802.11ax Wi-Fi Explained: What is Wi-Fi 6 and how fast are its speeds?

The new 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard was announced in April 2018, with the headline feature that it will support transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps – almost 10 times faster than previous mainstream standards. Now, the Wi-Fi Alliance has done a major service to consumers by simplifying the naming of its Wi-Fi specifications. Meet Wi-Fi 6…

Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to own a home where you can wire Ethernet from room to room (and if you do, we seriously envy you), then chances are you’re probably relying on Wi-Fi for the majority of your internet usage.

Prior to the arrival of 802.11ax (now Wi-Fi 6), most users were relying on 802.11ac (renamed Wi-Fi 5), a standard that was first released in 2013, and frankly it was time for the 1.3Gbps standard to get an upgrade.

802.11ax Speeds: How fast is the new Wi-Fi 6 standard?

Whether you call it Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax, the newer standard offers theoretical speeds of up to 10Gbps, whilst also lowering power consumption as part of the deal.

The main way it increases speed is by fully combining the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands. Previously, 802.11ac and 802.11n (or Wi-Fi 4) were forced to work on the two bands separately, but the new standard will utilise them simultaneously. MU-MIMO technology will also be enabled for uplink data, in addition to the downlink data it already supports.

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802.11ax vs 802.11ac: Should I upgrade from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6?

Not every Wi-Fi standard is for everyone. The also recently released 802.11ad standard, for example, only offers a benefit if your device is in the same room as your Wi-Fi access point because the frequency band it uses (60GHz) is unable to penetrate through walls. It doesn’t get a rebrand, as it’s not deemed widely used enough to merit the simplified nomenclature.

In contrast, the 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6 standard offers offer speed increases to pretty much everyone. Eventually, it’s going to be an essential upgrade.

Right now, though?

It’s hardly compulsory for most internet users. Since the standard was only recently confirmed, most of the hardware that currently supports it is unlikely to be able to fully utilise the huge gains offered by Wi-Fi 6. More robust chips, based on a deeper understanding of the new standard, are needed for router manufacturers to capitalise on its huge potential – and that’s still something of a work in progress.

In other words, don’t expect consumer hardware that really makes the most of Wi-Fi 6/802.11ax to surface until 2019. Even then, you probably don’t want to think about spending any money until your most important devices also support the standard. That means no upgrading until at least your laptop and maybe your phone are Wi-Fi 6 compatible.

It’s going to take some time to see the benefits of 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6 to use its snazzy new moniker, but it’s nice to know that it’s there waiting for us.

Will you be making the upgrade to the new Wi-Fi standard, and what do you make of the new Wi-Fi 6 name? Let us know @TrustedReviews.