Is Wi-Fi 5 still good?

Wi-Fi 5, previously known as 802.11ac, has been the standard for Wi-Fi for the past decade. With the emergence of the newer Wi-Fi 6 standard, also known as 802.11ax, many wonder if Wi-Fi 5 is still a viable option in 2023. This article explores the differences between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6, when you may want to upgrade, and why Wi-Fi 5 can still be good enough for most users’ needs.

Is Wi-Fi 5 still good?

What is Wi-Fi 5?

Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ac, was first introduced in 2014. It brought significant improvements over the previous 802.11n standard:

  • Faster speeds – Wi-Fi 5 supports maximum theoretical throughput speeds up to 6,933 Mbps on the 5 GHz band, a huge leap over Wi-Fi 4’s 600 Mbps cap. Real-world speeds often reach over 1 Gbps.
  • More bandwidth – Wi-Fi 5 expanded the 5 GHz band to 80 and 160 MHz channels, allowing for faster theoretical speeds. The 2.4 GHz band is still limited to 20 and 40 MHz channels.
  • Beamforming – This technology focuses the Wi-Fi signal towards clients, enhancing range and stability.
  • Multi-user networking – Allows networking hardware to communicate with multiple clients simultaneously via MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple input, multiple output) technology.

These advancements made Wi-Fi 5 the top-of-the-line standard for the past decade. It’s still the minimum standard on most consumer networking devices produced today.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the newest Wi-Fi standard that builds on 802.11ac:

  • Higher maximum speeds – Wi-Fi 6 theoretically supports up to 9,608 Mbps on the 5 GHz band. Real-world speeds can exceed 2.4 Gbps.
  • OFDMA – Allows for more efficient data transmission via orthogonal frequency-division multiple access technology.
  • Better performance in crowded networks – Technologies like TWT (target wake time) help clients take turns transmitting data, reducing congestion issues in environments with many connected devices.
  • Lower latency – Wi-Fi 6 reduces bufferbloat and latency compared to Wi-Fi 5, which is beneficial for gaming, video conferencing, and audio applications.
  • Backwards compatibility – Wi-Fi 6 devices maintain compatibility with older 802.11a/b/g/n/ac networks and clients.

The Wi-Fi 6 standard brings noticeable improvements, especially in multi-user and congested network environments. However, it requires both the router and clients to support Wi-Fi 6 to realize the full benefits.

When should you upgrade to Wi-Fi 6?

Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 brings the most benefit in these situations:

  • You have 50+ devices connected to your Wi-Fi network simultaneously
  • You have issues with bufferbloat or lag during gaming or video calls
  • Your internet plan is 500 Mbps or faster
  • You need to support multiple 4K video streams
  • You experience congestion or dead zones in your Wi-Fi coverage

For light internet browsing and standard definition video streaming, Wi-Fi 5 is often still sufficient. The need for higher throughput and capacity from Wi-Fi 6 depends greatly on your usage.

Is Wi-Fi 5 still good in 2023?

For most household usage, yes – Wi-Fi 5 remains a reliable wireless standard in 2023. Unless you experience congestion with many devices, lag with low latency activities like gaming/video calls, or need higher speeds for large downloads, Wi-Fi 5 can easily fulfill typical internet needs:

  • Web browsing
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Music streaming
  • Standard definition video
  • Small file downloads

Wi-Fi 5 can even handle some moderate 4K streaming and gaming. It ultimately comes down to your Wi-Fi usage – for lighter needs, Wi-Fi 5 likely remains perfectly suitable through at least 2025.

Pros of keeping Wi-Fi 5

Staying on Wi-Fi 5 instead of upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 has several advantages:

Cost savings

  • Wi-Fi 5 routers and devices tend to be significantly cheaper than Wi-Fi 6.
  • You likely don’t need new cabling or network upgrades for Wi-Fi 5.

Reliability

  • Wi-Fi 5 utilizes a decade-old standard that is tried and true.
  • Issues are typically easy fixes with widely documented troubleshooting steps.

Widespread compatibility

  • Almost all current devices have Wi-Fi 5 compatibility.
  • Allows older devices without Wi-Fi 6 to connect to your network.

For networks with lighter usage, Wi-Fi 5 checks all the key boxes while allowing cost savings and reliability.

Cons of keeping Wi-Fi 5

The limitations to keeping older Wi-Fi 5 networks include:

Slower speeds

  • Maximum Wi-Fi 5 speeds likely don’t exceed 1 Gbps for most users.
  • Performance degrades quickly in congested network environments.

Higher latency

  • Buffering can cause lag, choppy audio/video in gaming, calls, or 4K streaming.

No access to new 6 GHz band

  • Only Wi-Fi 6 can take advantage of the newly opened 6 GHz spectrum.

If you require faster throughput, lower latency, and more bandwidth from new 6 GHz networks, Wi-Fi 5 will leave you behind the curve.

Will Wi-Fi 5 become obsolete?

