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Wi-Fi 6 Explained in Layman’s Terms: The Real Speed, Range, and More

Looking to have Wi-Fi 6 explained properly? You’re at the right place. Since first commercially viable in early 2019, the new Wi-Fi standard has proven confusing from the get-go.

Among other things, it seems impossible to match a router’s marketing specs and what it can realistically deliver. Hint: You can’t.

In this post, I’ll try to explain all about Wi-Fi 6 and possibly a bit more. By all, I mean just the parts that matter, not the technical details or the marketing hypes. Already in the know? This post is a good refresher.

See also  Best Wi-Fi 6 Routers of 2021: Take One, or Two, Home Today!

Dong’s note: I first published this piece on January 10, 2019, and updated it on April 29, 2020, with additional relevant information, including a brief section on Wi-Fi 6E.

Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine vs AmpliFi Alien Wi Fi Routers Front
Wi-Fi 6 Explained: You can’t tell a Wi-Fi 6 router from a Wi-Fi 5 one just by looking at them intensely.

Wi-Fi 6 explained: What is it exactly?

It’s a new and trendy name and a great idea, coined by the Wi-Fi Alliance in late 2018, for us to call what otherwise is known as the 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard.

See also  Networking Your Home Properly with these Wi-Fi Basics

The 6 designation is numerical — it’s the 6th generation of Wi-Fi. For the same token, tracking backward, we have 802.11ac as Wi-Fi 5, 802.11n as Wi-Fi 4, and so on. There will likely be Wi-Fi 7 in the future.

The new naming convention goes back only to Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) because previous standards are mainly obsolete. In other words, don’t bother with Wi-Fi 3, Wi-Fi 2, etc.

Numerical names for Wi-Fi standards
Wi-Fi 6 Explained: Numerical names for Wi-Fi standards per the Wi-Fi Alliance.

How fast is Wi-Fi 6?

The speeds of Wi-Fi 6 have been a big hype, and there’s a large gap between the theoretical and the real ones. And it can be confusing, too. Make sure you take your time in this part.

To know a Wi-Fi connection’s real-world speed, we need a broadcaster (like a router) and a client (like a laptop). Both have to be of the same standard and performance tier, determined by the number of streams a single Wi-Fi band can handle.

Quad-stream vs. dual-stream

So far, there have been many Wi-Fi 6 broadcasters, with new ones coming once every few months.

They include quad-stream (4×4) routers, such as the Netgear RAX200, Asus RT-AX89X, TP-Link AX6000, and mid-tier dual-stream (2×2) broadcasters, like the Netgear RAX40, TP-Link Archer AX3000, or Asus RT-AX3000. In the future, there might be Wi-Fi 6 routers with even higher specs.

On the receiving end, though, we’ve had only dual-stream (2×2) devices — like the Intel AX200 adapter card. As a result, for now, 2×2 speeds are the best we can get out of Wi-Fi 6.

See also  Wi-Fi 6/E Upgrade: Here's How You Can Add It To Your PC Today

And it will be a long while before you find 3×3, 4×4, or faster Wi-Fi 6 clients, if at all. That’s because 2×2 is already plenty fast. Most importantly, this tier has the right balance of wireless speeds and energy consumption and is the most suitable for mobile devices.

A new height of base wireless speed

Generally, on the 5GHz frequency band, Wi-Fi 6 has a base speed of 1.2 Gbps (1200 Mbps) per stream. Hence, a 2×2 connection has a ceiling speed of 2.4 Gbps, and a quad-stream one tops at a whopping 4.8 Gbps.

The 2.4GHz band of Wi-Fi 6 has a base speed of about 288Mbps per stream on paper and tends to be relatively slow in real life. Its real-world speed is about the same as Wi-Fi 4 — there’s no 2.4GHz in Wi-Fi 5.

In the world of wireless data transmissions, the real-world sustained rates are always much lower than the ceiling, theoretical ones. And that’s also the case with Wi-Fi 6.

So far, most Wi-Fi 6 routers I’ve reviewed can deliver sustained speeds of around 1Gbps when used with a 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 client. So tier-by-tier, Wi-Fi 6 can provide up to about three times the rate of Wi-Fi 5.

Most of the time, though, you should expect about 50 percent improvement due to different factors. And no, Wi-Fi 6 is not necessarily always faster. Indeed, a top-tier Wi-Fi 5 connection can be speedier than a mid-tier Wi-Fi 6.

