Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax) — the sizable upgrade to the existing 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) — is here, and you wonder if you should jump on the bandwagon and get a new router supporting this standard right away and get a Wi-Fi 6 router.
The answer is, sure, get it if you want. I have already gotten one — the Asus RT-AX88U — plus a few more on their way. But I’m Dong Ngo, and I’m kinda nuts about Wi-Fi.
Chances are you’re not, and maybe it’s not a terrible idea to wait a while. The following are a few reasons.
1. Wi-Fi 6 router: High cost
That’s right. You need to pay at least $100 more for a Wi-Fi 6 router that has the same feature set as a Wi-Fi 5 counterpart. The Asus RT-AX88U, for example, currently costs $350 while the RT-AC88U, a very similar router in more ways than one, can be had for just $235. It always hurts your wallet when you throw it at the cutting edge.
But even if money is not an issue, you should keep in mind that there’s for now virtually no gain for the extra dollars you spend.
2. No Wi-Fi 6 clients
That’s correct. And you need both sides of a connection (a router and a client) to benefit from Wi-Fi 6’s performance. Since currently there are no phones, tablets, or computers that support Wi-Fi 6, the fastest speed you can get out of a Wi-Fi 6 router is that of existing clients; all use Wi-Fi 5 or older standards.
Chances are you’ll see Wi-Fi 6 in notebooks by mid-2019 and phones as well as PCIe/USB adapters by the second quarter of the year. There’s a chance the move to Wi-Fi 6 will be faster than that of Wi-Fi 5, but that’s not a guarantee.
But even if that’s the case, it only means you’ll need to spend more money on the client-side. Considering how much you just spent on the latest iPhone or Pixel 3 — neither supports Wi-Fi 6 –, you might want to enjoy them for a while before getting a replacement.
In short, as mentioned earlier, the move to Wi-Fi 6 will be expensive, so don’t do that just because of the new Wi-Fi standard alone.
3. Wi-Fi 6 router: Bugs and incompatibility
Like all previous Wi-Fi standards. The first Wi-Fi 6 hardware products will be buggy. It’s still in the draft right now and likely won’t be ratified until 2020.
I’ve been testing the Asus RT-AX88U, and it indeed had connection issues early on. Asus already recently released new firmware to address part of that.
On top of that, existing clients will need newer software drivers to work well and take advantage of Wi-Fi 6’s features. It will take hardware vendors a while to deliver those. That said, sit on your hands for a year, or so, by then, chances are Wi-Fi 6 products will be more readily available and more stable.
4. Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) is plenty fast
That’s right. The majority of users use Wi-Fi as a convenient way to access the Internet. Most broadband connections currently range from 30 megabits per second to 250 Mbps of download speeds.
The existing and popularly-used Wi-Fi 5, which in my experience can deliver sustained speed up to some 950 Mbps, is more than fast enough to deliver the Internet in full. Having faster Wi-Fi speed, in this case, doesn’t bring about any improvement.
5. There’s no practical use of Wi-Fi 6’s speed for now
Faster is generally always better, but at some point, it makes no difference. I guess. Wi-Fi 6 will be like that, at least for the first few years.
To be clear, I don’t know how fast a Wi-Fi 6 connection can be yet, again, because there are no clients. However, supposedly, the standard can easily deliver multi-gigabits per second. If that’s the case, chances are you won’t be able to experience it.
The reason is in networking; the speed is always that of the slowest parties involved. Currently, Gigabit Ethernet (1Gbps) is the standard that connects most hardware parts of a home network.
For example, the connection between a cable modem to a router is Gigabit. Most servers, desktop computers, printers, and switches also use Gigabit Ethernet. That means, in most cases, with Wi-Fi 6, you’ll end up getting 1Gbps at most.
There will be a time when home network infrastructure gets to 10Gbps, but that’s long in the future. Mostly because, well, 1Gbps is plenty fast.
So yes, Wi-Fi 6 is cool, and it doesn’t hurt to get a new router supporting it right now. However, all things considered, you’re likely just wasting money. Hang in there! When the time is right, I’ll give you a couple of sensible reasons to upgrade.