A Comprehensive Guide to WiFi 5, WiFi 6, and WiFi 6E

With the numerous WiFi technologies available, it can be challenging to determine which one is the best fit. In this post, we will explore the differences between WiFi 5, WiFi 6, and WiFi 6E to help you make an informed decision.

Overview of Current WiFi Standards – To gain a realistic understanding of different WiFi technologies, it is crucial to examine the standards that routers, devices, and networking hardware adhere to. These standards were developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and are overseen by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Previously, WiFi standards were denoted by complex names such as “802.11xx,” but the introduction of WiFi 6 simplified the naming convention. WiFi 5 and WiFi 4, formerly known as 802.11ac and 802.11n, respectively, have now been replaced by WiFi 6, also referred to as 802.11ax. These newer naming conventions are more user-friendly and comprehensible for non-specialists.

photo: Pixabay

WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 are currently the most widely available standards, supported by the majority of devices. WiFi 6E, on the other hand, offers enhancements over WiFi 6 but has yet to achieve widespread adoption. So, what sets these coexisting WiFi standards apart?

Comparing WiFi 5 and WiFi 6

WiFi 5 has been in use since 2014 and is presently the most commonly employed WiFi standard worldwide. However, WiFi 6, introduced in 2019, is rapidly replacing WiFi 5 due to its significant improvements.

One of the most crucial enhancements is speed. WiFi 6 boasts a theoretical data transfer rate of 10Gbps, while WiFi 5 only reaches a maximum speed of 3.5Gbps. Although real-world performance depends on factors such as home hardware setup and physical obstructions, WiFi 6 undeniably offers a substantial speed upgrade over WiFi 5.

Another significant improvement is reduced latency. WiFi 6 minimizes wireless latency, enhances load times, and mitigates disconnections. By utilizing technologies like orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), WiFi 6 is more efficient at transmitting data packets via wireless signals.

WiFi 6 also addresses network congestion more effectively. With numerous devices competing for bandwidth, WiFi 5 networks struggled to keep up. Multiple User-Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) enables WiFi networks to simultaneously transmit data to multiple devices in both directions. While WiFi 5 supports up to 4 streams, WiFi 6 outperforms it with support for up to 8 streams.

Not only is WiFi 6 faster than older WiFi standards, but it is also more reliable. WiFi signals select the best channel within the frequency band to transmit data. WiFi 5 requires a clear channel before transmission, but WiFi 6 excels at identifying the source of interference that blocks a specific channel. This allows it to continue transmitting even if other networks are causing interference.

Additionally, WiFi 6 excels in battery saving capabilities. Supported devices can customize how they receive WiFi signals, enabling them to temporarily disable signal reception when inactive, thus conserving battery life.

Lastly, WiFi 6 offers improved security compared to WiFi 5. With support for the WPA3 standard, network encryption on WiFi 6 is considerably harder to crack than older WiFi standards.

Comparing WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E

WiFi 6E, introduced in 2020, extends the capabilities of WiFi 6 to the 6GHz frequency band. The “E” in WiFi 6E stands for “Extended.” This standard grants WiFi 6E access to more channels, wider bandwidth, and reduced congestion for signal transmission compared to already feature-rich WiFi 6 networks. As a result, WiFi 6E is less susceptible to interference from older bands and devices and exhibits lower latency compared to WiFi 6. However, WiFi 6E is less reliable over long distances and when encountering obstacles like thick walls. This limitation stems from the fact that 6GHz radio waves are less effective at traversing barriers compared to lower frequencies.

Availability of WiFi 5, WiFi 6, and WiFi 6E

While you may still be using devices that support WiFi 5, they will become increasingly scarce. WiFi 6 devices and routers have gained rapid popularity, as the cost of routers has gradually decreased, and manufacturers have adopted newer standards for many products.

However, WiFi 6E support is currently limited. Routers that support WiFi 6E tend to be expensive and are predominantly found in high-end phones, laptops, and TVs.

Considering availability, features, and price, WiFi 6 is presently the recommended choice. It offers data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps, encompasses most of the features of WiFi 6E, and is relatively affordable. Moreover, both WiFi 6E and WiFi 6 routers are backward compatible with devices supporting WiFi 5 and older standards. This ensures that regardless of the WiFi standard supported by your laptop or PC, they will function seamlessly with modern routers.

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