Wi-Fi 6 speeds and DFS channels: The devil is in the details

The rates mentioned above — 2.4 Gbps for a dual-stream and 4.8 Gbps for a quad-stream — only apply when the devices connect using a 160MHz channel. As the number suggests, this is an extensive channel that encompasses multiple narrower ones.

Wi Fi Channels
Wi-Fi 6 Explained: The 160MHz channels are scarce because they require a lot of space. Note the DFS part of the spectrum.

Available on the 5GHz frequency, these 160MHz channels are unique since there are just a few of them across the entire band, and all require the Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) spectrum.

DFS shares airspace with radar and always takes the back seat. Specifically, a Wi-Fi broadcaster automatically switches its DFS channels or moves to a narrower channel width when radar signals are present. Apart from causing brief disconnections now and then, using DFS can also be why some devices can’t connect at top Wi-Fi speeds.

By the way, many existing clients (Wi-Fi 5 and older) don’t support DFS, though all Wi-Fi 6 ones do.

Extra notes on the 5GHz band of Wi-Fi 6: DFS and 160MHz channel width

When customizing a Wi-Fi 6 broadcaster’s Wi-Fi setting, you can’t pick a 160MHz channel as a whole. Instead, you can only select a base channel (generally a 40MHz or 20MHz one). The hardware will automatically add adjacent extension channels on either side of the base to form a 160MHz channel.

When you force a router to use the DFS channels, such as when you set it to operate in the 160MHz channel width, it will take a longer time — between 1 and 10 minutes — to initiate its DFS-related 5GHz band. The exact wait time depends on your environment and equipment.

Consequently, you’ll notice that your high-end Wi-Fi 6 router might take a long time to boot up or apply specific Wi-Fi settings, resulting in the band appearing unavailable — the 5GHz Wi-Fi network is not there, or you can’t connect to it.

Keep this in mind when you’re tweaking your network. Patience is a virtue.

In short, the 160MHz channel width is premium real estate that’s generally not ideal for those living close (within tens of miles) to an airport or a weather radar station — every big city has at least one of those.

The use of sub-160MHz channels

For backward compatibility, hardware constraint, and often stability, Wi-Fi 6 also uses narrower channels, including 80MHz, 40MHz, and 20MHz.

Many routers, such as the AmpliFi Alien, don’t even support the 160MHz channels, partly to avoid the need for DFS channels and the potential sporadic disconnections. So, you should expect your Wi-Fi 6 router to use the 80MHz channel width most of the time.

In this case, the speed will reduce accordingly by a factor of two. For example, via an 80MHz channel, a 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 connection now caps at 1.2Gbps or 600Mbps per stream. That’s just 50 percent faster than Wi-Fi 5’s 433Mbps.

So, again, here’s an interesting fact: Quad-stream (4×4) Wi-Fi 5 devices, which have a cap speed of 1733 Mbps in 80MHz, actually deliver faster real-world speeds than 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 counterparts using the same channel width (1.200Mbps).

(I’m talking about general base standard here. Many special QAM-related techniques can increase Wi-Fi speeds in theory when compliant devices are used exclusively together.)

The marketing ploys

So, the lack of support for the 160MHz channel bandwidth is generally not necessarily good, but networking vendors have figured out a way to make it sound good.

Quite creatively, they call their 80MHz-at-best Wi-Fi 6 routers 8×8 ones (instead of 4×4). Because 8 x 600 = 4 x 1200. Got it? The problem is there are no 8×8 clients.

(Again, technically, things are more complicated than that. For example, if clients of different tiers all used the 80MHz channel width, these 8×8 routers might have some advantages since they are geared toward this configuration. Realistically, the Wi-Fi airspace is anything but conforming, and you always have clients using different channel widths.)

Another thing with Wi-Fi 6 is that we now have routers that use different Wi-Fi tiers and standards for each band. The Asus RT-AX92U, for example, is a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router that has one 2×2 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi 4 band, one 2×2 5 GHz Wi-Fi 5 band, and another 4×4 5 GHz Wi-Fi 6 band.

Networking vendors add up all these bands’ streams into a single (large) number for marketing purposes. Asus calls the RT-AX92U an 8-stream (8×8) router. Furthermore, they combine the bandwidth of all of the router’s bands into a single (huge) number. As a result, you’ll find AX6000, AX11000 routers, and so on.

That said, these numbers only mean the potentials collective bandwidth of a router when all of its bands are used. Since a Wi-Fi connection takes place on a single band at a time, the fastest band of a router determines its cap speed, not its bands or their total number of streams.

