If you're searching for a new wireless router, you’ve probably stumbled upon the term “Wi-Fi 6.” We know that shopping for a new router is hard enough as it is, and now there’s even more letters and numbers to worry about. 802-dot-something? AX3000? MU-MIMO! It's like robot speak. We totally get that it can all get overwhelming very quickly.
To ease the intimidation, we thought we would answer some questions you might have about Wi-Fi 6.
What Is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is a next-generation wireless standard that transmits signals more efficiently. It’s not a new way to connect to the Internet like 5G or Fiber. Instead, it builds upon the current 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard you more than likely use today, to provide faster speeds and better performance — especially in congested areas. It’ll make the biggest difference in places like airports and hotels, but will also help your own home’s Wi-Fi feel less bogged down when numerous devices are connected to it.
How Fast Is Wi-Fi 6?
Unfortunately, there’s not a definitive answer to this question. The theoretical maximum speed is 9.6 Gbps, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is about 30% faster than the top speeds Wi-Fi 5 can deliver. The sad fact of the matter is that for the time being — you'll likely get 1.2 Gbps at most, which is the base speed of several Wi-Fi 6 routers.
Ry Crist, a senior editor at CNET, was able to clock transfer speeds at 1,320 Mbps using a Wi-Fi 6 router — which to be fair, is 40% faster than the fastest Wi-Fi 5 speeds he has measured.
Although the 1.2 Gbps figure is a lot smaller than that 9.6 Gbps max speed we previously mentioned, 1.2 Gbps is really something. Especially considering the fact that the average download speed in the United States, at the time of publishing, is just 134 Mbps. For context, you could download the entire collection of Harry Potter films in 6 minutes with a speed of 1.2 Gbps compared to an hour with a speed of 134 Mbps.
It’s important to keep in mind that the upload and download speeds you get are determined by your internet service provider (think Comcast, Spectrum, AT&T, or Google Fiber) and the plan that you subscribe to for internet access.
As much as we wish that a Wi-Fi 6 router would be the key to unlocking blazing fast speeds, a lot depends on where you live and the infrastructure that’s present to deliver internet.
Why Is Wi-Fi 6 Better?
Simply put, Wi-Fi 6 is much more efficient. It uses less energy to deliver data. As we previously mentioned, it’s faster, too! That’s due in part to it supporting a new spec called quadrature amplitude modulation, or QAM for short. This basically means your router can send more binary code with each transmission.
Another new feature called OFDMA, which stands for “orthogonal frequency division multiple access,” allows a single transmission to deliver data to multiple devices at once. A good way of thinking about it is when Amazon ships multiple small boxes compared to using only one larger box. With OFDMA, you’ll be able to get all the goods in fewer deliveries.
Wi-Fi 6 also supports a feature called target wake time that puts your Wi-Fi adapter to sleep when it’s idle. This will help conserve battery life for smart home gadgets like doorbell cameras or smart locks.
We know it’s a lot to take in, but the gist is that the new standard will be able to work at higher speeds with fewer congestions, all while providing you with an extra dose of security in comparison to Wi-Fi 5. And If you want more info on all these crazy acronyms, TP-Link’s guide to Wi-Fi 6 does a phenomenal job of breaking it down in layman’s terms.
What Do I Need to Take Advantage of Wi-Fi 6?
As you can see in the list below, there are plenty of new Wi-Fi 6 routers available. Surprisingly, there aren’t many devices that support the new standard. The Apple iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max all do. As do the Samsung Galaxy S20, Galaxy Note10, and Galaxy S10 smartphones. Lenovo's newest ThinkPad laptops are compatible, too, but most other computers will need an adapter to support the new technology.
We recommend Wi-Fi 6 routers for folks who have a fiberoptic internet connection. AT&T, CenturyLink, Cox, Frontier, Mediacom, Suddenlink, Verizon, and Windstream are some examples of providers that offer fiber internet. You can see what type of internet technology your area has using this map from the FCC.
Do I Need Wi-Fi 6?
Unless you're the type of person who likes to have the latest and greatest tech, right now there isn't much reason for the average consumer to rush out and buy a Wi-Fi 6 router. At the time of publishing, the average U.S. household had nine Wi-Fi devices, so chances are that extra bandwidth a Wi-Fi 6 router provides may be a overkill for most families.
Based on our analysis, Wi-Fi 6 routers — especially mesh ones — are priced significantly higher than Wi-Fi 5 routers. And although they are more reliable and support faster speeds, you may not be able to use them to their full potential. Really the decision on whether or not you should buy one boils down to who your internet service provider is and what type of internet connection you have.
