wifi 5 vs wifi 6
Internet Tips and Tricks

WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6: What’s the Difference? 

If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to help you understand the ins and outs of WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6, you’ve come to the right place. WiFi is essential to our daily lives, powering everything from smartphones and laptops to smart homes and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. And as technology evolves, so does WiFi. 

The latest WiFi standards are WiFi 5 (802.11ac) and WiFi 6 (802.11ax). In this blog post, we’ll explain the differences between WiFi 5 and WiFi 6, and help you decide which is better for your needs. 

WiFi 5 (802.11ac) Explained

Released in 2014, WiFi 5 significantly improved speed and performance over its predecessors. Let’s break down some key features: 

  • Theoretical maximum speed: WiFi 5 can reach speeds up to 6.9 Gbps. Realistically, it typically operates at 200Mbps, depending on the number of antennas and channels. 
  • Frequency bands: WiFi 5 operates on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands, the latter offering faster speeds and less interference. 
  • MIMO technology: WiFi 5 introduced Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO), allowing routers to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously, increasing overall network efficiency. Users can connect their smartphones, laptops, and smart TVs without experiencing buffering, lagging, and interruptions. 
  • Use cases and real-world performance: WiFi 5 is perfect for streaming HD videos, gaming, and other data-heavy activities. However, the real-world speed you’ll experience depends on factors like your ISP’s bandwidth, your router, and how many devices are connected to your network. 
  • Limitations: WiFi 5 signals are more easily blocked by walls and obstacles, especially in crowded environments. WiFi 5 also has limited power efficiency so it can consume more battery power on mobile devices. 

wifi 5 vs wifi 6

WiFi 6 (802.11ax) Explained

The latest and greatest, WiFi 6 was released in 2019 and is designed to handle our increasingly connected world.  

These are the main WiFi 6 features: 

  • Theoretical maximum speed: WiFi 6 boasts an impressive maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps, a significant leap from WiFi 5. 
  • Frequency bands: Like WiFi 5, WiFi 6 operates on both the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands but with even better performance. 
  • Enhanced MIMO and OFDMA: WiFi 6 takes MIMO technology to the next level and introduces Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). This allows the router to communicate with multiple devices more efficiently, improving WiFi 5 vs 6 latency. 
  • Target Wake Time (TWT): WiFi 6 routers can schedule when devices should wake up to receive data, significantly improving battery life for smartphones and other connected gadgets. 
  • Use cases and real-world performance: WiFi 6 is designed for homes and offices with many connected devices. It maintains speed and performance, even when the network is congested. However, remember that real-world speed still depends on factors like your ISP’s bandwidth and your router’s capabilities. 

Key Differences Between WiFi 5 & WiFi 6

Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s dive deeper into the WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6 comparison: 

  • Speed and performance: WiFi 6 is faster and more efficient than WiFi 5, which means better performance for activities like streaming 4K videos, gaming, and video conferencing. 
  • Network capacity & efficiency: WiFi 6 can handle more devices simultaneously, making it perfect for households with multiple users and smart home devices. Its enhanced MIMO and OFDMA technologies significantly reduce the latency of WiFi 5, providing a smoother online experience. 
  • Range and signal strength: WiFi 6 routers generally have better coverage and signal strength than their WiFi 5 counterparts. This means fewer dead zones and a more stable connection throughout your home or office. 
  • Battery life improvements: Thanks to Target Wake Time, devices connected to a WiFi 6 network will enjoy improved battery life, a game-changer for smartphones and IoT devices. 
  • Compatibility with existing devices: Most WiFi 6 routers are backward compatible with older devices, so you can still connect your WiFi 5 gadgets without a problem. However, you won’t enjoy the full benefits of WiFi 6 unless you upgrade your devices. 
  • Futureproofing and upgrade considerations: WiFi 6 is becoming the new standard. Investing in a WiFi 6 router now will ensure your home network is ready for future advancements like WiFi 6E, which offers even more improvements over WiFi 5 and 6. 

So, which one is right for you?

The answer depends on your needs and budget. Consider the following factors: 

Size of your household 

If you have a small household with fewer connected devices and don’t require top-notch performance, a WiFi 5 router can be sufficient. However, if you have many devices and experience WiFi connection problems, WiFi 6 is worth the investment. 

Cost and availability of WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 routers 

WiFi 6 routers are generally more expensive, but prices will continue to drop as more devices become WiFi 6 compatible.   

Device compatibility and future upgrades 

Consider the devices you currently own and whether they’re WiFi 6 compatible. If you plan on upgrading your gadgets soon, investing in a WiFi 6 router might make sense to enjoy the full benefits. 

How to Upgrade to WiFi 6

Ready to level up your internet experience? To help you get started, we’ve put together a few simple tips to have you enjoying WiFi 6 in no time. 

First things first: compatibility. Before you take the plunge, double-check that your devices are WiFi 6-compatible. Most new smartphones, laptops, and tablets will work with WiFi 6, but older devices sometimes don’t have the necessary hardware. A quick online search should clear up any doubts. 

Next, it’s time to choose your router. Shopping for a WiFi 6 router can be exciting, but finding one that meets your needs and budget is important. Keep an eye out for advanced features like OFDMA, MU-MIMO, and TWT, which will help ensure you get the most out of your upgrade. 

Once you’ve got your shiny new router, it’s time to set it up. Don’t worry; the manufacturer’s instructions should guide you through the process. Use strong passwords and stay on top of firmware updates to keep your network secure and running smoothly. 

And finally, location is key when it comes to your router’s efficiency. Position it in a central spot, avoiding walls or obstacles that might block the signal. 

Still not satisfied with your coverage? Download a WiFi analyzer app to identify any areas with weak signals. This handy tool will help you fine-tune your settings to ensure your home has reliable, lightning-fast WiFi 6. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the WiFi 5 vs 6 debate, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. While both have their advantages, WiFi 6 is the clear winner in terms of speed, network capacity, and futureproofing. However, you should consider your needs, budget, and device compatibility when deciding. 

And what comes after WiFi 6? The next generation of WiFi technology  is WiFi 6E, an extension of WiFi 6.WiFi 6E routers started appearing on the market in 2020, and their availability has been steadily growing ever since.  

Curious to learn more about routers? Read our blogs about routers and learn everything you need about this essential home equipment.