So, the Asus RT-AX92U mentioned above is a 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 router that can deliver up to 4.8 Gbps to a 4×4 client or 2.4 Gbps to a 2×2 client.

And that’s only true when it works as a single router with a single client. That’s because a Wi-Fi router shares its wireless bandwidth between connected clients.

Wi-Fi 6 speeds are a complicated matter

A router needs to have at least one multi-gig LAN port to deliver actual Wi-Fi 6 speeds. Otherwise, the Wi-Fi connection’s real-world speed will cap at 1 Gbps, no matter how fast its wireless rate can be.

That’s because, in a wireless-to-wireless connection, where you transfer data from one Wi-Fi device to another, again, the router shares its bandwidth accordingly. For example, when you copy data between two 2×2 (2.4 Gbps) Wi-Fi 6 devices using the same band, the speed between them will cap at just 1.2 Gbps.

So, a good Wi-Fi 6 router, strictly in terms of speeds, needs to have 4×4 specs (or higher) on a single band, a couple of multi-gig network ports. Most importantly, it needs to support the venerable 160MHz channel bandwidth.

And that brings us to a new and potentially exciting version of Wi-Fi 6, the Wi-Fi 6E.

Wi-Fi 6 speeds compared with older standards

Common NameStandardAvailabilityTop Speed per StreamOperating 
Security ProtocolFrequency BandsStatus
N/A802.11g200354Mbps20 MHzOpen
Wi-Fi 4802.11n
or Wireless N
Wi-Fi 5802.11ac 2012433Mbps20MHz
60 GHzLimited Use
Wi-Fi 6802.11ax20191200Mbps20MHz
Wi-Fi 6E802.11axe
on 6GHz
Wi-Fi Standards in brief

Wi-Fi 6E: The answer to spectrum shortage

In early 2020, the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced the Wi-Fi 6E terminology to call Wi-Fi 6 devices capable of working on the new 6 GHz frequency band.

The purpose of Wi-Fi 6E is to address the spectrum shortage — you’ll get more natural 160MHz channels out of the new frequency.

Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6E

Initially, Wi-Fi 6 was available in the traditional 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. With the use of the extra-wide 160MHz channels, 5 GHz runs out of space fast.

The 6 GHz frequency band addresses this shortage by providing more contiguous spectrum blocks. Specifically, using this band, Wi-Fi 6E-capable devices will have access to an additional fourteen 80MHz channels or seven 160MHz channels. None of them is part of the DFS spectrum.

Wi-Fi 6E devices will not need to resort to narrow channels and therefore can consistently deliver true Wi-Fi 6 speeds mentioned above.

There are catches

But you won’t get too excited when you’re aware of Wi-Fi 6E’s inherent shortcomings.

First of all, the 6 GHz frequency has a shorter range than 5 GHz (which has a significantly shorter range than 2.4 GHz.) And, most importantly, it also requires supported clients to work. As a result, you will need to get new hardware entirely.

So the move to Wi-Fi 6E will be expensive if you decide to do so just for the hell of it. For more, I detailed Wi-Fi 6E in this post.

See also  Wi-Fi 6E Explained: Better Wireless Connections at the Expense of Range

Will I be able to download a movie much faster with Wi-Fi 6?

Not necessarily! Here’s why: Downloading a movie (or Netflix streaming for that matter) depends on the Internet speed, which has little to do with Wi-Fi. They are two different things.

Wi-Fi is the alternative to network cables — it allows for a local network without wires. So, the increased speed of Wi-Fi 6 (or any Wi-Fi standard for that matter) is only meaningful locally, within your home or office.

In other words, assuming all of your devices are Wi-Fi 6-enabled, you’ll be able to print, perform network Time Machine backups, or stream from a local NAS server, etc., much faster.

As for the Internet, most residential broadband services currently offer speeds significantly below that of Wi-Fi 5, which is already plenty fast. Consequently, if you use Wi-Fi 6, you’ll experience no improvement at all in Internet access.

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In networking, the final speed of a connection is always that of the slowest party involved. Right now, in most cases, the Internet is that party.

It’ll be a few years or even a decade — when 5G cellular and Gigabit-class broadband are ubiquitous — before we need Wi-Fi 6 to deliver the Internet in full. But then, remember that your client needs to support the same Wi-Fi standard to get the fast speed out of a router.

