What Is WiFi 6 and How Do I Upgrade?

A reliable WiFi connection is an important part of our day-to-day activities. Since WiFi's creation, the number of WiFi users has only continued to jump. After over two decades of usage, WiFi networks reached a faster and more efficient version: 802.11ax, otherwise known as WiFi 6. In this article, we'll explain what it is and why it matters, how WiFi 6 speeds have changed, and how you can use this version in a WiFi 6 router yourself.

What is WiFi 6?

WiFi 6 is one of the most recent versions of WiFi, which has been developing for several decades. The first version was numbered 802.11 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) using an engineering numbering system.

As it improved, the number changed. The next and faster variant was labeled 802.11a, the one after it 802.11b, and so forth. Now, the most current version is 802.11be, or WiFi 7. However, WiFi 7 is not yet widely accepted and used. Therefore, the fastest and most accessible version is 802.11ax, or WiFi 6.

The more devices on a network, the slower the network typically runs; if you've ever struggled to load a webpage on a network where others are active, you've experienced this firsthand. WiFi 6 provides a better solution to congested routers with multiple devices. It provides faster speeds, greater flexibility, and more growth opportunities for device networks.

An orange WiFi 6 graphic displaying its name and the WiFi symbol

How does it work?

WiFi 6 works to increase speed and usability. It does so by more effectively prioritizing traffic across channels within a wireless router. This leads to better connections, faster download speeds, and a more enjoyable online experience.

Technically speaking, WiFi 6 improved through the use of Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and Overlapping Basic Service Sets (OBSS). Together, these two help improve connection communication when a greater number of devices are accessing the WiFi simultaneously.

OFDMA subdivides channels and allows for transmissions to multiple devices simultaneously. A laptop, phone, and tablet can all receive different signals in the same transmission window sent from a WiFi 6 router. Instead of a device waiting to receive a signal and data from the router, multiple devices are receiving transmissions at once.

OBSS also helps improve network congestion by making it so that networks can allow new devices onto a channel while simultaneously running traffic from another source. Previously, devices attempting to connect to a network had to wait until there was no noise on the channel; OBSS uses unique network identifiers to increase reliability and speed.

Version 6 routers, then, are capable of sending different signals in the same single transmission. This allows one transmission to communicate with multiple devices all at once. It speeds up the process and allows users to have more devices with the same efficient speeds.

How fast is WiFi 6?

WiFi 6 significantly faster than its predecessors; theoretically, it's capable of reaching speeds up to 9.6 gigabytes per second (Gbps). However, note that the speed your wireless network operates at also depends on what your device is capable of. Most devices at this point are WiFi 6 compatible. However, if your device isn't, that means it can only function at WiFi 5 speeds regardless of the router you invest in.

You can get a WiFi 6 router to broadcast faster speeds; these routers still work just as well with devices not yet functioning with this version. However, that won't necessarily help speed the device up. But for newer devices capable of higher speeds, this version of WiFi greatly enhances the online experience.

WiFi broadcasts two frequencies: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. WiFi 6 improves both frequencies. This means that in addition to faster speeds, this version is also better at reaching devices through walls or other objects in your home that may obstruct your WiFi signal currently.

Furthermore, if using a WiFi 6E router, users will have a third option for frequency. That option is 6 GHz, which delivers high amounts of data in even shorter distances.

Benefits of WiFi 6

WiFi 6 offers many benefits over its predecessors. It helps with the increased need for secure, strong wireless connections as our digital world continues to expand. Some of the benefits of this version are as follows.

  • Higher speeds. Typically, more devices on a network results in a slower WiFi connection. However, with the sixth version of WiFi, OFDMA helps divide the load to keep speeds fast for all devices.
  • Increased dependability. This version of WiFi has stronger signals, which makes it easier for the signal to bypass walls and other roadblocks on the connection path.
  • Better security. Many WiFi 6 networks use WPA3, the most advanced wireless network protection. This helps ward off malware, hackers, and other online threats.
  • Increased support for Internet of Things devices. Internet of Things (IoT) devices are becoming more popular in our current society. This version of WiFi helps reduce lag, disconnect, and other issues that may plague devices in a WiFi network using a previous version.

Switching to WiFi 6 offers an enhanced online experience for you and everyone else on your network.

Comparing WiFi 5 vs. WiFi 6

The speed and efficiency of this version of WiFi are what most significantly sets it apart from previous versions. WiFi 6 can handle 9.6 gigabytes per second (Gbps); WiFi 5 maxed out at 3.5 Gbps, a significantly lower amount. A single device would likely not need WiFi that operates at that speed.

However, a higher gigabyte per second cap means more devices work at faster speeds on the router. More importantly, a higher number of WiFi devices will be able to operate at efficient speeds. For example, if your entire family uses a different device on the same router, your phone or laptop won’t be slowed down by the other devices.

The sixth version of WiFi also has the capacity for up to 75% less latency, which means that the time it takes for data to be transferred across the connection has been cut back. It's capable of handling large amounts of network traffic far more efficiently. All devices on the network will be able to operate more efficiently.

This makes wireless signals closer to the speed of hardwired Ethernet cable connections. That gives users much more flexibility in using high-speed WiFi.

How do I upgrade to WiFi 6?

With the creation of WiFi 7, most devices are able to use the sixth version of WiFi. This newer, faster WiFi works with a WiFi 6 router and device, so make sure both are capable of using this more recent version of WiFi.

To proceed and upgrade to WiFi 6, you need to follow these steps.

  1. Upgrade your device. If your phone or computer isn't already compatible with this type of WiFi, then you either need to install a new WiFi adapter or simply upgrade your device. Most devices are now compatible with this version of WiFi, however.
  2. Purchase a WiFi 6 router. Find the best model for you and follow the setup instructions to hook it up to your home or office after purchase.
  3. Download any necessary software drivers. Check your computer to see if you need to install any new software in order to access the new WiFi.

Frequently asked questions

What does the 6 mean on WiFi 6?

The 6 in WiFi 6 simply refers to the version of WiFi. WiFi 6 is one of the more recent versions of WiFi.

Is WiFi 6 worth it?

Yes, this version of WiFi is worth the upgrade, as it provides many benefits for users on the network.

Does WiFi 6 penetrate walls better?

Yes, this version of WiFi has a wider range and a better ability to pass through walls and other potential blocks around your router.

What's the difference in comparing WiFi 6 vs 6E?

WiFi 6E is an extension of the sixth version of WiFi, but it provides slightly faster speeds and lower latency than the original 6. It essentially allows compatible devices to function even faster on the network. However, both provide a better experience than using a WiFi 4 or WiFi 5 router.