What is the Difference Between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6?

Sep 21, 2019Learning Annex, WiFi Networking

Wireless Internet is changing. New devices are demanding even more from your Internet network. Wi-Fi 6 is here to answer those demands.

Wi-Fi Standards

Wi-Fi standards are the services and protocols that determine your network connection. Wi-Fi standards are determined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The IEEE defines their set of standards with the number 802.11. Then, the standard is further defined by different specifications with letters. For example, 802.11ac (also known as WiFi 5) is the Wi-Fi standard that is predominantly used since 2014, however, a new upgraded standard called 802.11ax or WiFi 6 is now available.

Key Improvements

Wi-Fi standards determine the speed and frequency of your network. Most current home wireless routers are 802.11ac compliant, meaning they’re operating on Wi-Fi 5 and support 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Wi-Fi 5 was underperforming in crowded areas with multiple devices such as stadiums and airports. WiFi 6 incorporates many new technologies to help with this congestion when dozens of Wi-Fi devices are on a single network. It lets routers communicate with more devices at once, and allows routers to send data to multiple devices in the same broadcast signal. Wi-Fi 6 devices can then communicate simultaneously with your Wi-Fi 6 router, thereby creating a stronger connection that supports more and more devices that are demanding data.
Four key areas where Wi-Fi 6 excels:


Wi-Fi 6 performs 4 times better in crowded areas that have numerous devices (such as stadiums, hotels, and airports).


Wi-Fi 6 delivers up to 40% higher peak data rates for faster throughput.


Wi-Fi 6 increases network efficiency by four times.


Targeted Wake Time (TWT) extends device battery life.

Wi-Fi 6 Timeline

New routers labeled “Wi-Fi 6 Certified” or “Wi-Fi 6 Compatible,” were announced in late 2018 for home networks and are expected to emerge more in 2019 as the standard becomes more commonplace.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is the first smartphone that supports Wi-Fi 6. As new generations of devices come out, they will adopt Wi-Fi 6 standard technology and hardware. In order to see the full benefits of Wi-Fi 6, you will need both a compatible router and devices. In other words, if you want Wi-Fi 6 performance on your smartphone, you will need both a router and a smartphone that supports Wi-Fi 6. 

Should you run out and buy all new hardware that is Wi-Fi 6 certified?  Not yet.  As you replace your devices over the next two to four years, you will bring home new ones that include this latest version of Wi-Fi certification.  There is one thing that you will have to make a point of going out and purchasing: a new router.  If your router doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, you will not see any benefits of the improved technology, regardless of how many Wi-Fi 6 devices you have in your home. 

If you are experiencing a slow Internet connection, consider enhancing your network with Actiontec’s Optim Managed Wi-Fi, only available through your Service Provider. Optim’s easy to navigate dashboard allows you to monitor and manage your entire home network and all of its connected devices with a click of a button. Optim’s advanced intelligence provides your Service Provider with the tools and data needed to remotely troubleshoot complicated WiFi problems and help you resolve them without the pain of waiting for a technician come to your home.

Does your Service Provider have Optim? Learn More about the Advanced Tools available for your Internet Service Provider and ask them about Optim Managed WiFi.

For everything you need to know about Wi-Fi networking and Wi-Fi standards, check out Actiontec’s Complete Guide to WiFi Networking.

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