Everything You Need To Know About Wi-Fi 6
Maximum PC|November 2019
Wi-Fi 6 is coming and promises big things for our wireless networks.Here’s what to expect.
Matt Hanson

Wi-Fi 6 is probably the most exciting thing to happen to your wireless network in 2019. You’ll probably start to hear the term increasingly bandied about by router makers and ISPs as we approach its launch, but what exactly is Wi-Fi 6, and how can it benefit you? Here, we take a close look at what Wi-Fi 6 promises and explain the impact it can make to home networks. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the standard, including how to upgrade your network to get the most out of the new tech.

You may have already come across Wi-Fi 6’s previous name: 802.11ax. Thankfully, the Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit organization that ensures Wi-Fi products meet certain standards, acknowledged that the former naming conventions were far too convoluted. As Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, explained: “For nearly two decades, WiFi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi. The 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.”

“Wi-Fi 6” is certainly going to be a lot easier to remember than “802.11ax,” which supersedes 802.11ac (now known as Wi-Fi 5). It brings the naming convention more in line with 3G, 4G, and 5G. Going from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6 is a clear upgrade—whereas it’s not clear whether 802.11ax is newer or older than 802.11ac. We’re certainly glad of this new naming convention.

If your current router is only a few years old, it’s likely to be a Wi-Fi 5 model. While Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible with older devices, you’ll need a Wi-Fi 6 router to benefit from the full potential of the new technology.

WHEN’S IT COMING OUT?

Earlier this year, a Wi-Fi 6 certification program was announced for devices to support the new standard, stating that products need to offer several features and meet certain criteria to be Wi-Fi 6 certified, with the program starting in the third quarter of 2019—which is pretty much now.

In fact, Wi-Fi 6 capable devices were on display as early as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January of this year, and you might have noticed that some Wi-Fi 6 routers have already gone on sale—including the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 and AX4, TP-Link’s Archer AX6000, and the Asus RT-AX88U. These early devices generally still have the 802.11ax labeling, though.

Does that mean you can go out and buy a Wi-Fi 6 router today? Well, not quite. These early routers are based on the draft standard of Wi-Fi 6, which at the time of their release has not been finalized. If certain aspects of the certification change, then these early routers may miss out on features that other Wi-Fi 6-certified devices boast. As always with early adopters, it’s a risk you’ll have to take if you want the new technology as soon as possible.

WHAT DO I NEED FOR WI-FI 6?

Of course, having a Wi-Fi 6-capable router is only the first step toward benefitting from the new technology. While your older Wi-Fi products will be able to connect to a Wi-Fi 6 router, to get the features of Wi-Fi 6 (which we’ll get to in a moment), you’ll also need Wi-Fi 6-certified devices. And at the moment, those are rather thin on the ground.

The good news, though, is that we should start seeing a steady stream of Wi-Fi 6-enabled devices hitting the market. Most flagship smartphones will feature the technology—for example, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is the first smartphone with Wi-Fi 6 built in. At the moment, Wi-Fi 6 could be confined to the more expensive handsets, but hopefully that will quickly change as Wi-Fi 6 adoption grows.

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