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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  • TheUnhandledException - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    Wired (copper) is already capable of 10 Gbps and 40 Gbps speed. Fiber even more than that. Let me know when wifi can do 40 Gbps or even 10 Gbps. Not in a lab but real world with congestion from neighbors wasting bandwidth running their inefficient 802.11b/g devices.
  • GreenReaper - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    Hint: If it's in the air, it's not a fibre. Such fibres are also known as cables. "Air fiber" doesn't exist.

    If you're the *only* person using a wireless connection, you may achieve a reasonable fraction of its maximum performance - in one direction. But it doesn't come close to what you can get wired. The real question is whether you are willing to pay for that performance. Most consumers don't need to, and therefore consume kit doesn't have it. When there is a need for it, it'll be available, because as others mentioned the capability is there - and it has been for over a decade.
  • Makaveli - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    lol there is always someone like this.

    Keep on dreaming.
  • syleishere - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    Also remember phone lines and cable lines are on their way out. I'd be looking into Elon Musk satellite project starlink and the cell phone companies 5G networks for fastest internet over next few years. Remember air is faster, more spectrums can be used than you can get on a wired connection. I'd keep them around anyways, I prefer gaming on wired especially when raiding in ff14, but wireless one day will be the way to download those 50gb files for your 8k TV on torrents faster so keep that in mind. Air is faster, wired from phone lines and cable lines will be slower.
  • Whiteknight2020 - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    "air is faster"
    Except when there's
    EM interference
    Solar flares
    Unlike a completely unobstructed piece of glass or copper. Which, oddly,is why we hook up all our critical stuff with.... Copper & glass.
  • Korguz - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    yea ok sure.. could you share what ever it is you are on.. so the rest of us can believe the same nonsense you do ?
  • GreenReaper - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    Both mediums have their place. Wireless's place is in the kitchen - not gaming or the datacenter.
  • Hyper72 - Saturday, February 15, 2020 - link

    Indeed, it's all about use case and environment. I got an Asus RT-AX88U last year and have been gaming a lot over WiFi. It's rock solid, never a single disconnect and latency to the router is sub 1ms - all significant latency for gaming is further out in the network. I couldn't say the same about my old Netgear R7000.

    I also get ~100MB/s from my NAS which is great for the work I do at home.
  • peevee - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    If only a few major countries would open up more channels close to 2.4 (below 2.4 or above 2.5), we could have had the best of both worlds - performance and range. Who is hoarding 2.5-3GHz range for example?
  • TheUnhandledException - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    Below 2.4 GHz is a number of military bands. In the US above 2.5 GHz (well above 2.495 GHz) is the cellular band allocated to Sprint (now T-Mobile after the merger). I don't see the 2.4 GHz ISM band (which is what wifi uses) getting expanded.

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