- What is Wi-Fi 6?
- How does a Wi-Fi 6 router work?
- Should you upgrade to a Wi-Fi 6 wireless router?
- Best Wi-Fi 6 routers to shop
But the more Wi-Fi devices you have in your home, the more you need a powerful router that can juggle them all without slowdowns and dropouts. The newest Wi-Fi tech on the market, Wi-Fi 6, might be able to lend you a hand in further pushing your internet speeds and improving 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,” explains 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 steady rise and availability of Wi-Fi connected TVs, voice assistants, laptops, 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, be sure you set realistic expectations around what a Wi-Fi 6 router will actually mean to your home internet and devices. 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 Skyping with friends during a commercial break. 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 Wi-Fi 6 phones and laptops still may not support the speeds of the fastest Wi-Fi 6 routers, so your mileage will vary from device to device — they'll work with it but not to the full extent Wi-Fi 6 promises future devices. Over time, as you upgrade all the tech in your home, you’ll start to see the benefits.
“While it may look enticing to upgrade today, I recommend waiting until later next year when Wi-Fi 6 is standardized,” Dionicio told NBC News. “Everything out now is based on an early version of Wi-Fi 6 and there aren’t many devices that support it. Additionally, there are some bugs to work out in this early release of Wi-Fi 6. Vendors will have firmware updates, but there’s the risk it won’t be fully Wi-Fi 6-certified.”
The final certification is slated for December 2020, but it’s already been delayed before, so that’s not carved in stone. So what devices currently support Wi-Fi 6? It’s certainly compatible with some of the latest gadgets: The Samsung Galaxy S10 and iPhone 11 are good examples of mainstream tech that’s taken on Wi-Fi 6 capabilities. But support isn’t exactly ubiquitous just yet.
If you’re unsure about that sort of investment, go ahead and wait. If you need a router now and prefer to go with a more affordable AC router as a stopgap until Wi-Fi 6 tech is finalized, grab something like the TP-Link Archer A7 and call it a day — there’s still a good chance it’s better than the ancient router collecting dust on your shelf.
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.
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 be able to utilize the full potential of the router. Having said that, it’s still one of the fastest routers on the market today.
If you prefer Asus’s interface or TP-Link’s model is unavailable, the Asus RT-AX88U packs a similar punch at a similar price point.
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.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you’re looking for a more affordable option, TP-Link’s Archer A50 supports Wi-Fi 6 at about half the speed of the above routers, but for half the price. It’s still plenty fast and bundled with everything that makes Wi-Fi 6 great.
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