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In our guide to the best Wi-Fi routers, it was notable to mention a trend: Smart homes are getting smarter and in-home Wi-Fi networks are becoming more crucial. Then Covid-19 came and the new work-from-home normal meant Wi-Fi reached the peak of crucial and then just kept climbing from there. From midnight TikTok swipes and streaming photos to streaming on Roku, playing video games via gaming consoles and listening to your favorite songs, everything you do online runs more smoothly with a strong home Wi-Fi router.
SKIP AHEAD How does Wi-Fi 6 work?
An increasing number of Wi-Fi devices you have in your home begs for a powerful router that can function without slowdowns and dropouts. The newest Wi-Fi tech on the market, Wi-Fi 6, might be able to increase your internet speeds and improve your experience.
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Every few years, Wi-Fi technology gets a little bit better. 2020 is one of those years. “Wi-Fi 6 is the next generation of Wi-Fi, aimed at improving connections through efficiency,” explained Rowell Dionicio, managing director of Packet6 and a Certified Wireless Networking Expert.
Specifically, Wi-Fi 6 allows for faster speeds, better battery life for connected devices like your phone and less congestion — which is increasingly important given the availability of Wi-Fi connected TVs, voice assistants, laptops, soundbars, thermostats and other smart devices. Wi-Fi 6 is also a simpler naming scheme than previous iterations of the Wi-Fi standard, which used confusing names like “802.11n” and “802.11ac.”
How does a Wi-Fi 6 router work?
It's important to note that a faster Wi-Fi router doesn’t necessarily mean your internet will get faster across the board: Your internet speed is likely much lower than the theoretical maximum of a decent router, even from its previous generation.
In other words you should set realistic expectations for your new Wi-Fi 6 router — unless you have a very fast internet connection and will be replacing a very old router.
- A Wi-Fi 6 router won’t necessarily double the speed of file downloads, YouTube videos, and web pages.
- It will, however, improve the speed of file transfers between devices in your home (like backing up your laptop through a network-connected external hard drive or broadcasting a 4K video you took on your phone over AirPlay.)
- And it will largely mediate those congestion problems I mentioned before, allowing for more devices to connect to your Wi-Fi with fewer issues — a significant upgrade for any smart home.
Imagine two people are watching Netflix, for example. One is playing mobile games on their phone with one eye on the show, and the other is Zooming with friends during a lull. Wi-Fi 6 promises to help you avoid pesky connection dropouts throughout, provided your internet is fast enough to handle these three tasks in the first place.
Should you upgrade to a Wi-Fi 6 wireless router?
As with all emerging tech, there’s an important condition for the burgeoning Wi-Fi 6 ecosystem to work wonders: Your laptop, phone, TV and other smart home devices need to also support Wi-Fi 6 in order to take full advantage of its improvements. Some devices, including the The Samsung Galaxy S20 and iPhone 12, are good examples of mainstream tech that’s taken on Wi-Fi 6 capabilities — but your house is likely full of mostly Wi-Fi 5 devices. Over time, as you upgrade all the tech in your home, you’ll start to see more benefits.
In addition, there's already a new iteration of Wi-Fi 6 on the horizon called Wi-Fi 6E that could be even more exciting than Wi-Fi 6 since it allows devices to use portions of the wireless spectrum previously locked down by the FCC. Like Wi-Fi 6, though, it'll require a new router and new devices, which should start rolling out by the end of this year and pick up steam in 2021.
With that in mind, buying a Wi-Fi 6 router today is a bit like buying an iPhone 11 a month before the iPhone 12 came out. Sure, you still get a great phone but if you can hold off just a tad, you'll have something much better that lasts you longer into the future. If you're just itching to upgrade, I say wait. If your router is broken and you need a new one now, go ahead and buy a Wi-Fi 6 router — or grab an affordable Wi-Fi AC router like the TP-Link Archer A7 as a stopgap until Wi-Fi 6E shows us its stuff.
Best Wi-Fi 6 routers to shop
If you’re due for an upgrade or are simply a fan of the latest tech, Dionicio said you'll do well with an early Wi-Fi 6 model. Just be ready to invest in it — as is the case with current Wi-Fi router models and other tech, the latest and greatest can sometimes be the priciest.
If you're itching to get your hands on the latest Wi-Fi has to offer, TP-Link's Archer Ax50 packs 3000Mbps of theoretical speeds into a decently affordable package, with all the other benefits that Wi-Fi 6 provides.
For something that packs a more serious punch, I'd look at what Asus has to offer. Not only do their routers come with loads of advanced settings to tweak (for nerds like myself), but the RT-AX88U offers up to 6000Mbps of theoretical speeds — which is perfect if your house is filled with Wi-Fi-connected devices sucking up bandwidth.
If money is no object and you want an absolutely top-tier Wi-Fi 6 router, Netgear’s highest-end Nighthawk boasts a tri-band design that can handle even more devices running at their fastest possible speeds, though it's likely more than most people need. Plus, I'll say it again: If you're going to spend this much, I'd recommend waiting until Wi-Fi 6E is on store shelves (and online) in the coming year — your investment will likely go a bit farther then.
Remember that good Wi-Fi isn't just about speed — you need every inch of your home covered, too. If your home is large and a single router doesn't quite cut it, try a mesh Wi-Fi system like Amazon’s Eero Pro. Each unit is equipped with Wi-Fi 6 and intelligently communicates to the others to cover the whole house in a single network. You can read more about mesh Wi-Fi systems in our guide.
High-end Wi-Fi 6 routers like the TP-Link Archer AX6000 normally run around $300 — it's one of the fastest routers you can buy. Remember, real-world speeds won’t be as fast as the number on the box. And some devices aren’t currently able to utilize the full potential of the router. Having said that, it’s still one of the fastest routers on the market today.