Netgear RAX120 Port
Wi-Fi 6 Explained: The Netgear RAX120 is an impressive-looking Wi-Fi 6 router with a 5 Gbps network port.

Apart from higher speed caps, what else makes Wi-Fi 6 better than Wi-Fi 5?

Efficiency. Wi-Fi 6 features orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA).

In a nutshell, Wi-Fi 6 can slice its wireless signals into many perfectly sized chunks and, therefore, can simultaneously feed more clients of different Wi-Fi specs and keep them all happy — without slowing down, that is.

Potentially, Wi-Fi 6 can maintain fast individual connections even in a crowded air space, with many clients.

Extra: MIMO vs. MU-MIMO vs. ODFMA

You might have heard of MIMO (multiple inputs, multiple outputs) and MU-MIMO (multi-user MIMO), which are other techniques of increasing Wi-Fi efficiency.

It’s pretty hard to explain MIMO, MU-MIMO, and ODFMA without invoking technical jargon. That said, let’s go with this analogy. Imagine a Wi-Fi band is like a freeway; then channels are lanes applicable to different vehicle types.

We’d have the following:

  • MIMO is when you use multiple trucks of the same size, no matter what the load is. That’s better than using just a single vehicle that has to go back and forth, but not great since you always have to use large trucks to make sure you can take care of any load.
  • MU-MIMO is when you use multiple vehicles of different types depending on the load’s size or type. So you use a pickup truck for a big-screen TV, but just a scooter when you need to pick up a letter. All Wi-Fi 6 routers support MU-MIMO, by the way.
  • ODFMA is when you cut a load of any type or size into small standard pieces that can fit perfectly in any vehicle.

Note that none of these techniques increase the bandwidth of a Wi-Fi band. They only help it work more efficiently, especially in a mixed environment, where devices of multiple Wi-Fi standards and speed grades are present.

Thanks to the use of more advanced quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) — the way radio frequencies are manipulated — Wi-Fi 6 has much higher ceiling speeds than Wi-Fi 5.

So, ultimately, Wi-Fi 6 beats Wi-Fi 5 in speed.

How about battery life?

Battery life applies mainly to the client-side. And yes, Wi-Fi 6 clients will generally get better battery life. That’s partly thanks to the higher speed — a client will take much less time than older Wi-Fi standards to deliver the same amount of data, hence using less energy.

However, what significantly helps reduce energy use is Wi-Fi 6’s new feature called target wake time (TWT). TWT automatically puts the Wi-Fi adapter into sleep mode when it’s idle, no matter how brief, and wakes it back up when need be.

This method is similar to making a car automatically shut down its engine at a traffic stop and instantly start up when you hit the gas (which is somewhat annoying at first, but you’ll get used to it.)

TP Link Archer AX11000 Router 3
Wi-Fi 6 Explained: The TP-Link Archer AX11000 is a massive Wi-Fi 6 router.

Does Wi-Fi 6 have better range?

It depends.

If you’re using a single router, the Wi-Fi 6 has about the same range as Wi-Fi 5. The Asus RT-AX88U, for example, can cover about the same area as the RT-AC88U.

Wi-Fi’s range has a lot to do with the nature of the frequencies, namely the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz. (And the new Wi-Fi 6E sure will have a shorter range than the other two.)

However, if you get a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system, it’s a different story. In this case, thanks to faster speeds, you can place the hardware units significantly farther away from one another (than those of Wi-Fi 5) and still get the final Wi-Fi speed fast enough for almost any application at hand. (It’s a matter of degrees here.)

Indeed, the purpose-built tri-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems I’ve tested all delivered exceptional Wi-Fi coverage. Examples of these are the ARRIS mAX Pro, the Netgear Orbi RBK82, or the Ubiquiti Alien Kit.

In other words, Wi-Fi 6’s fast ceiling speed compensates for the signal loss and overheads in the wireless connection between hardware units. As a result, you’ll still get fast connection speed at the far end.

So yes, Wi-Fi 6 works well for wireless mesh Wi-Fi systems, much more so than does Wi-Fi 5.

See also  This Is How Your Home Wi-Fi System Is a Mesh

Do existing Wi-Fi clients work with Wi-Fi 6?

The short answer is yes, Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible and will, in theory, support all existing Wi-Fi clients. In reality, it’s a bit more complicated.

Due to other requirements, such as security, efficiency settings, channel width, and so on, many existing clients will need new software drivers to work (well) with Wi-Fi 6 routers.

