Over the last generation of computing, there has been an explosion of devices that no longer have or need the capability of connecting to a hard-wired Ethernet connection, and that trend shows no intention of slowing down. When Personal Computers first started to utilize wireless Network Interface Cards (NICs) they would almost always be the sole device on the network. Fast forward to today, and practically every home has multiple devices, if not dozens, where the devices communicate using radio waves, either over a cellular connection, or over a home wireless network featuring Wi-Fi.

In the PC space, which is the focus of this article, cellular connectivity certainly exists, but almost exclusively in niche roles. While there are advantages to offering directly cellular connection on the PC, the extra recurring cost, especially in North America, means that most laptop owners will use Wi-Fi for network communication.

The term Wi-Fi is something that is omnipresent today, but if based on the Wi-Fi Alliance and adoption of IEEE 802.11 standards for local area networking over wireless. Although the Wi-Fi Alliance has recently renamed their standards, Wi-Fi has in the past been named directly based on the 802.11 standards as follows:

Wi-Fi Names and Performance
Naming Peak Performance
Branding IEEE
Standard
1x1
Configuration
2x2
Configuration
3x3
Configuration
Wi-Fi 4
Channel Width 20/40 MHz
802.11n 150 Mbps 300 Mbps 450 Mbps
Wi-Fi 5
Channel Width 20/40/80 MHz

Optional 160 MHz
802.11ac 433 Mbps



867 Mbps
867 Mbps



1.69 Gbps
1.27 Gbps



2.54 Gbps
Wi-Fi 6
Channel Width 20/40/80/160 MHz
802.11ax 1201 Mbps 2.4Gbps 3.6 Gbps

In an effort to simplify branding, the latest three standards of 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax have been rebranded to Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6, respectively. In the long term, the new branding should be much easier for most people to grasp, since larger means newer, although we’ve already got some confusion with Wi-Fi 6E – the 6GHz band addition for Wi-Fi 6 – so we shall see how that goes.

One of the many Wi-Fi 6 routers announced at CES 2019 - TPLink AX1800

Today, most homes should have at least Wi-Fi 4, or what used to be 802.11n. After all, this standard came along in 2009. Many will even have Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ac, which offers some speed upgrades and a few optional extra features to help with scaling. Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is a very new standard, and until the end of 2019 there were not even that many devices which could connect over it. So, what is the point of this new standard, and do you really need to upgrade your home network?

This article intends to help answer those questions, as well as show how we at AnandTech are transitioning to Wi-Fi 6 for future reviews.

Wi-Fi 6: What’s New
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  • Holliday75 - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    This is my main contention with ever using WiFi on a desktop. I game. Latency and connection stability is everything. Reply
  • Stochastic - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Yeah, that would be nice. These days I care about latency/jitter a lot more than raw bandwidth. Reply
  • willis936 - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Name checks out.

    On this topic: the link is only as stable as the channel. Twisted pair running at 250 MHz won't even feel your microwave turning on. On 2.4 GHz it will turn your SNR to shit. And at 5 GHz someone walking near your WAP will cause issues. Consumer ethernet might be slower (for all that it matters at 1 Gbps) but it's reliable.
    Reply
  • PaulHoule - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Ugh, on the first page you use the word "leverage" when you really want to say "use".

    I remember in the 1980s when there was a brash young real estate developer from New York who used the word "leverage" a lot, most because he used debt (leverage) to expand his real estate empire. People started using "leverage" as a synonym for "use".

    By the 1990s, that brash real estate developer had many of his projects fail and go bankrupt because he used too much "leverage". The misuse of the word "leverage" fell out of favor in most places, except for people who wrote technical-marketing material for the Microsoft ecosystem.

    That brash real estate developer grew old and became a reality TV star, than a politician. You still see people misuse the word "leverage", but he is busy misusing other words today.
    Reply
  • Holliday75 - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    I just leveraged the "REPLY" button to leave this response. Reply
  • willis936 - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Somebody fire this guy. Reply
  • digitalgriffin - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    No consumer routers offer true OFDMA. This means if you have multiple devices, your throughput drops through the floor. This is something you really didn't test for.

    In other words, wait. It's just like MIMO. It's broken.

    https://www.smallnetbuilder.com/wireless/wireless-...
    Reply
  • heffeque - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Sad but true. I'd say OFDMA is the most important feature in Wifi-6, and it's still not working on ANY router. Hopefully in a year or two we'll start seeing one or two routers that have received an appropriate firmware update. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Interesting, I had no idea. I was waiting for a Ubiquiti Wifi6 device to hit the market before shopping for anything anyway. Hopefully this is part of the delay... (probably not). Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    " I was waiting for a Ubiquiti Wifi6 device to hit the market before shopping for anything anyway. "

    hmmm... what, if any, ISPs allow the 'client' to hook up any old router to their signal?
    Reply

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