WiFi technology has come a long way in recent years. With the advent of newer standards like WiFi 5 and WiFi 6, you now have more options when upgrading your home or office wireless network. But should you buy WiFi 5 or WiFi 6? Let’s compare the key differences to help you decide.
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Wi-Fi 5, also known as 802.11ac, offers faster speeds and wider coverage areas than previous WiFi versions. But Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) brings even more significant improvements. This article explores the pros and cons of both to help you make an informed buying decision.
Speed and Bandwidth
One of the main determining factors is speed. WiFi 6 supports faster maximum theoretical speeds, higher bandwidth, and less network congestion.
- WiFi 5 Speed: Up to 3 Gbps
- WiFi 6 Speed: Up to 9.6 Gbps with 1024 QAM
That’s over 3X faster! WiFi 6 achieves better speeds through technologies like orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) allowing more devices to transmit simultaneously.
Range and Coverage
Faster WiFi speeds are great, but only if your devices can maintain a solid connection throughout your home.
- WiFi 5 has decent range with typical coverage areas of 1,500 square feet.
- WiFi 6 boosts signal reach and efficiency for expanded coverage up to 2,500 square feet.
So if you have dead zones in certain areas of your home, WiFi 6 can help with its extended wireless range capabilities.
With the onslaught of connected smart home gadgets and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, WiFi networks are handling more simultaneous connections.
WiFi 6 includes MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output) allowing simultaneous data transmission to multiple devices at once. As such:
- WiFi 5 networks support connecting approximately 100-250 devices
- WiFi 6 can handle over 500 devices on one network
This makes WiFi 6 better suited for dense, high-traffic networks.
When upgrading home tech, backwards compatibility is always a concern. Can older devices still connect?
The good news is WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 maintain compatibility with even older WiFi 4/802.11n and WiFi 5/802.11ac devices. However, to enjoy the faster WiFi 6 speeds requires hardware with compatible 802.11ax wireless adapters.
So while WiFi 6 routers work with older devices, upgrade adapters to unlock the full benefits.
Key Differences Summary
|1,500 sq ft
|2,500 sq ft
When Should You Upgrade to WiFi 6?
With the above speed, capacity, and coverage improvements, WiFi 6 seems like an easy choice. But upgrading comes at a cost premium. WiFi 6 routers and devices tend to carry higher price tags.
Here are a few instances where paying more for WiFi 6 provides good value:
- You have an abundance of devices connecting simultaneously
- Your network suffers dead zones with poor signal strength
- You frequently transfer large files across devices
- You stream high bandwidth 4K/8K video content
- You play multiplayer video games
If none of the above apply, WiFi 5 likely suits most households sufficiently. But future-proof your network for faster speeds with WiFi 6.
The Case for Sticking with WiFi 5
Despite the performance gains with WiFi 6, WiFi 5 remains a solid option at lower price points with wide device support.
Reasons you may opt to stick with WiFi 5:
- You’re on a strict budget
- Your internet plan has speeds below 1 Gbps
- You use less than 100 connected devices
- You mostly stream HD or lower resolution video
- You don’t transfer large files between devices often
As long as you aren’t pushing your WiFi 5 router to its limits, it will work reliably for a few more years. No sense overspending!
Key Takeaways on WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6
- WiFi 6 is up to 3X faster than WiFi 5 with less network congestion
- It offers expanded signal range for whole home coverage
- Supports 4X more simultaneously connected devices
- Ideal for high bandwidth tasks like 4K streaming or large file transfers
- WiFi 5 still sufficient for smaller homes with fewer devices
Determine your network usage needs. For optimal future-proofing, choose WiFi 6. But sticking with WiFi 5 works for more basic requirements.
While WiFi 6 brings impressive speed, capacity, and range improvements, WiFi 5 remains adequate for many households. Take stock of your network’s usage and devices to determine if paying extra for WiFi 6 warrants the benefits.