Wi-Fi 5 will not become truly obsolete anytime soon. The Wi-Fi Alliance commits to supporting Wi-Fi standards for at least 10 years after their release. Wi-Fi 5 first launched in 2014, meaning support should last until 2024 minimum.

Wide industry adoption also helps – most current and past devices support Wi-Fi 5, so users can repurpose aging tech instead of scrapping anything without Wi-Fi 6 support. Backwards compatibility ensures Wi-Fi 5 clients can associate with Wi-Fi 6/7/etc access points.

As long as it meets your household needs, Wi-Fi 5 should have no problem going strongly for years to come. Eventually bandwidth demands will likely require consumers to upgrade, but Wi-Fi 5 will remain relevant through mid-decade.

Key takeaways

  • Wi-Fi 5 continues to deliver fast, reliable wireless networking for lighter household usage
  • Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 mainly benefits multi-user networks transmitting huge files or 4K video
  • For web browsing, social media, standard definition video, and lighter tasks, Wi-Fi 5 remains perfectly suitable through at least 2025
  • Wi-Fi 5 is affordable, compatible with all modern devices, and lacks widespread hardware issues
  • Congested networks with 50+ clients or need for cutting edge 6 GHz access require eventual upgrade to Wi-Fi 6

Ultimately Wi-Fi 5 should not be considered obsolete – it excels at serving typical households extremely well. Only high-demand users need to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 in the near future.

Conclusion

Wi-Fi 5, despite the emergence of newer standards, still provides fast and reliable wireless networking a decade after launch. It hits the sweet spot between price, performance and compatibility for most household’s need through at least 2025.

Users that experience congestion with 50+ connected devices, require low latency for gaming/video, need over 1 Gbps throughput, or desire access to new 6 GHz networks will benefit by upgrading routers and devices to Wi-Fi 6.

But Wi-Fi 5 remains far from obsolete – it will continue serving the majority of households exceptionally well for years to come while allowing cost savings. For sustainable technology consumption, using reliable tech like Wi-Fi 5 as long as possible is a smart approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How fast is Wi-Fi 5?
A: Wi-Fi 5 offers maximum theoretical speeds up to 6,933 Mbps but most household networks realize 1 Gbps or less. Performance varies based on networking equipment, clients, and environmental factors.

Q: Does Wi-Fi 5 support mesh networks?
A: Yes, Wi-Fi 5 is fully compatible with mesh network arrangements, including daisy chaining nodes for whole home coverage.

Q: Can Wi-Fi 5 handle gaming?
A: Wi-Fi 5 can support online gaming but performance depends greatly on your internet speeds. Latency might be higher than ideal for competitive gaming during congested periods.

Q: Is Wi-Fi 5 dual band?
A: Yes, Wi-Fi 5 supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. Using the less congested 5 GHz band helps maximize throughputs.

Q: How many devices can Wi-Fi 5 handle?
A: Wi-Fi 5 networks can handle around 50-100 connected devices reasonably well. After that, congestion issues might arise causing choppy performance.

Q: Does Wi-Fi 5 have security flaws?
A: Wi-Fi 5 supports modern WPA3 encryption standards and receives ongoing firmware security updates from manufacturers helping protect from known vulnerabilities.

Q: Can I stream 4K video over Wi-Fi 5?
A: Yes, Wi-Fi 5 offers sufficient throughput for smooth 4K streaming. Performance suffers if you have many concurrent 4K streams across a congested network.

Q: Will my ISP replace my Wi-Fi 5 router?
A: Internet providers do not typically force router upgrades unless required for network infrastructure improvements. Wi-Fi 5 meets the needs of most ISP speed tiers.

Q: Is it worth upgrading from Wi-Fi 4 to Wi-Fi 5?
: Yes, upgrading from 802.11n to 802.11ac brings sizeable speed and performance enhancements making it a worthwhile improvement for most users.

Q: Does Wi-Fi 5 use more power than Wi-Fi 6?
A: No, Wi-Fi 5 routers generally consume similar or less power than Wi-Fi 6 since the technology has greater hardware efficiency after years of refinement.

Q: Can Wi-Fi 5 take advantage of WPA3 encryption?
A: Yes, Wi-Fi 5 supports the modern WPA3 wireless security protocol through firmware updates to allow enhanced encryption strength over the older WPA2 standard.

Q: How far does Wi-Fi 5 reach?
A: With ideal conditions, Wi-Fi 5 networks can reach 150-200 feet indoors and 250-300 feet outdoors to client devices before signal drop-off interferes with connectivity and speed.

Q: Will Wi-Fi 5 work with Wi-Fi 6 routers?
A: Yes, Wi-Fi 5 devices maintain backwards compatibility to associate and communicate with Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 7 access points and gateways.

Q: Is it worth upgrading phones/laptops to support Wi-Fi 6?
A: Only if your Wi-Fi router also supports Wi-Fi 6. Otherwise, Wi-Fi 5 compatible devices enjoy nearly full functionality on Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6 networks while allowing cost savings.

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