Over the last generation of computing, there has been an explosion of devices that no longer have or need the capability of connecting to a hard-wired Ethernet connection, and that trend shows no intention of slowing down. When Personal Computers first started to utilize wireless Network Interface Cards (NICs) they would almost always be the sole device on the network. Fast forward to today, and practically every home has multiple devices, if not dozens, where the devices communicate using radio waves, either over a cellular connection, or over a home wireless network featuring Wi-Fi.

In the PC space, which is the focus of this article, cellular connectivity certainly exists, but almost exclusively in niche roles. While there are advantages to offering directly cellular connection on the PC, the extra recurring cost, especially in North America, means that most laptop owners will use Wi-Fi for network communication.

The term Wi-Fi is something that is omnipresent today, but if based on the Wi-Fi Alliance and adoption of IEEE 802.11 standards for local area networking over wireless. Although the Wi-Fi Alliance has recently renamed their standards, Wi-Fi has in the past been named directly based on the 802.11 standards as follows:

Wi-Fi Names and Performance
Naming Peak Performance
Branding IEEE
Wi-Fi 4
Channel Width 20/40 MHz
802.11n 150 Mbps 300 Mbps 450 Mbps
Wi-Fi 5
Channel Width 20/40/80 MHz

Optional 160 MHz
802.11ac 433 Mbps

867 Mbps
867 Mbps

1.69 Gbps
1.27 Gbps

2.54 Gbps
Wi-Fi 6
Channel Width 20/40/80/160 MHz
802.11ax 1201 Mbps 2.4Gbps 3.6 Gbps

In an effort to simplify branding, the latest three standards of 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax have been rebranded to Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6, respectively. In the long term, the new branding should be much easier for most people to grasp, since larger means newer, although we’ve already got some confusion with Wi-Fi 6E – the 6GHz band addition for Wi-Fi 6 – so we shall see how that goes.

One of the many Wi-Fi 6 routers announced at CES 2019 - TPLink AX1800

Today, most homes should have at least Wi-Fi 4, or what used to be 802.11n. After all, this standard came along in 2009. Many will even have Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ac, which offers some speed upgrades and a few optional extra features to help with scaling. Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is a very new standard, and until the end of 2019 there were not even that many devices which could connect over it. So, what is the point of this new standard, and do you really need to upgrade your home network?

This article intends to help answer those questions, as well as show how we at AnandTech are transitioning to Wi-Fi 6 for future reviews.

Wi-Fi 6: What’s New
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  • PyroHoltz - Monday, February 17, 2020 - link

    This was my understanding as well, AX = full duplex
  • thomasg - Thursday, March 5, 2020 - link

    802.11ax is NOT full-duplex.
    No practical full-duplex radio system exists at this point in time.
  • thomasg - Thursday, March 5, 2020 - link

    You might have mistaken the use of OFDMA as multiple-acces scheme, but OFDMA does not make it full-duplex, it still is entirely and strictly half-duplex.
  • jeads - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    AX is NOT full duplex, its still half duplex. There is talk, but none that I've seen yet, of AX routers using 4x4 antenna. Most consumer routers are still 2x2 (dual band), or 3x3 (tri-band). 4x4 (quad band?), while not true full duplex, will emulate as much.
  • Vorl - Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - link

    You also forgot to mention that it's shared. your WIFI router can go 3.6gb/s, but your devices even in a perfectly isolated environment all have to share that bandwidth. You don't get 3.6gb/s to each device.
  • Gasaraki88 - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    It sounds faster on paper. If you ACTUALLY look at the speed of wifi on the AC 5GHz band with 2 of the same AC routers connected to each other, it is not faster than hard wire gigabit connection. Look at some router reviews.
  • PEJUman - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    this is just one of those rare inflection points (fast ethernet with 802.11n was similiar), which brought gigabit ethernet into mainstream.

    I have been running 10 Gb ethernet on copper, mixed cat 5e and '7' + Wifi 5 (802.11AC) network in the house for the past 4 years, if you are patient, you can find deals on 10 Gb stuff here and there. Market acceptance on 10 Gb is still quite slow, but I am hoping 5 or 2.5 Gb will be better at getting down to affordable price points.
  • azfacea - Saturday, February 15, 2020 - link

    wow did u just compare fast ethernet to 802.11n ?? one of the most ignorant comments i have read in all of internet. u have no idea what you are talking about gigabit ethernet existed in mainstream (sub 1000$ desktop) in 1999. 802.11n wasnt in the mainstream until no less than a decade after that
  • PEJUman - Monday, February 17, 2020 - link

    gigabit ethernet existed, but gigabit routers does not, at least not at the affordable, mainstream price point. It is not until 'n' that you get gigabit for essentially no premium.
  • yetanotherhuman - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    Nah, most access points only have a 1Gbit link, and latency and packet loss are always going to be shit on wifi compared to a wired connection.
    Also, 2.5, 5, 10 and 40 Gbps Ethernet have been A Thing for a while if you go out of your way.

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