compatible at least to WiFi 4 and can use multiple methods to talk to different devices. Your new WiFi6 phone and your old WiFi4 laptop will both work with a new WiFi 6 router.

These should also offer better battery life for devices which use it.

What does this mean for you?

A WiFi 6 router is unlikely to do you any good for the next two or three years. But, as you replace laptops, phones and tablets, perhaps even streaming devices, some of the most expensive will offer WiFi 6 soon. So, if you are buying a new router and expect to keep it for 5 years or more, then it would make sense to factor WiFi 6 in your consideration. If you are considering a new notebook computer, it is worth some consideration, so that in a few years if you get a new router, you could make use of it. But do not expect any purchase being made in the next year to provide any benefit for a few years, and perhaps not even then. Very few laptops or phones or tablets are currently offering WiFi 6 now.

Further Reading

Date: February 2020

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