What Is Wi-Fi 6 and Do You Need a New Router?

What Is Wi-Fi 6 and Do You Need a New Router?

Wi-Fi standards change every few years. A new standard usually means better wireless networking. Unfortunately, it also usually means that some new letters will appear on your router and smartphone packaging.

The Wi-Fi Alliance does like to keep us on our toes, though. Instead of just following the IEEE’s 802.11 naming system, the organization is introducing its own simplified naming scheme. So, what is the new Wi-Fi Alliance wireless networking naming scheme? Moreover, what is Wi-Fi 6?

What Is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the latest update to the wireless networking standard. Wi-Fi 6 is based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard and will be faster, have more capacity, and improved power efficiency over its predecessor 802.11ac (now also known as Wi-Fi 5—read on to find out more!).

But, hold on, wasn’t the previous wireless standard called 802.11ac?

Yes, it absolutely was. However, the Wi-Fi Alliance believes—quite rightly—that updating two letters doesn’t give consumers much to go on. Given the differences between standards, you can forgive consumers for not understanding how 802.11n differs from 802.11ac in anything but the alphabet.

“For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi,” said Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6, and present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

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The new naming system will run concurrently with the current system. The 802.11 naming convention will continue. But manufacturers have the opportunity to display both naming standards on their products, theoretically making the process of buying a new device with better connectivity easier.


wifi standards logos

Here’s how the naming standards correlate:

  • Wi-Fi 6E: 802.11ax-2021 (2021)
  • Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax (2019)
  • Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)
  • Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009)
  • Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003)
  • Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999)
  • Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999)

How Is Wi-Fi 6 Better?

As usual, the newest wireless standard offers faster data transfer rates. Remember, Wi-Fi 6 is another name for the IEEE 802.11ax specification.

The 802.11ax specification offers theoretical network speeds of up to 10Gbps, and 12Gbps at the extreme of the wireless broadcast frequency and over very short distances. That’s about a 30-40 percent improvement over 802.11ac, aka Wi-Fi 5.

It also brings a few other notable improvements to wireless networking.

MU-MIMO Upgrade

For instance, many new routers now use MU-MIMO to provide constant data streams to multiple users. MU-MIMO technology hit the market during the current Wi-Fi 5/802.11ac period.

Accordingly, it features largely on high-end routers, though this is changing. The advent of Wi-Fi 6 will see the technology included in almost all new routers, as the new standard allows multi-directional MU-MIMO, i.e., available in both uplink and downlink concurrently.


Better Radio Frequencies, More Channels

Another key Wi-Fi 6 feature is Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). OFDMA makes better use of the available transmission frequencies of 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

The update theoretically increases speed by dividing the available spectrum into smaller units. The resulting smaller units increase throughput and network efficiency.

Currently, your dual-band router broadcasts on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrums. Within those spectrums are allocations in sets of 20MHz-wide channels. These 20MHz channels group together into 160MHz blocks.

All devices broadcast on one of the blocks within the spectrum allocation. When multiple devices are using the same channel on the same spectrum in a confined area, you end up with network congestion.

Wi-Fi 6 alters the division of the 20MHz channels, with the new standard subdividing channels into 256 individual sub-channels. This is a massive increase on the current 64 channels.

But it’s not only an increase in channels. Wi-Fi 6/802.11ax also modifies data connections within those sub-channels too.

Previously, all sub-channels were used in parallel to communicate with a connected device, meaning a single device could monopolize the channel until handed to another device.

Wi-Fi 6 allocates the new additional sub-channels as resource units (RUs). The resource units can then be used to talk simultaneously with several 802.11ax devices. Up to nine devices can then communicate effectively on a single channel—or 74 devices over a 160MHz block.

More Simultaneous Streams

Another major change to the Wi-Fi 6 standard is an update to the current 802.11ac’s 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM). Wi-Fi 6 jumps to 1024 QAM, allowing broadcasts on up to eight simultaneous streams.

What Is Wi-Fi 6E? Is It the Same as 6GHz Wi-Fi?