That’s not to say that you won’t come across a Wi-Fi 6 connection anytime soon! In fact, if you’re a Los Angeles Rams or Chargers fan, you’ll be happy to see that the new SoFi stadium will be wired to support Wi-Fi 6.
Best Wi-Fi 6 Routers
Best Overall: TP-Link Archer AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Router
Best Budget Router: TP-Link Archer AX50 AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 Router
Best for Apartments: Netgear Nighthawk RAX40 4-Stream Wi-Fi 6 Router
Best Mesh Router: Orbi RBK852 Tri-band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System
Best for Gamers: ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 Wi-Fi 6 Router
Best for Power Users: ASUS RT-AX89X Wi-Fi 6 Router
If you are ready to make the switch in your own home, though, learn more about our favorite Wi-Fi 6 routers, according to our two tech editors.
Best Wi-Fi 6 Router for Most Homes
This Wi-Fi 6 router delivers astonishing wireless speeds. Editors at CNET said this router achieved the fastest wireless transfer speeds they've ever recorded — an average wireless download speed of 1,523 Mbps at a distance of 5 feet and a zippy 868 Mbps at a distance of 75 feet.
To put those numbers into context, it would take you just over 2 hours to download all 22 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 4K — a feat that would take nearly 30 hours for the average U.S. broadband internet consumer.
The router packs a single 2.5 Gbps WAN port, eight Gigabit LAN ports, dual USB 3.0 ports, and a single USB-C jack — enough ports for all your consoles, servers, and more. It’s powered by a quad-core processor, works with Alexa, and supports link aggregation.
Best Budget Wi-Fi 6 Router
This dual-stream Wi-Fi 6 router will blanket your home in reliable Wi-Fi coverage. It’s one of the most affordable Wi-Fi 6 routers on the market, while still offering users plenty of network settings and customization options. It lacks more advanced features like a multigig port, dual-WAN, and link aggregation.
It is worth mentioning that the Archer AX50 router isn’t TP-Link’s most affordable Wi-Fi 6 routers. The Archer AX10 (about $80) and Archer AX20 (about $130) are even cheaper. However, we think you’re better off spending the extra money for the Archer AX50 because it automatically designates slower and faster devices to the appropriate Wi-Fi band. We think you can expect better overall performance with it, too.
Best for Apartments
The Manta ray shaped Nighthawk RAX40 is a step above the TP-Link Archer AX50 router we previously mentioned because it supports four simultaneous streams compared to the TP-Link’s two. Basically, this means that the router offers a higher capacity for more devices that connect to it.
Like the Archer AX50, this one lacks a multigig port, dual-WAN, and link aggregation, but it still offers fast speeds and enough range for a medium-sized apartment or condo. Although it may not mean much, out of any Wi-Fi 6 router we’ve come across, we think this one is of the coolest-looking ones out there.
Best Mesh Router
A mesh router kit is the best option for larger and multilevel homes since they give you the option to pair multiple units. That way you can have more reliable Wi-Fi coverage and faster speeds. The Orbi Wi-Fi 6 mesh system’s $600+ price tag is surely a hard pill to swallow, but it’s tough to beat if you want the best of the best.
The two-piece set is capable of covering homes up to 5,000 square feet, but you can add more units to expand the coverage if necessary. Without an ounce of doubt, this is the fastest mesh router on the market.
If you’re on a budget, the ASUS ZenWiFi AX system is a close contender and priced at $450, making it much more affordable. However, it is frequently out of stock.
Best for Gamers
The ASUS ROG Rapture Wi-Fi 6 router is tailor-made for gamers. It uses a much more powerful 1.8 GHz quad-core processor to deliver speedier connections and better overall performance. ASUS says it’s capable of downloading a 256 GB game in just 47 minutes.
Besides its blazing-fast speeds, what we like is that the router features a second 5 GHz frequency band that’s dedicated strictly to your gaming devices. Meaning other streaming devices, smartphones, and laptops won’t be competing for precious bandwidth.
Best for Power Users
Not to be confused with the ASUS RT-AX89U, the ASUS RT-AX89X is the first Wi-Fi 6 router to feature two 10 Gbps network ports. This means you can enjoy up to 10 times faster speeds than traditional routers. With a total networking speed of about 6,000 Mbps — that’s 1,148 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 4,804 Mbps on the 5 GHz band — this 8x8 router provides the best speeds in the business.
As you’d expect, the router packs plenty of security settings to protect against data theft and it offers advanced parental controls. Compared to the other Wi-Fi 6 routers, this one supports Dual-WAN and link aggregation, too. It’s also packed with eight Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN port.
You Might Also Like