Over the last generation of computing, there has been an explosion of devices that no longer have or need the capability of connecting to a hard-wired Ethernet connection, and that trend shows no intention of slowing down. When Personal Computers first started to utilize wireless Network Interface Cards (NICs) they would almost always be the sole device on the network. Fast forward to today, and practically every home has multiple devices, if not dozens, where the devices communicate using radio waves, either over a cellular connection, or over a home wireless network featuring Wi-Fi.

In the PC space, which is the focus of this article, cellular connectivity certainly exists, but almost exclusively in niche roles. While there are advantages to offering directly cellular connection on the PC, the extra recurring cost, especially in North America, means that most laptop owners will use Wi-Fi for network communication.

The term Wi-Fi is something that is omnipresent today, but if based on the Wi-Fi Alliance and adoption of IEEE 802.11 standards for local area networking over wireless. Although the Wi-Fi Alliance has recently renamed their standards, Wi-Fi has in the past been named directly based on the 802.11 standards as follows:

Wi-Fi Names and Performance
Naming Peak Performance
Branding IEEE
Wi-Fi 4
Channel Width 20/40 MHz
802.11n 150 Mbps 300 Mbps 450 Mbps
Wi-Fi 5
Channel Width 20/40/80 MHz

Optional 160 MHz
802.11ac 433 Mbps

867 Mbps
867 Mbps

1.69 Gbps
1.27 Gbps

2.54 Gbps
Wi-Fi 6
Channel Width 20/40/80/160 MHz
802.11ax 1201 Mbps 2.4Gbps 3.6 Gbps

In an effort to simplify branding, the latest three standards of 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax have been rebranded to Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6, respectively. In the long term, the new branding should be much easier for most people to grasp, since larger means newer, although we’ve already got some confusion with Wi-Fi 6E – the 6GHz band addition for Wi-Fi 6 – so we shall see how that goes.

One of the many Wi-Fi 6 routers announced at CES 2019 - TPLink AX1800

Today, most homes should have at least Wi-Fi 4, or what used to be 802.11n. After all, this standard came along in 2009. Many will even have Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ac, which offers some speed upgrades and a few optional extra features to help with scaling. Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is a very new standard, and until the end of 2019 there were not even that many devices which could connect over it. So, what is the point of this new standard, and do you really need to upgrade your home network?

This article intends to help answer those questions, as well as show how we at AnandTech are transitioning to Wi-Fi 6 for future reviews.

Wi-Fi 6: What’s New
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  • Samus - Friday, February 14, 2020 - link

    Well sure, I have clients downtown with Gigabit fiber from Cogent, who offers speeds up to 10Gbps, but that isn't residential. The install alone is $5000 and it only covers the 'loop' (downtown business district.)

    I live 15 miles outside of the loop, technically in a Chicago suburb (Evergreen Park) and get AT&T Fiber, run inside my house from the pole, to a media converter that converts it to Ethernet.

    I've read some peoples installs only use one strand of fiber (so half duplex) but report identical speeds with just slightly higher latency (around 10ms) so it really depends on the ISP's implementation.

    But again, I doubt there is anywhere in the US you could find an ISP offering 'residential' internet service at beyond gigabit speed. And the router in question here is a consumer router with a gigabit uplink, so I think that's probably fine...for now :)
  • Mvs321 - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    I live in Denmark, I pay around 36 dollars per month for a 1GB connection, to me it seems pretty cheap, but what do you pay?
  • asfletch - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    In Australia, I pay more than that for a rubbish 50mbs connection. Not even joking. About US$50. Our federal Govt is so full of flat-earthers it nixed FTTH as being a threat to existing news and cable companies. Sigh.
  • PeachNCream - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    My ex lives in Canada. Bell offers a max of 1.5mbit and a there is a 20GB per month cap. This is just south of Ottawa so I don't think your experiences can be fairly applied to the entire nation.
  • 29a - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    I'm in the US and I used to get 12Mb from Frontier but the phone line got knocked down so Frontier just tied it to a tree instead of replacing the pole and now I get 9Mb. (true story)
  • bcronce - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Because ping spikes? Because of larger buffers, TCP windows tend to size themselves to your link rate and not your sustained provisioned rate. If your wifi device is consuming 3Gb/s for 30ms to upload that picture you just took, packing it up and sending to the AP. Then you AP attempts to send that data at 1Gb/s, now you have a 100ms ping spike, even if your average rate is 83Mb/s for one second.

    I can generate ping spikes and packetloss on a 1Gb/s connection streaming videos with an "average" of 30Mb/s. Micro-bursts. I've fixed this at my home by smoothing out the bursts with traffic shaping. You drop and delay a few strategic packets to prevent a massive burst of loss and latency.
  • Makaveli - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    ping spikes are a huge issues on Cable internet because of its asynchronous nature of it. Saturate that 30mbps upload bandwidth on that 1Gbps connection and everything gets affected. You need room just for the ACK packets. And glad I don't to deal with that anymore.
  • Billy Tallis - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    I think you mean asymmetric, not asynchronous. But yeah, anything beyond about a 20:1 ratio is basically false advertising on the downstream speed.
  • Makaveli - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    Yes you are correct I noticed it after but no edit in comments :(
  • bcronce - Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - link

    The small town ISP here only sells dedicated symmetrical FTTH connections. They have enough trunk and peering bandwidth to allow microbursts. I've seen 1Gb microbursts all the way from YouTube Europe and I'm in the middle of the USA.

    Actually, higher RTT routes tends to have higher bursting. Current TCP implementations are only paced by ACKs. If the TCP connection is idle and data is to be sent, the sender will send an entire TCP window worth of data instantly at full line rate. You can feel it when a 100Gb/s youtube server attempts to send you a 250KiB chunk of a video stream.

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