In the naming standards section of the article, you may have noticed another Wi-Fi name: Wi-Fi 6E. Alongside the name in the list, Wi-Fi 6E translates to 802.11ax-2021 (2021), a new Wi-Fi standard launched in 2021.

In late December 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit confirmed [PDF] the FCC’s 2020 decision to open up the 6GHz band, allowing the additional 1,200MHz of unlicensed spectrum to begin accepting broadcasts. While the Wi-Fi 6E 6GHz band won’t really increase your Wi-Fi speed, it will help to ease Wi-Fi network congestion, especially in areas with lots of competing signals.

So, in short, Wi-Fi 6E is the same as 6GHz Wi-Fi, the new Wi-Fi band designed to ease network congestion, provide greater data throughput, and reduce latency. However, one important thing to note about 6GHz Wi-Fi is that it isn’t set to increase Wi-Fi speeds. Technically, the maximum top speed of both 5GHz Wi-Fi and 6GHz Wi-Fi is 9.6Gbps.

5 Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E Router Options

Wi-Fi 6 routers have been on the market for several years at this point, yet at the time of writing, Wi-Fi 6E routers are still relatively new. Here are X quick suggestions for Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E routers.

One quick note: Wi-Fi 6/802.11ax routers will feature the following standards in their name: AX6000, AX11000, and so on. Wi-Fi 6E routers add an E into the mix, creating the AXE6000 or AXE11000, etc. 802.11ac routers feature AC1200, AC1900, AC2300, AC3200, or AC5300 in their title. Wi-Fi router naming convention typically takes the wireless network standard and the maximum theoretical throughput of the router to create an easy way to compare routers at a glance.

Some routers, like the ASUS TR-AX88U, were originally marketed as “being ready for next-gen 802.11ax devices,” using the IEEE router standard of AX6000, meaning it adheres to the latest and greatest wireless specifications. Netgear’s Nighthawk AX8 is a sleek and futuristic-looking Wi-Fi 6/802.11ax router. Both the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 and the Asus TR-AX88U have a throughput limitation of around 6Gbps, not quite hitting the top end of Wi-Fi 6 at 10Gbps+.

TP-Link’s high-end Archer brand also features a top-end AX11000 Wi-Fi 6 router, as you might expect. The TP-Link Archer AX11000 delivers whopping data throughput of up to 11,000 Mbps spread across its three Wi-Fi bands and comes with several integrated tools to help speed up and optimize your online gaming experience.

If you’re a fan of the ASUS ROG gaming hardware brand, the Rapture GT-AX11000 is an excellent albeit somewhat pricey option. The biggest benefit of the now-classic dead spider design is the rated throughput of up to 11,000 Mbps, along with its Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, integrated mesh Wi-Fi function, and a host of other advanced router functionality.

But if you’re about to buy a new router and you want to be at the peak of Wi-Fi technology, you need a Wi-Fi 6E router. If that sounds like your cup of tea, check out the ASUS ROG Rapture Wi-Fi 6E GTX-AXE11000. Touted as the “world’s first 6GHz band” router, the ROG Rapture Wi-Fi 6E comes with a substantial 1.8GHz quad-core CPU, a dedicated 2.5G multi-gig port, integrated RGB, tri-band configuration using 6GHz Wi-Fi, and just a heap more functionality.

Should You Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6? What About Wi-Fi 6E?

If you’re about to buy a new router, yes, absolutely grab one that supports Wi-Fi 6. At the time of writing, Wi-Fi 6E routers are only just beginning to find their way to market. However, if you have the funds to spare, upgrading to a 6GHz Wi-Fi 6E router could bring some well-needed additional networking capabilities to your home.

With both options, you’re likely to see an internal Wi-Fi network boost. Wi-Fi 6 delivers faster Wi-Fi than its Wi-Fi 5 predecessor, and while Wi-Fi 6E doesn’t technically increase your Wi-Fi top-speed, it could make it easier for more of your devices to enjoy a more stable and reliable internet connection. So depending on your home network configuration, it could be well worth the investment, especially if you’re already considering upgrading!


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