Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E – Which Should You Choose?

With Wi-Fi 7 set to launch in 2024 – reportedly twice as fast as Wi-Fi 6, but before that happens, lets dig into the key differences between Wi-Fi 5 and 6.

Credit: TP-Link

If you are in the market for a new router, or device that uses Wi-Fi, you are probably looking at Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5 devices which are the most commonly available right now in South Africa – is it worth looking into Wi-Fi 6 or 6E?

Wi-fi 4 remains relatively prevalent, being transmitted over the 2.4Ghz radio frequency. It is still used in dual band routers favoured for its superior wall penetration capabilities.

Wi-Fi 5 is the fifth generation of the wireless local area network standard. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) categorise it as the IEEE 802.11ac standard. Wi-Fi 5 was retroactively named as such to make it easier for consumers to tell the difference between the various Wi-Fi standards. Wi-Fi 5 was released in 2013, which made a significant improvement over Wi-Fi 4 (IEEE 802.11n). Wi-Fi 5 allows devices to transmit data over the 5 GHz frequency band, which allows a theoretical speed of 3.5Gbps – realistically you would get speeds of more than 1GBps under ideal conditions. The downside to 5GHz is that, unlike 2.4GHz, it struggles to penetrate walls.

With Wi-Fi 5 being more than a decade old, let’s look at the new Wi-Fi 6 standard.

Wi-Fi 6 or IEEE 802.11ax, released in 2019, is the 6th generation of Wi-Fi. It was designed as an improvement over Wi-Fi 5 by offering faster speeds across multiple devices, especially in improvements with a high density of devices, such as offices schools and cafes. Wi-Fi 6 isn’t just more efficient in dividing available bandwidth, it’s also faster than Wi-Fi 5 with a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 9.6GBps.

Wi-Fi 6 also introduced Target Wake Time (TWT), which allows devices to save battery life by automatically switching off Wi-Fi connections when they are not being used. It also supports WPA3 encryption, allowing for more secure Wi-Fi connections. To top it all off, Wi-Fi 6 is backwards compatible with Wi-Fi 4 and 5 devices.

Wi-Fi 6E is an extended version of Wi-Fi 6 that uses the 6Ghz frequency band, which allows for even faster speeds with the con of being worse at all penetration than Wi-Fi 5 using 5Ghz. It was released in 2021. Wi-Fi 6E has also made its place known in applications like VR headsets where battery life is a concern (something Wi-Fi 6E also improved on) while allowing the larger bandwidth needed for VR.

So which Wi-Fi standard is right for you?

Right now, unless you have a large congestion of devices on your network using Wi-Fi, it’s advisable to keep up to date and Use Wi-Fi 5 as this allows the 5GHz frequency band and faster speeds when distance isn’t an issue. For congested networks, it’s worth the move to Wi-Fi 6 or 6E. As more and more smart devices start being integrated into homes, you’ll be happy you made the switch early – even if currently there aren’t many devices that support Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, this will change over the coming months and years.

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