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Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6 – What’s the Difference?

A more recent wireless networking standard called Wi-Fi 6 supports all of Wi-Fi 5’s functions while also introducing some new ones. It offers quicker internet speeds, greater efficiency, and a better ability to manage many wireless connections at once. The two most common wireless versions you’ll currently discover on the market, if you’re looking to purchase wireless networking equipment, are Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6. But what distinguishes Wi-Fi 6 from Wi-Fi 5 and is it an improvement?

What Is Wi-Fi 5?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has designated Wi-Fi 5 as the fifth iteration of the wireless networking technology. Its standard name is 802.11ac. When it was released in 2014, it offered a number of advantages over Wi-Fi 4 or 802.11n, including compatibility for data rates greater than one gigabit.

It was also the second Wi-Fi version after 802.11a to transmit data using the 5GHz frequency spectrum. The Wi-Fi 5 also supports beamforming, MU-MIMO (multiple users, multiple input, and multiple output), 160MHz channel width, and four spatial streams, among other capabilities. Together, these capabilities significantly outperformed Wi-Fi 4, but Wi-Fi 5 is by no means the pinnacle of wireless networking.

What Is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the sixth generation of WiFi and the immediate successor to Wi-Fi 5. It was released in 2020 and improves on Wi-Fi 5 by improving total throughput to more effectively handle the growing number of wireless devices in homes and offices, including IoT items like smart home equipment.

In comparison to earlier Wi-Fi generations, Wi-Fi 6 offers a number of incremental improvements, including OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access), an improved version of MU-MIMO, the Target Wake Time (TWT) feature for mobile and IoT device battery saving, and WPA3 encryption for better security. With all these improvements, Wi-Fi 6 is a substantial improvement that can provide faster speeds to connected devices.

Wi-Fi 5 vs. Wi-Fi 6

Wi-Fi 6 builds on Wi-Fi 5, as was already mentioned. As a result, both Wi-Fi generations share a lot of characteristics. However, Wi-Fi 6 provides updated versions of several Wi-Fi 5 technologies, making it better suited to meet the demands of contemporary wireless networking. The ability to connect to a large number of devices, the utilization of wireless frequency bands, the capacity to send or receive multiple streams of data, data speed, and MIMO capability are some of the key distinctions between the two Wi-Fi generations.

OFDMA technology is one of Wi-Fi 6’s best features. It’s a variation of the Wi-Fi 5 technology known as OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing). With the ability for up to 30 clients to share a channel at once, OFDMA aids Wi-Fi 6 in the effective data encoding of data and the better utilization of the wireless spectrum. This improvement allows Wi-Fi 6 routers to more effectively and efficiently handle network congestion brought on by several concurrent requests from connected devices. In contrast, each channel in OFDM can only connect to one device. As a result, it is less effective at handling multiple requests at once and is unable to consistently service a large number of connected devices.

Support for eight spatial streams is another Wi-Fi 6 innovation that has practical benefits. Wi-Fi 6 APs can reliably provide eight spatial streams, as opposed to Wi-Fi 5’s usual four and maybe (but infrequently) eight spatial streams. These streams are effectively data lanes, and the number of lanes increases the pace of the data.

What About Wi-Fi 6E?

Nowadays, if you read anything about wireless standards, you’ll probably come across Wi-Fi 6E, which sounds like a variant of Wi-Fi 6. Compared to Wi-Fi 6, this more recent standard and its upcoming successor, Wi-Fi 7, do offer significant improvements; nevertheless, to fully enjoy these advantages, compatible wireless devices are needed.

Only the most cutting-edge (and frequently expensive) smartphones, tablets, and PCs now support Wi-Fi 6E, and commercial products supporting Wi-Fi 7 are still in development. Therefore, considering Wi-Fi 6E routers is only worthwhile if you’re the type of person who invests in cutting-edge technology or if you want to make a significant investment in future-proofing.

Should You Upgrade to a Wi-Fi 6 Router?

However, even if you don’t have many Wi-Fi 6-capable devices, the number of wireless devices in your household has likely increased significantly, meaning it’s a good time to move to a Wi-Fi 6 router anyway. Wi-Fi 6 is generally better at handling a large volume of connected devices than Wi-Fi 5. You’ll also get better speeds, lower latency, and more reliable performance.

Plus, a jump to Wi-Fi 6 router can also be helpful if you live in an apartment or have a business in a shopping complex or mall where a lot of routers are flooding the wireless spectrum with their signals. Compared to Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6 routers are more efficient at dealing with interference caused by neighboring routers.

Even if none of these conditions apply to you, but your wireless router has gotten older and finicky, a Wi-Fi 6 router is a good investment, particularly if you have or are planning to get a broadband connection faster than 500Mbps. These routers’ prices are coming down, and you should be able to find an excellent standalone or mesh Wi-Fi 6 router in your budget. On top of all that, you’d be future-proofing for wireless devices that support Wi-Fi 6 you get down the road.