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And for those that are too old, such as 802.11g, 802.11a, or even some 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) clients, chances are there won’t be new drivers for them.

Until new software drivers are available, you might need to disable the 802.11ax HE frame support for a Wi-Fi 6 router to work well with legacy clients.
Wi-Fi 6 Explained: Until new software drivers are available, you might need to disable the 802.11ax HE frame support for a Wi-Fi 6 router to work well with legacy clients.

Also, Wi-Fi 6E will only work with Wi-Fi 6E-capable clients. It will not work with legacy clients (Wi-Fi 5 and older) at all. But all Wi-Fi 6 routers will include a 2.4 GHz band that works with all existing clients on the market.

For the most part, you can set your Wi-Fi 6 router to work in a compatible mode. However, in this case, it won’t deliver fast speeds to Wi-Fi 6 clients. It’s a bit of a dilemma.

In my testing, legacy devices proved to work better (had faster Wi-Fi speeds) when working legacy routers than with Wi-Fi 6 routers, especially on the 2.4GHz frequency band, of which Wi-Fi 6 is indeed slower than Wi-Fi 4 stream by stream.

Should I buy a Wi-Fi 6 router?

Yes, if you have mostly Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 clients. You can upgrade many existing computers to Wi-Fi 6, by the way.

Wi-Fi 6 routers have more than just Wi-Fi speed. These routers tend to be beefy devices with more valuable features.

(To find out more, check out my regularly updated lists of top Wi-Fi 6 routers and mesh systems.)

See also  Best Wi-Fi 6 Routers of 2021: Take One, or Two, Home Today!

But Wi-Fi 6 is not a must-have, either, and will be so in years, especially the new Wi-Fi 6E. For most of us, a good Wi-Fi 5 router will work just fine. You can find more reasons to keep using the old standard in this post.

So, if you need a new router, well, chances are it’s sensible to start with a Wi-Fi 6 one. But a Wi-Fi 5 will do, too. It’ll work with your Wi-Fi 6 devices anyway.

Wi-Fi 6 Explained: The takeaway

Wi-Fi 6 is indeed significant in terms of efficiency and speed. But it also pushes the envelope hard on the 5GHz frequency band. And then Wi-Fi 6E requires new hardware, which is far from ideal in terms of adaptation.

My guess is it will take Wi-Fi 6 clients a few more years to become as popular as their Wi-Fi 5 counterparts. And then it’ll require even more years for us to have real needs or the full experience of Wi-Fi 6.

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The move to Wi-Fi 6 is inevitable, but it will take a while. It’s a gradual process. In the meantime, in most cases, there’s no need to ditch your Wi-Fi 5 equipment deliberately.

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88 thoughts on “Wi-Fi 6 Explained in Layman’s Terms: The Real Speed, Range, and More”

  1. Hello!

    Thank you for the detailed article. I have a question, I bought a TCL 65 inch tv recently (65C825) which is advertised as a WiFi 6 TV but it does not detect my Wifi 6 band which only runs DFS channels. Is it possible that a Wifi 6 client doesn’t support DFS? My router is Asus RT-AX92U and the TV would not detect my wifi 6 band at all. All my other devices can see that band.

      • Thank you for the quick reply. I know it’s wrong to say “Wi-Fi 6 band” but I meant my second 5GHz band which supports wifi 6. I read through most of the article you linked, but my problem is that the ASUS RT-AX92U’s second 5GHz band only has the channel range 100 – 140 which are all DFS channels, and my TV (which is supposed to have 802.11ax support) does not see that band no matter what settings I change in the router. I’ve tried every possible solution but nothing worked, and I dont think there’s a way to force an android TV to support DFS in case it’s a software issue, so i’m stuck with the slower speed of the first 5GHz band on the TV.

        • Yes, John, you’re in a bit of a pickle there. I missed the RT-AX92U notion in the previous reply (😬). That router’s upper channels only work well with modern clients. You can connect the TV to a lower channel, though. It should make no difference since performance in the TV won’t use more than 100Mbps anyway.

  2. Hi Dong! Thanks for this amazing website and your tech genius.

    Would a Wi-Fi 6 router will help with congestion in my home, mainly at certain times of the day when seven people are all home and are simultaneously streaming TV, online gaming while video calling, and streaming college lectures? There are also a handful of Wi-Fi security cameras and smart plugs, etc. Range and coverage don’t seem to be an issue; rather it feels like the high number of bandwidth-heavy streams all at once are slowing us down. I’m wondering if OFDMA would help in this situation.

