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
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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  • ksec - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Not only that. ( OFDMA It has compatibility problems and remains to be seen whether it works given the limitation ) It will likely end up like MU-MIMO where the benefits drops once you have non-MU-MIMO devices in the same location. ( i.e useless )

    160Mhz and 80+80Mhz are still optional. Meaning you wont get those sort of speed in vast majority of cases, no current 802.11ax Smartphone support 160Mhz or 80+80Mhz Channel. ( Both Samsung and iPhone ) Although Intel ( if I remember correctly ) do support 160Mhz, but then they decided to stop making 3x3 config for Laptop.....

    WiFi 6E had the best chances to remedy all of this. But nope, all those features are still optional.

    There were a few other features missing from the spec, oh I forgot to mention the spec is still in Draft as it has been delayed yet again.

    The whole thing is a bloody pile of mess.
  • PaulHoule - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    My experience with WiFi performance in the real world is that nothing beats having multiple access points and spreading the clients between them. Performance is just so much better when clients aren't fighting each other for access to the net, and this counts particularly for internet connections to the outside, where the most important WiFi parameter is packet loss.

    I am waiting for UNBT to come out with a WiFi 6 access point which is reasonably priced, and for that matter, to get any cliets that support WiFi 6.
  • digitalgriffin - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    True Paul. I segment my network. I have a subnet for smart devices with it's own AP running on a unique frequency. I have another subnet for my streaming devices with it's own AP. It not only allows me to save bandwidth for more critical devices, but also allows me to monitor on a more granular level for data usage and potential hacking hijinx.

    The only disadvantage to this method is my android devices can no longer directly access devices like Roku.
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    This article is so silly.
    First the title says "why you want it". Then later it says "maybe". Then it shows "benchmark" for unrealistic speeds, with limited devices to test.

    Then it totally glosses of the fact that its not worth it AT ALL if other devices are not the same spec.

    Considering %99 of devices that come out are 2.4Ghz still, including top of the line cameras zero reason to upgrade to this.

    I'm thinking the article was just put up for the ad revenue for the clicks.

    Oh lets not even go over how they talk about the progression of the wireless standard that takes forever to ratify, it its speeds are still really weak when it comes to LAN.

    Unless you live in an area impossible to wire with LAN, no reason to go wireless. I'm my experience in a PoE camera is even better than wireless camera setup!
  • PeachNCream - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Yes, the article title is was poorly thought out to say the least. I'd prefer if the facts were presented as facts and the decision about whether or not I wanted something would reside in opinions I form after the fact. Telling me I want something is somewhat narrow thinking.
  • GreenReaper - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    This is a problem with the whole "thought leader" aspect of journalism. At least they could leave open the possibility that you might *not* want it. Right now, on the face of it, that's not an option.
  • Dug - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    What does some walls mean? Can you please tell us how many walls, what kind of wall, height of ceiling, and the distance? In my mind you are saying that you are 3 rooms away? How big are the rooms? Or is it a hallway wall without doors?

    If you are going to have a "test bed" it would be nice to know the layout so we can judge if it matches our environment.

  • DanNeely - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    agreed. Arstechnica posts floorplan diagrams for their wifi testing articles; which comes in particularly useful for testing mesh network kits with variable numbers of boxes.
  • ascott.neu.edu - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    how does dynamic fragmentation work? i.e, are packets reassembled before being sent to the internet, or are the fragments reassembled at the destination? most systems try to avoid fragmentation, as it requires reassembling packets, and actively try to identify the largest packet that can be sent without fragmentation. dsl usually required smaller packets to avoid fragmentation, as i recall. Gigabit "ethernet" is switched. no interference from others using the same network. store and forward, almost always delivers packets. wifi is more old school csma/ca, which isn't even as good as old fashioned csma/cd ethernet. collisions detected in hardware rather than waiting for ack/nak. No matter how fast your wifi is, there are still shared resources that may very well limit your throughput and latency to resources on the internet.
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    "Wi-Fi 6 And Why You Want It"

    I don't actually want this.

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