With more devices connecting year after year, WiFi 6 helps future-proof home networks. But WiFi 5 still reliable handles everyday online activities. Compare your needs against the key differences outlined to decide if upgrading to WiFi 6 over WiFi 5 fits your budget and requirements.
Frequently Asked Questions on Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6
- Is WiFi 5 slower than WiFi 6?
Yes, WiFi 6 achieves faster maximum theoretical wireless speeds up to 9.6 Gbps whereas WiFi 5 tops out around 3 Gbps. Real-world speeds depend on your internet plan though.
- Is WiFi 5 obsolete?
WiFi 5 is not yet obsolete. It still offers reliable connectivity for most homes needs. However, WiFi 6 newer with faster speeds and capacity for future network demands.
- Is it worth upgrading to WiFi 6?
Upgrading to WiFi 6 is worth it if you need faster speeds, wider home coverage, or connect many devices simultaneously. For simpler needs, WiFi 5 still gets the job done.
- Does WiFi 6 use more power?
Yes, WiFi 6 consumes more energy since delivering faster speeds requires more bandwidth and wireless signals. Upgrade devices and enable power saving settings to offset the increased power.
- Will WiFi 5 devices work on WiFi 6?
Yes, WiFi 6 maintains backward compatibility with WiFi 5 and even older WiFi 4 devices. However, you need WiFi 6 compatible hardware to enjoy the fastest 6 speeds.
- Does WiFi 6 go through walls better?
WiFi 6 signals transmit farther allowing better range through walls and obstacles. Upgrading can help eliminate dead zones in certain parts of your home.
- What is the range of WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6?
WiFi 5 provides decent range up to approximately 1500 square feet. WiFi 6 extends coverage reliably up to 2500 square feet thanks to efficiency gains.
- How many devices can WiFi 5 handle?
WiFi 5 networks can reliably support between 100-250 connected devices depending on environmental factors and bandwidth. WiFi manages 500+ devices.
- Is WiFi 5 dual band?
Yes, WiFi 5 supports dual-band coverage on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies like WiFi 6. This allows you to connect devices optimally based on signal interference.
- Can I upgrade just my router to WiFi 6?
To fully leverage WiFi 6 speeds requires upgrading devices WiFi adapters to 802.11ax as well. But upgrading your router enables support more connections.
- What is the difference between MU-MIMO and OFDMA?
MU-MIMO allows transmitting data to multiple devices simultaneously. OFDMA splits bandwidth more efficiently with less signal contention.
- Should I disable older WiFi standards on my WiFi 6 router?
Disabling legacy WiFi protocols ensures devices use the latest WiFi 6 standard for optimal speed. But older devices may no longer connect.
- How do I know if my device supports WiFi 6?
Check your device specifications or network settings. The device should list “802.11ax” compatibility to confirm WiFi 6 networking support.
- Why does my WiFi 6 speed vary device to device?
The maximum WiFi 6 speeds require devices with compatible 802.11ax wireless chipsets. Connecting with older device standards reduces speeds.
- Do WiFi extenders work with WiFi 6?
Yes, WiFi range extenders are still useful for improving coverage areas for WiFi 6 networks. Ensure extenders match latest 802.11ax specs.
- Can I upgrade just my PC to use WiFi 6?
Yes, you can add an 802.11ax supported wireless network adapter to your computer to connect with WiFi 6 speeds.
- How much faster is 1080p streaming with WiFi 6?
WiFi 6 only improves 1080p streaming marginally since less bandwidth required versus 4K video. You’ll notice bigger differences with high quality streaming.
- Should I disable the 2.4GHz band on my WiFi 6 router?
No, keep the 2.4GHz band enabled even though 5GHz is faster. Some smart home devices need 2.4GHz to connect properly.
- What router settings should I adjust with WiFi 6?
On WiFi 6 routers enable MU-MIMO, adjust channels for least interference, enable band steering to 5GHz for capable devices.
- Will my ISP need to upgrade for WiFi 6 speeds?
No, but ISP data caps or slower internet plans can bottleneck your speeds. WiFi 6 routers still helpful for expanding coverage regardless.