Is Wi-Fi 6 faster than 5G?

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are the latest generation wireless networking technologies, promising faster speeds and lower latency. But which one is actually faster?

Is Wi-Fi 6 faster than 5G?

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the newest Wi-Fi standard released in 2019 by the Wi-Fi Alliance. It builds on previous Wi-Fi versions to deliver improved performance, especially in dense, high-traffic environments.

Some key improvements of Wi-Fi 6 over Wi-Fi 5 include:

  • Faster top speeds – up to 9.6 Gbps theoretical maximum vs 3.5 Gbps for Wi-Fi 5.
  • Increased bandwidth and capacity for more simultaneous connections.
  • Lower latency for time sensitive tasks like gaming and video calls.
  • Faster, more efficient performance in crowded public places through technologies like OFDMA.

Overall, Wi-Fi 6 delivers up to 37% faster speeds than Wi-Fi 5 in real-world testing. The technology is backwards compatible with all previous Wi-Fi devices.

What is 5G?

5G is the 5th generation of cellular mobile communications. It succeeds the 4G/LTE networks widely used today.

5G aims to provide significantly faster speeds while also allowing more devices to connect at once. Other advantages over 4G include:

  • Peak download speeds up to 20 Gbps – over 10 times faster than peak 4G LTE.
  • Far lower latency approaching 1 ms for uses requiring real-time response.
  • Up to 100x more connections per unit area like crowded events.

There are tradeoffs with low, mid and high band 5G determining both speed and range, but overall the technology promises radical improvements over 4G mobile networks.

Wi-Fi 6 vs 5G Speed

So when it comes to peak theoretical speeds, 5G tops out higher at 20 Gbps compared to Wi-Fi 6’s maximum of 9.6 Gbps. However, real world performance is often quite different from the theoretical peaks.

In practice, average download speeds for 5G in the United States remain much lower than the maximum due to factors like limited spectrum availability, network densification and more. Early commercial 5G deployments offered download speeds in the 100 – 400 Mbps ranges.

Meanwhile, current Wi-Fi 6 devices and routers routinely achieve 800 – 1200+ Mbps throughput speeds in many home and business settings. These speeds already match or exceed typical consumer internet connection bandwidth.

For this reason, Wi-Fi 6 currently offers faster real-world speeds for the vast majority of everyday users when connecting devices like phones or laptops. Exceptions do exist – for example stadiums or very dense urban areas where 5G deployments offer more consistent performance.

However, Wi-Fi 6 already provides a major upgrade in speed, capacity and latency compared to Wi-Fi 5 in most environments.

When Will 5G Be Faster?

While Wi-Fi 6 exceeds 5G performance in most practical instances today, 5G technology will continue advancing rapidly.

Here are some key areas we should see 5G pull ahead in speed over the next several years:

  • Spectrum utilization – More 5G spectrum being opened up for consumer use will enable faster speeds.
  • Network buildouts – Increased 5G towers, small cells and mesh nodes will allow higher bandwidth across broader geographic areas.
  • Multi-user performance – Refinements like MU-MIMO will better serve many simultaneous 5G connections.

Most experts predict the fastest 5G networks will surpass Wi-Fi 6 speeds for the average user perhaps 3-5 years out as adoption and deployment scale globally.

However, Wi-Fi 6 itself still has room to grow – an emerging standard called Wi-Fi 6E expands Wi-Fi access to the lightly used 6 GHz band for additional capacity. This could allow residential Wi-Fi speeds over 2 Gbps in ideal conditions.

When Should You Use Wi-Fi vs 5G?

Because 5G rollout is still early in many regions, Wi-Fi 6 remains the faster option for most personal networking uses today, while offering essentially unlimited data versus metered 5G plans.

As 5G networks expand globally over the next five years, we should see exciting new hybrid devices take advantage leveraging both protocols simultaneously. For example phones using Wi-Fi connectivity at home or the office for best performance, then automatically shifting essential traffic to 5G when leaving Wi-Fi coverage areas.

For now, smartphones, laptops, game consoles and other consumer devices will typically enjoy the best speeds on local Wi-Fi 6 networks. On the other hand, only 5G can promise consistent low latency mobile performance out of Wi-Fi range – useful for applications like self-driving vehicles.

Basically Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will coexist to complement each other in the years ahead.

