WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6 vs WiFi 6E: Comparing Speed, Performance, Compatibility, and More

When comparing WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6 vs WiFi 6E, it’s crucial to understand the advancements in speed, range, and capacity that each generation offers. WiFi 6 introduces faster throughput and improved handling of multiple devices, while WiFi 6E expands on these capabilities by unlocking the 6 GHz band for even less interference and higher performance.

In the following sections, we’ll delve into how these technologies can meet the demands of modern wireless networking and which scenarios each is best suited for.

WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6 vs WiFi 6E Comparison Table

SpecsWiFi 5WiFi 6WiFi 6E
Year Released201420192020
Standard802.11ac802.11ax802.11ax
Frequency Bands5 GHz only2.4 GHz + 5 GHz2.4 GHz + 5 GHz + 6 GHz
Max Speed (Theoretical)wifi 5 max speed – 3.5 Gbpswifi 6 max speed – 9.6 Gbpswifi 6e max speed – 9.6 Gbps
Max Speed (Real World)wifi 5 speed (real) –Up to 1 Gbpswifi 6 speed (real) – Up to 4 Gbpswifi 6e speed (real)- Up to 5 Gbps
Range (Indoor)Up to 150 feetUp to 150 feetUp to 150 feet (may vary with 6 GHz band)
Key FeaturesMU-MIMO, 256 QAMOFDMA, TWT, 1024 QAMAll WiFi 6 features + 6 GHz band
Network CapacityUp to 2X of WiFi 4Up to 4X of WiFi 5Increased capacity over WiFi 6 on 6 GHz
Ideal Use Cases4K streaming, online gaming, smart homes & offices4K/8K streaming, AR/VR, high-density environments4K/8K streaming, AR/VR, high-density environments, IoT devices

Please note that the real-world speeds and ranges can vary based on a variety of factors, including the specific environment, the power of the router, and interference from other devices. The theoretical maximum speeds and ranges are not always achievable in practice.

It is clear that WiFi 6E is the most advanced WiFi standard yet with the fastest speeds, lowest latency, and greatest capacity. However, WiFi 6 is also excellent for the majority of home and office environments, offering a good speed boost from WiFi 5. When upgrading your network, go for the latest standard you can afford for future-proof performance.

Check out WiFi Mesh vs Extender vs Booster vs Repeater article to find out which wifi device is best for your home.

Key Takeaways – WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6 vs WiFi 6E

  1. WiFi 5 offers faster speeds of up to 1 Gbps on the 5GHz band but has congestion issues in dense environments.
  2. WiFi 6 boosts speed up to 4 Gbps and efficiency with OFDMA and TWT but requires compatible devices.
  3. WiFi 6E unleashes a 6GHz band for reduced congestion, lower latency, and speeds over 5 Gbps.
  4. WiFi 6E is the most future-proof but WiFi 6 also provides excellent real-world benefits over WiFi 5.
  5. Analyze your usage needs and device capabilities before upgrading routers to enjoy the full benefits of newer WiFi versions.

Defining WiFi and How it Works

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the different WiFi standards, let’s first briefly understand what WiFi is and how it enables wireless connectivity.

WiFi or Wireless Fidelity is a technology that allows internet connection over a wireless signal between a router and compatible devices like laptops, smartphones, smart TVs, etc. The router connects to the internet via a wired connection and creates a small wireless network to beam the signal to connected devices using radio frequencies.

Devices can connect to WiFi from within a specified range, which is determined by the strength of the router. Newer versions of WiFi allow faster data transfer over wider ranges. Devices must have compatible WiFi chipsets to be able to decode the wireless signal and access the internet.

Now let’s look at the different generations of WiFi and their technical specifications.

Introducing WiFi 5, WiFi 6, and WiFi 6E

WiFi technology has seen several upgrades over the years, with each major version bringing significant improvements in network speeds, connectivity, and features. Here is a brief overview of the newest WiFi generations:

  • WiFi 5 – Also known as 802.11ac, WiFi 5 was introduced in 2014 as a successor to 802.11n (WiFi 4). It operates on the 5 GHz frequency band and has a maximum theoretical transfer speed of 3.5 Gbps. Key features include Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) and 256 QAM modulation.
  • WiFi 6 – Released in 2019, WiFi 6 or 802.11ax offers higher overall throughput compared to WiFi 5. It operates on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands and supports peak speeds up to 9.6 Gbps. Key enhancements include Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and Target Wake Time (TWT).
  • WiFi 6E – The newest WiFi version approved in 2020, WiFi 6E, has all the capabilities of WiFi 6 with the additional feature of operating on the new 6 GHz frequency band. This results in faster speeds, lower latency, and reduced congestion.

