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What you need to know about Wi-Fi 6

... and the other new Wi-Fi version numbers

In a nutshell: Wi-Fi is going through a major rebrand right now. Fortunately, it's going to make everything a lot easier to understand.

The arrival of the newest Wi-Fi version, Wi-Fi 6, coincides with the introduction of a simplified naming system.

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ntil now, Wi-Fi version names have started with “802.11” and ended with a seemingly random letter or two. To clear up the confusion, the Wi-Fi Alliance came up with a numbering system for the three latest generations.

The chart below will help you gauge the age of your router’s technology.

New names 802.11 version Vintage
802.11b 1999
802.11a 1999
802.11g 2003
Wi-Fi 4 802.11n 2009
Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac 2014
Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax 2019

Are you still using a router from one of the first three generations? It’s probably time to look for a new one.

Wi-Fi 4 is still quite serviceable in households that don’t have too many wireless devices competing for the available bandwidth. For a lot of households, Wi-Fi 5 still offers the best value.

wi-fi-version-numbers

The number you see is the network you get: The Wi-Fi Alliance is encouraging device manufacturers to display a numeral next to the Wi-Fi icon. So, if you look down at your phone and see a 5, you’ll know you’re connected to a Wi-Fi 5 network.

Wi-Fi 6 promises better performance

The first wave of Wi-Fi 6 routers and devices will debut 2019. One of the first routers to hit the market is the Netgear Nighthawk AX8.

Netgear Nighthawk AX8 Wi-Fi 6 router

With eight Wi-Fi streams (four in the 2.4GHz band and four in the 5GHz band) Netgear's Nighthawk AX8 Wi-Fi 6 router offers four times the device capacity of the typical Wi-Fi 5 router. 

Wi-Fi 6 routers offer three main benefits:

  • Faster throughput (top speed) to a single device
  • Increased speed per user when lots of devices are on the network at the same time
  • Longer battery life for connected devices

Think of your Wi-Fi network as a highway and your wireless devices as vehicles. Wi-Fi 6 adds more lanes to the highway, so more devices can travel at high speed.

Should you buy a Wi-Fi 6 router now?

For maximum benefit, both the router and the connected devices must support Wi-Fi 6. Older devices will work on a Wi-Fi 6 network. But until you own a compatible device, you won’t get a top-speed boost from the extra investment.

Wi-Fi 6, also known as High-Efficiency Wireless (HEW), could be a real difference-maker in a small-business application. And it makes sense for a large family in a very advanced smart home. When dozens of Wi-Fi devices are operating simultaneously on the same network, users should experience fewer traffic jams. Watch the video below to see how it works.

Need help choosing a router?

Talk to your Crutchfield Advisor about the size of your home, what sort of devices are connected to your home network, how many people might be on the network at the same time, and what kind of internet service you get.

Call, email, or chat with us today.

Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

Last updated 2/28/2019