Key Takeaways

  • While 5G tops out at faster maximum theoretical speeds, current Wi-Fi 6 implementations typically offer faster real-world download and upload performance due to spectrum availability.
  • As 5G networks expand coverage and utilize more spectrum over the next 3-5 years, we should see 5G pull ahead of Wi-Fi 6 in average speed for users.
  • For most smartphones, laptops and consumer devices, Wi-Fi 6 still provides faster speeds today, especially indoors where over 80% of wireless traffic occurs.
  • As 5G rollout continues, we’ll see more hybrid devices that utilize both protocols simultaneously for optimal connectivity.

Conclusion

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G bring the promise of a high-speed, low latency future across all of our connected devices. But while 5G rollout is still ramping up, Wi-Fi 6 delivers excellent performance for the vast majority of today’s networking needs when available. As 5G expands over the next few years, its speed and capabilities will likely surpass Wi-Fi 6 in many usage categories, allowing the technologies to work in tandem to keep us seamlessly connected.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the top speed for Wi-Fi 6?
    The theoretical maximum speed for Wi-Fi 6 is 9.6 Gbps. Real-world speeds over 1 Gbps are common.

  2. How fast can 5G networks be?
    Peak theoretical 5G download speeds can reach 20 Gbps and beyond. Today’s average 5G speeds range from 100 Mbps to 400 Mbps.

  3. Is Wi-Fi 6 faster than the Internet?
    Yes, typical home and business Wi-Fi 6 performance exceeds common internet plan speeds today, which often fall in the 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps range.

  4. Is Wi-Fi 6 worth it over Wi-Fi 5?
    Yes, Wi-Fi 6 provides up to 37% faster performance versus Wi-Fi 5, while supporting more simultaneous device connections with less latency.

  5. When will 5G be as fast as Wi-Fi?
    Experts estimate 5G speeds will likely surpass typical Wi-Fi 6 performance within 3-5 years in many areas as deployment advances.

  6. Does 5G replace Wi-Fi?
    No, 5G and Wi-Fi will coexist. Wi-Fi 6 excels indoors for stationary connections while 5G enables faster mobility and roaming.

  7. What frequency is Wi-Fi 6?
    Wi-Fi 6 can utilize the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and the new 6 GHz frequency bands depending on specific protocol extensions.

  8. Will Wi-Fi 7 be faster than 5G?
    Potentially yes, early Wi-Fi 7 prototypes achieve speeds up to 30 Gbps. However 5G networks should also advance over the next few years.

  9. Is Wi-Fi 6E better than Wi-Fi 6?
    Wi-Fi 6E offers higher maximum speeds and less interference thanks to exclusive access to uncongested 6 GHz band spectrum.

  10. Are there disadvantages to using Wi-Fi 6?
    Wi-Fi 6 requires compatible devices and routers to realize the speed, capacity and latency improvements over Wi-Fi 5. It’s also still prone to interference.

  11. What frequency will 5G use?
    5G uses a wide range of licensed spectrum frequencies spanning low band, mid-band and high band spectrums from 600 MHz to 95 GHz based on specific 5G network deployments.

  12. Can Wi-Fi 6 handle more devices?
    Yes, Wi-Fi 6 supports up to 8 streams per access point, 4X greater bandwidth per stream, and up 4X more simultaneous device connections in dense environments.

  13. Is Wi-Fi 6 worth upgrading to today?
    If you mostly use Wi-Fi at home with newer devices, upgrading routers to Wi-Fi 6 can deliver noticeably faster speeds and connectivity.

  14. Who invented Wi-Fi 6?
    The non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance oversees all Wi-Fi specifications and testing to ensure interoperability. Wi-Fi 6 technology comes from several companies.

  15. Is Wi-Fi 5 slower than Wi-Fi 6?
    Yes generally, Wi-Fi 5 offers a maximum speed of 3.5 Gbps with up to 4 streams while Wi-Fi 6 supports up to 12 streams with 9.6 Gbps maximum throughput.

  16. Should I buy a Wi-Fi 6 phone?
    Wi-Fi 6 capable phones can achieve faster speeds on supported networks. However 5G connectivity often matters more when selecting a smartphone today.

  17. Is it worth upgrading home Wi-Fi to 6?
    Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 routers and devices can make sense for high-bandwidth uses like video streaming, gaming and serving many simultaneous client connections efficiently.

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