    I’m currently using a Netgear R6230 (AC1200), which is pretty fast and reliable otherwise.

  3. Hi Dong,

    I know this is a done subject (2 reviews already!) but the RT-AX92u now allows for client access to the WiFi 6 ax wireless backhaul. The backhaul connects at 3gbps so when shared with the clients, 1gbps is possible without any of the lag associated with a shared wireless backhaul. I’m seeing 900mbps for AX clients. This makes the AX92u one of the fastest mesh solutions on the market.

    To get this speed, you have to enable 160mhz only and AX only on 5g2 and then unhide 5g2 for client access. The mesh will then steer AX clients to the 5g2 band.

    The RTAX92u is such an underrated mesh solution. It’s had it’s fair share of bad firmware releases in the past. But now, with the current firmware, it’s a real power house, more than capable of handling a mesh environment of mixed AC and AX clients.

  4. Hi Dong,

    Thanks for a great review!

    I recently got ASUS GT-AXE11000 and Firewalla Gold to replace my old Linksys E4200v1 router. Everything worked fine before, just wanted to get better control and upgrade to WiFi 6/6E.

    With the Firewalla in router mode and AXE11000 in AP mode, 5GHz network would sometimes randomly go “invisible” on one of the Windows 10 machines. It would often reappear on its own in a few minutes, but sometimes I have to disable and re-enable WiFi, even multiple times.

    For example, after a reboot (or disabling/enabling the adapter), my desktop with AX200 adapter would occasionally not see the 5GHz network, or a laptop with Intel AC8265 randomly loses connection and does not see 5GHz when trying to reconnect. When this happens all other devices (e.g. the other windows machine, macbook, iphones, etc) remain connected to 5GHz just fine.

    This never happens with 2.4GHz, does not seem to be a problem for apple devices, and I haven’t had this issue with ASUS in router mode (although tested it only briefly as I want to have firewalla as the router).

    Tried updating the drivers and firmware, doing a factory reset, setting fixed control channel (e.g. 36) with 80MHz. This is one of the strangest problems I’ve seen and it drives me crazy.

    Would really appreciate any help and suggestions!

  5. Question!

    It has taken me months but I finally have my network setup with 2 ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600. the second one uses moca 2.5 adapters to ethernet in order to keep the backhaul stable (apt building causing too much interference). Here is my questions while connecting to the base node on 5Ghz-2 with 160mhz enabled on my wifi 6 devices I get significantly slower speeds than 5Ghz-1 with up to 80hz enabled. What am I doing wrong?

    Also I have 1gbps up and down which I can achieve when cat 6 wired in.

    Love the site,

    • That only means the upper channels are more crowded in your place, J. Note, though, that the router’s two 5GHz bands are of different specs. If you call them correctly, the 5GHz-2 band, which normally works as the backhaul, is supposed to have double the bandwidth of the 5GHz-1.

  6. Hello.

    I have a question…

    I have the router RT-AX58U 2X2 and laptop with intel AX200 you mention. In this configuration I should see from times to times using the 5GHZ in the Wifi status the max of 2.4gb appears no…? I never see it….I sometimes see 1.2 gb but never 2.4gb…for me looks like my connection work only in 1×1…I know that those are theorical speed but in my understanding I should see this 2.4 gb at least for a few seconds from times to times no? What should I do it works in 2×2? thank you

      • I had read the post and use 160Mhz so really would like to understand.
        RT-AX58U 2×2 AX: Up to 2.4 Gbps….on my laptop I have the intel AX200 which is also 2×2 up to 2.4 Gbps…I should from times to times see this in the adapter option of Windows 10 but only see 1.2 Gpbs like it work as 1×1…

        Any useful info to make me understand this? It is not the 1st time I ask question here to not have correct answers…

        • Try making your laptop the only Wi-Fi client. You might have other devices in your network that won’t work with 160MHz and the router automatic use the 80MHz. You can’t really force a broadcaster to function only on the 160MHz. That’s the nature of DFS. Read the post again.

          • so said differently and with my own words:

            as soon as 1 AC device (or N etc) connect to my wifi router my router will use 80Mhz cutting by half the speed?
            The only way I could see this 2.4gpbs is when I exclusively use AX devices on the 5Ghz ?

            Is that correct?


  7. Thanks for the info on DFS channels. I never could figure out why the 5GHz channel would take forever to reconnect on my AX300 router.