Now let’s do a deep dive into what sets each of these advanced WiFi standards apart.

Deep Dive into WiFi Generations – Wi-Fi 5: Faster Speeds on the 5GHz Band

Introduced in 2014, WiFi 5 represented a significant upgrade from the previous 802.11n standard. With 802.11ac, WiFi technology graduated to the 5 GHz frequency band from the more crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum. This provided two key advantages:

  • Higher Bandwidth – The 5 GHz band has more available channels compared to 2.4 GHz, allowing 80 and 160 MHz channel widths and, consequently, higher throughput.
  • Less Interference – The 5 GHz band has less interference from other devices like microwaves, Bluetooth, etc. This ensured more reliable connections.

WiFi 5 has a maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 3.5 Gbps, a huge jump from WiFi 4’s 600 Mbps. However, actual real-world speeds range from 433 Mbps to 1 Gbps.

Some key features of WiFi 5 include:

  • MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output) – Allows simultaneous data transmission to multiple devices instead of one at a time.
  • 256 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) – More efficient data encoding to transmit more data over the same bandwidth.

Despite the faster speeds, WiFi 5 has some limitations that impact the experience:

  • Only operates on 5 GHz band – Can cause issues with legacy 2.4 GHz devices.
  • Susceptible to congestion – Performance deteriorates in high-density environments as devices have to share bandwidth.

Overall, WiFi 5 is great for streaming 4K video, online gaming, and handling multiple connected devices in a small to medium-sized home or office.

If you’re curious about the practical implications of internet speeds, the below posts will provide a comprehensive analysis.

Wi-Fi 6: Blazing Fast Speeds + Efficient Performance

WiFi 6 or 802.11ax aims to build upon the strengths of WiFi 5 and further enhance overall performance. Introduced in 2019, it brings higher network speeds along with advanced features to improve capacity and efficiency. Here are some standout improvements:

  • Faster top speed – Theoretical maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps, nearly 3x faster than WiFi 5. Real-world performance ranges from 1.2 Gbps to 4 Gbps.
  • Dual-band support – Operates on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies for wider device compatibility.
  • OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) – Allows more devices to share channels efficiently without congestion.
  • TWT (Target Wake Time) – Schedules transmissions for specific devices to improve battery life.
  • 1024 QAM – Increased to 1024 QAM from 256 QAM for 33% faster data rates.

These enhancements make WiFi 6 ideal for environments with many connected devices like corporate offices, college campuses, and even smart homes. Even if devices can’t match the top WiFi 6 speed, they will experience significantly better network performance.

Some key benefits include:

  • Up to 4x increased network capacity compared to WiFi 5.
  • Minimal congestion issues even with many active connections.
  • Longer battery life for devices through TWT.
  • Seamless streaming, gaming, and connectivity for all users.

With widespread adoption, WiFi 6 brings us closer to the goal of flawless wireless connectivity in any environment.

WiFi 6E: Unleashing the 6 GHz Spectrum

The newest WiFi standard – WiFi 6E offers all the capabilities of WiFi 6 with one major additional benefit – access to the 6 GHz frequency band. Approved in 2020, this is the biggest development in WiFi technology in over 20 years.

The key advantages of tapping into the 6 GHz spectrum are:

  • More available bandwidth – Up to 7 additional 160 MHz channels for blazing fast speeds.
  • Reduced congestion – Less interference and clutter even in very dense, high-usage environments.
  • Lower latency – Up to 2-3x faster response times for time-sensitive uses like AR/VR and competitive gaming.
  • Backward compatibility – WiFi 6E routers maintain compatibility with legacy 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz devices.

