During CES 2019 many Wi-Fi networking vendors have been releasing products featuring the new 802.11ax standard which has been given the friendlier name of Wi-Fi 6, but what actually is it and how will it improve your home Wi-Fi?
While Wi-Fi is hardly the most interesting of technologies at CES, it is something that many of us rely on daily. Poor Wi-Fi signal is possibly one of the most frustrating (first-world) problems, and this is why we have seen such a large growth in Mesh Wi-Fi systems, which improve range and reliability in the home.
802.11ax/ Wi-Fi 6 is the successor to 802.11ac/ Wi-Fi 5 which is what you are probably using for most of your Wi-Fi connections nowadays.
802.11ac / Wi-Fi 5
802.11ac works on the 5 GHz spectrum giving it much more bandwidth than the previous 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4). On a single connection this can provide up to 433 Mbps, but depending on the router and client multiple connections can be made at ones using MIMO (Multiple Input / Multiple Output).
So, a tri-band router such as the Netgear Orbi will offer 2.4GHz (400Mbps) + 5GHz (866Mbps) with the 3rd band using 5Ghz and reserved for the backhaul. So, in this case, 2 bands are used at 5Ghz achieving 433 Mbps + 433 Mbps for 866Mbps.
802.11ax / Wi-Fi 6
This standard operates on both the 2.4/5 GHz frequency which will eventually incorporate more bands between 1 and 7 GHz as they become available. As with previous generations, it will be fully backwards compatible, so you don’t have to worry about if your phone or laptop will work with your new 802.11ax router.
With 802.11ax it is less focussed about pure speed but targets the ability to handle multiple devices better. This is arguably the most important aspect of Wi-Fi in a world where all our devices are Wi-Fi enabled. A house of five people will quickly bog down the Wi-Fi performance when multiple users are accessing high bandwidth services such as streaming 4k, and this gets much worse in commercial environments.