  8. Hi Dong – thanks for the article!
    I have TP Link Archer AX1800 Wifi 6 router. Currently I purchased Samsung S20 smartphone which has Wifi 6 support. Do I need to make my special configuration in my router / phone for them to communicate in best possible way.
    Which band should I use to connect my phone 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz?
    Can my phone automatically switch to best available band (2.4 GHz or 5 GHz)?

    • That router is pretty slow, so you won’t need to do anything, Sakthivel. And yes, if you name the two bands the same (Smart Connect), then the client should be able to switch between the two automatically.

  9. Kudos on the breakdown.

    Curious, with all of this marketing slang regarding speed (model number), number of wireless clients (50+), etc., a router/broadcaster can accommodate, what differences are there between MIMO, MU-MIMO, ODFMA, etc., in terms of the frequency being used?

    In other words, does legacy 2.4GHz “really” support these enhanced options/features and what is the real world ceiling for how many wireless clients 2.4GHz and 5GHz can handle? I ask this because much of the low-cost IoT devices still cater to this frequency (not sure why — cost, distance/coverage, other?).

    Going on the marketing campaigns, I would have to imagine “50+” includes all frequencies combined.

    • You need to ignore the marketing, Hick. All Wi-Fi 6 routers support MU-MIMO, ODFMA, etc. It’s like saying your new car has power-steering and AC.

      As for the support, that takes two, clients need to support them, too. Truth be told, most (Wi-Fi 5 and older) clients don’t. Almost all IoT devices don’t.

  10. great write up!!

    im still thinking of upgrading tp link archer c1200 to tp link archer c80. my friends ask me to take ax10 instead. My problem is still having legacy device like my acer s3 and samsung galaxy note 2 which both working fine. Even my receiver on desktop PC is tplink t4u.
    Should i buy ax router or upgrade wifi 5 router?

  11. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this up. It explained everything that I couldn’t find explained. I just found your site, and I appreciate what you’re doing here Dong!

  12. @Dong Ngo very interesting article and lots of useful information. So I have been looking into some routers with Wi-Fi 6 lately. According to the information in the article is it pointless to have a router, that offers 4×4 connection but only has 1Gbit WAN? The LAN ports support aggregation but I could just get switch with 2,5 GBit for LAN connections instead of the mark up for the router. I really don’t know what was the reasoning of product managers behind this setup.
    Is the 4×4 and higher throughput worth it over 2×2 on cheaper models? I mean maybe if you have lots of clients connected or have multiple streams of high bitrate video or transfer files wirelessly? What is your opinion on this?

  13. All along I thought wi-fi only meant internet. Great to know that I have a lot to learn in the home networking area.
    With that said, is it necessary for me to upgrade to a Wi-Fi mesh system like the Deco X5700 or Orbi AX4200 if I primarily use internet and not local network? I am starting to integrate many smart devices into my house, they’re primarily TP Link Kasa. They don’t require a hub, but require Wi-Fi. So this gets me thinking. Should I upgrade to a mesh system or will I even notice a difference?
    My internet speed seems fine, but I pay for 100gbps and I never see that. Comcast… Maybe I’m not using the correct bands. Any information on what might be “smart” to do to maximize internet speed, but also make sure my smart devices will be efficient? Im going to have many smart devices in the next couple months. Thanks!

    Hopefully I’m asking the correct questions to get an understanding of if it’s necessary or not for me to be running a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system with a major local network, unless all the smart devices are considered to be on that network and not using the internet.

    • You can’t use the Internet without your local network, Justin. Also, 100Mbps is slow and any router or mesh system will be able to take care of that just fine. Judging from your question, though, I’d recommend you start with this post (and use links within it for related topics.)

  14. Hi Dong,

    My situation is: my house is two stories, “at the end of the line” for Comcast, and I have plaster walls from the 1950s, many devices fighting for wifi simultaneously. Our wifi is spotty and buffers and paying for 600mbps. Using Xfi gateway ac located in the basement office. I want to get a router/mesh set up (will connect pods via ethernet cable). Excluding speed, would a wifi 6 tri-band router help with efficiency and the congestion due to the number of devices connected simultaneously (as opposed to wifi 5) even if few devices (only 2 iPhone 11’s) have wifi 6 capability? I am more concerned about a consistent connection than the speed at this point (btw I have very little idea what I’m talking about).

    Thank you in advance for your help!

