Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax) is the sixth generation of Wi-Fi technology. It provides faster wireless speeds and handles multiple connections more efficiently than the previous 802.11ac standard, also known as Wi-Fi 5.
Wi-Fi 6 supports data transfer rates of up to 1,200 Mbps (1.2 gigabits per second) per stream. That is roughly 3x faster than Wi-Fi 5's top speed of 433 Mbps per stream. Wi-Fi 5 allows three simultaneous streams, for a total of 1,400 Mbps. Wi-Fi 6 supports four streams, for a theoretical maximum speed of 4,800 Mbps.
The Wi-Fi 6 standard supports channel bandwidths of 20, 40, 80, and 160 MHz. It can operate on either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequencies and is backward-compatible with older devices that do not support 802.11ax. An extension of the standard, called Wi-Fi 6E, provides a new 6 GHz frequency band to help reduce wireless congestion on the commonly-used 5 GHz band.
Wi-Fi 6 includes two primary technologies that improve the wireless network efficiency: OFDMA and Multi-user MIMO.
- OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) enables connected clients to share channels. It reduces latency and improves efficiency, especially in busy wireless networks
- MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple Input, Multiple Output) allows more data to be transferred at one time. It enables access points to communicate with up to eight devices simultaneously.
To use Wi-Fi 6, you need a Wi-Fi 6 router and a Wi-Fi 6 device, such as a smartphone or laptop with an 802.11ax wireless adapter. Wi-Fi technologies are backward-compatible, but if either end of the connection does not support Wi-Fi 6, the devices will communicate via the highest common standard.
NOTE: While Wi-Fi 6 is theoretically several times faster than Wi-Fi 5, actual data transfer speeds are rarely close to the maximum transmission rate. Several factors can affect download speeds over Wi-Fi, including signal strength, number of active devices, and the Internet speed itself.
Updated: May 4, 2020