Wi-Fi 6

Yet another thing that’s getting to “the next generation”

Wi-Fi 6 logoYou could probably have guessed this yourself – Wi-Fi 6 is faster than its predecessors. This means that it has the potential to deliver content from the internet faster than before. In fact, the theoretical top speed of Wi-Fi 6 is 9.6 Gbps, compared with 3.5 Gbps for Wi-Fi 5. It must be stressed that these are theoretical maximums. You are never going to see anything like this in the real world.

However, Wi-Fi 6 addresses other things and not just raw throughput speed. Over time, we are using more and more Wi-Fi-connected devices. All of these devices compete for “bandwidth” (ie the capacity in the Wi-Fi system to service the demands placed upon it). If you have a faster potential maximum throughput per second in the entire system then you can deliver a faster service to all the devices competing for that bandwidth.

swirlsMoreover, Wi-Fi 6 has other new technologies that improve how well you router can handle and service this increasing number of wifi connections. If you just have one device on your network (such as a laptop or desktop computer), then it’s possible that you wouldn’t really notice the difference in an upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, but busy networks of lots of devices will definitely get a boost in robustness and data delivery. This could mean, for instance, that if you have several household members each streaming video content at the same time, then there will be less data buffering. Video streaming is, of course, assuming ever greater importance as more of our TV is consumed by streaming services and less by “linear broadcasting” where we just watch what is on, and where the program is delivered via a TV aerial rather than the internet.

So, should you rush out now and buy a new Wi-Fi 6 gizmo? No, I wouldn’t bother. There’s going to be a natural replacement of Wi-Fi 5 with Wi-Fi 6 as you replace components of your system (eg router, phones, laptops, smart TVs). Your shiny new mobile won’t download any faster on your old Wi-Fi 5 router (by virtue of having Wi-Fi 6) than your old phone did. Wi-Fi 6 is compatible with Wi-Fi 5, so there’s not going to be a problem in replacing your devices at the natural rate.

Is it worth having? Yes, of course it is. More robust networks with improved internet connections for more devices are definitely desirable. Moreover, any device certified as offering Wi-Fi 6 must also support a stronger security protocol called WPA3. WPA3 is already with us, but your Wi-Fi 5 devices might not support it, whereas all Wi-Fi 6 devices have to.

And it’s not just our habit of streaming more TV that increases our demands of our wifi. The quality (in terms of resolution) of the TV picture that we stream also has a big effect on the demands placed on your Wi-Fi. If you have a smart TV (ie one connected to the internet), then the minimum bandwidth requirements are as follows if you are to be able to watch a programme without buffering:

  • Standard definition TV – 2-3Mbps
  • High definition – 5-8Mbps
  • 4k UHD – 25Mbps (at least)

4k TVs use about 10 times as much data as standard definition TVs.
You can see that you’ve increased the demands on your network by a factor of at least 10 if you change from standard definition to 4k.

I’ve used the example of streaming TV as this has a big effect on the demands placed on your wifi in terms of the data throughput, but the sheer number of devices we use will also increase the demands on the Wi-Fi and how the Wi-Fi is allocated to all these different devices.

In summary, don’t go changing all your devices just to get Wi-Fi 6, but look out for it as a feature of any new devices that you buy.

(Last updated 16/07/2021)