In essence, WiFi 6E provides a kind of “express lane” for supported devices to access superfast unfettered connections. This makes it ideal for bandwidth-heavy applications:

  • 4K/8K video streaming – Multiple flawless streams without any lag or buffering.
  • VR gaming – Truly immersive experience without motion sickness.
  • Smart homes – Support dozens of connected IoT devices securely.

Device Compatibility and Upgrading Considerations

When considering an upgrade to WiFi 5, WiFi 6 or WiFi 6E, an important factor is device compatibility. Let’s look at some key points:

  • WiFi 5 is compatible with 802.11ac and some 802.11n devices.
  • WiFi 6 maintains backward compatibility with 802.11ac and 802.11n on the 5 GHz band.
  • WiFi 6E routers are backward compatible with WiFi 6, WiFi 5, and WiFi 4 devices.

However, to enjoy the full speeds and features offered by any WiFi version, your devices need compatible network adapters:

  • Laptops – Most modern laptops have chips supporting WiFi 5 and WiFi 6. For WiFi 6E, you may need to upgrade the network card.
  • Smartphones – Android phones and iPhones from the last 2-3 years generally support WiFi 5 and 6. Only the latest models offer WiFi 6E.
  • Smart home devices – These are the most challenging to upgrade and it’s best to check device specs before investing in a new router.

Also, while your internet plan’s speed is an important factor, your devices can enjoy faster local network speeds even on lower broadband plans.

The Why Behind “WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6 vs 6E”

There are some clear factors driving public curiosity to understand the differences between WiFi 5, WiFi 6, and WiFi 6E:

  • Increasing reliance on WiFi – With remote work and education, more smart devices, and streaming services, robust home WiFi is indispensable.
  • Demand for faster speeds – Consumers need to upgrade internet plans and WiFi networks to match their usage. Newer standards deliver on this requirement.
  • Promises of next-gen experiences – WiFi 6 and 6E make new experiences like high-res game streaming, VR meetings, and super smart homes possible.
  • Confusion about standards – The sequential naming and marketing hype mean users need a clear guide to navigate technical specifications.

By explaining the capabilities, real-world benefits and device compatibility issues with each standard, this blog aims to help readers make the right WiFi technology choice for their specific needs.

What Does the Future Hold for WiFi?

WiFi technology is continuously evolving, and we are already seeing the early buzz around WiFi 7, the successor to WiFi 6E. Expected to be finalized in 2024, key improvements may include:

  • Even faster top speeds of 30-40 Gbps.
  • Support for more simultaneous connections with 320 MHz channels.
  • Lower latency for time-sensitive applications.
  • Greater reliability and range.

In the more distant future, sixth-generation 6G technology will build upon the capabilities of 5G mobile networks and WiFi to power the next level of connectivity for applications we can’t even conceive today!

Conclusion

When planning an upgrade to your home or office wireless network, keep these key points in mind:

  • WiFi 6E with 6 GHz support is the most future-proof standard right now but WiFi 6 also offers excellent speed and efficiency.
  • Focus on real-world speeds and capacity improvements rather than just theoretical top speeds.
  • Carefully consider device compatibility and upgrade requirements before investing in new routers.
  • Analyze your usage needs and environment – high-density networks will benefit most from WiFi 6/6E.
  • While network standard is critical, a fiber internet plan will enable you to fully leverage faster WiFi.

By understanding the differences between WiFi generations and matching technology upgrades to your requirements, you can create an exceptional wireless experience. As networking standards rapidly evolve, remember to periodically review your choices to stay on the cutting edge in our increasingly connected world.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do i really need wi-fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 provides faster speeds, more capacity and lower latency. It’s most beneficial for homes/offices with many connected devices or bandwidth-heavy uses. For lighter usage, Wi-Fi 5 may be sufficient.

Does WiFi6 penetrates walls better thean WiFi5?

Wifi 6 vs wifi 5 wall penetration – Wi-Fi 6 offers slightly better range and wall penetration than Wi-Fi 5 due to Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) in WiFi 6, but the difference is minor.

The location of the router and the thickness of the walls have a bigger impact.

What is the difference between wifi 5 and wi-fi 6 speed?

Wi-Fi 6 can deliver real-world speeds of 1.2-4 Gbps versus 433 Mbps-1 Gbps for WiFi 5, so it’s around 2-4x faster. But this requires compatible devices.

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