What Is Wi-Fi 6 and Why Does It Matter?

As the official technology for wireless networking, Wi-Fi is measured according to standards. Like the technology in your devices and tech equipment, updates are made regularly—roughly every five years or so in this case. Wi-Fi 6 is the most recent version of Wi-Fi technology. It’s faster, more efficient, more secure and better at communicating with multiple devices at once than previous versions. So, if you want the best wireless possible in your home, it’s a good idea to keep up and get the most from this update. 

What are the new features of Wi-Fi 6?

This new version is a major upgrade. Here are some highlights that will mean a lot to your Wi-Fi:

It’s faster. Wi-Fi 6 can hypothetically hit speeds near 10 Gbps. Wi-Fi 5 maxed out at 3.5 Gbps. Note, this is a hypothetical speed, and it’s spread across your entire network, meaning it’s unlikely any one device will see speeds close to that. It’s still a useful benchmark for comparison.

It’s better for homes with lots of devices. Previous versions of Wi-Fi effectively made every connected device take turns to send and receive data, which is why the coffee shop Wi-Fi gets slower and slower as more people show up. Wi-Fi 6 doesn’t do this—it splits the wireless frequency up, giving a subset to every connected device. The result: less lag.

It works better in areas with lots of different routers. Wi-Fi service in apartment buildings can slow down because of overlapping networks. Wi-Fi 6 can uniquely identify traffic on your network, meaning activity from nearby networks is less of an issue. And it can get better: If you get a Wi-Fi 6E–compatible router, which is another step up in Wi-Fi 6, you can use the 6GHz spectrum, getting even faster speeds and lower latencies.

It’s more secure. WPA3 is the latest encryption scheme for protecting your internet traffic. Wi-Fi 6 makes this more-secure standard the default.

It’s better for battery life. Wi-Fi 6 can use Target Wake Time to allow smart home devices to activate only when they’re in use, meaning they don’t have to stay constantly awake and connected. With older routers, your smart home devices are constantly “checking in” with the router.

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How do I get Wi-Fi 6?

You’ll need a new Wi-Fi 6 router. If you’ve just signed up with your internet service provider, you probably received a Wi-Fi 6 router. If you want to upgrade, feel free to purchase one yourself, or ask your provider to supply one to you. The advantage of getting a router from your provider is that they’ll make sure any software updates are sent automatically without you having to download them. And they’ll probably be able to address any maintenance issues for you, should they arise.

Will I notice a difference if I upgrade to a Wi-Fi 6 router?

Yes, especially if you already have a gigabit internet connection. With speeds that fast, your internet isn’t likely to be the main choke point—the connection between your router and your devices is. Having a new Wi-Fi 6 router is the best way to really take advantage of the speed you’re paying for, especially if you live in a large household with a lot of devices.

You can’t add Wi-Fi 6 to your older phone, tablet or laptop with a software update, so you won’t notice any difference in the performance of those devices. But if you bought a device in the past year or so, it’s most likely compatible with Wi-Fi 6, so you’ll notice the difference, and a Wi-Fi 6 router means you can take advantage of that.

If you live in a house where multiple people are on the Wi-Fi at all hours of the day, and you regularly notice slow speeds, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 could help a lot. Whether you have multiple people streaming videos or a group of hardcore gamers, the reduced interference and lower lag is going to make a difference for all of you.

It’s worth noting that Wi-Fi 6 won’t speed up your internet connection—just how well your devices can access that connection. Seriously consider upgrading to a gigabit connection to really take advantage of what Wi-Fi 6 can offer.

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