    • How about getting a new home, Lisa? Just kidding. It looks like you know a lot about what you’re talking about. A couple of things:

      1. I’d recommend replacing your gateway with a modem of your own. More on that here. If you don’t have phone service, this is definitely the way to go.
      2. Get a dual-band mesh system out of this list, and set it up via wired backhaul — that is you use network cables to connect the hardware units.
      2e. (e=extra): If you don’t want to get rid of that gateway, check out this post on how to use another router/mesh on top of your gateway.
      3. Do an Internet test at the modem (or gateway) to make sure you get what you pay for, before blaming your router or mesh system.

      Hope this helps. 🙂

    • @Dong Ngo,

      Thank you so much, your answers are very helpful!

      Just to confirm, by you suggesting dual-band, am I to conclude that tri-band will not help with our congestion issues? If so, is that because most of our devices are wifi 5(ca)? Does tri-band only come into play when devices are wifi 6(ax)? If not why? I’m really trying to understand this stuff.

      I think I’m confused about tri-band benefits vs. wifi 6 benefits. I thought wifi 6 would not help me now because our devices are mostly wifi 5, but tri-band would improve buffering when for example, 3 different zoom meetings are going on simultaneously via wifi, or four different programs are being streamed at once, all via wifi.

      Thanks so much!

      • @Dong Ngo,

        That is what I am planning on doing. I was wiring the router to the pods but then all our devices are over wifi.

      • @Dong Ngo,

        Hi again,

        You recommended I get my own modem, which I would love to do. However, I have read nightmare-ish stories about how difficult it is to get Comcast to update the firmware on equipment that is not theirs even if it’s is on their compatibility list.

        What are your thoughts on this conundrum?

        • @Dong Ngo,

          The more I ask, the more confused I get.

          The article is about router firmware. I am asking about modem firmware.

          Thanks again, your help is much appreciated.


          • If you read my previous comment, Lisa, you’ll note that you don’t need to worry about modem firmware. But if you need to update it, it’ll be the same as that of a router.

          • @Dong Ngo,

            Re: firmware,

            so all these horror stories I’ve read of Xfinity users having issues with Comcast pushing out firmware for their own devices, does that only apply if they are using their own gateway? I’m so confused, and down a rabbit hole.


        • @Dong Ngo,

          Last question–I hope.
          I am deciding between the Orbi AX4200 1 router 2 satellites, OR Lynksis Velop AX4200 2-Pack. Either one would be wired from router to satellite(s).

          Not sure if 1 satellite is enough. Modem and router downstairs (basement), satellite(s) on main floor 2,400+sq.ft. on each level.

          Considering the NETGEAR Nighthawk CM1100 DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem.

          Please tell me what to go with. I can’t do anymore research or my head will explode!

          Thanks so much for your help!

          • @Dong Ngo,

            Hi Dong,

            Clearly you did not like my two options so, after more reading–what if I got an ASUS RT-AX86U as the main router and then two hubs/satellites? I don’t know what to use for the satellites, please suggest.

            I considered the ASUS – ZenWiFi AX Dual-Band Mesh Wi-Fi System (3-pack) without the AX86U but I need more ports at the main router for printers, etc., that are wired in the basement.

            I don’t see where I can get the ZenWifi not in a 3 pack if I were to use those as nodes along with AX86U…and the price for everything is getting too high. All using the Nighthawk CM1100 modem.

            Please help!?!

            Thank you

          • @Dong Ngo,

            Should I just go with ASUS–ZenWifiAX and plug a switch into the router unit? If so, do you recommend a switch? I searched your site but didn’t find anything.

            Thank you so much for your help and patience.


  15. Hi Dong – Great site and information! I am wanting to upgrade our wireless configuration. The home is 4200 sq ft on two levels in basically an L shaped configuration. We have wired ethernet capability essentially throughout the house, including where we have our televisions (one on each floor). Our service provides 200 Mbps up and down. Currently using a Tmobile rebadged Asus RT-AC86u with two access points to help with coverage (would need to flash to use as part of AIMesh). The main router is situated close to the middle of the home on the second floor. While the main router is hidden from site, the satellites will be in plain view, which complicates the use of a satellites with typical antennas due to wife approval factor. I was considering two options, but open to others.

    XD4 – Good enough performance using ethernet backhaul and will meet wife approval factor. Guest network to use with various IOT devices. Will locate satellites near televisions to be able to stream over ethernet, with a switch.

    RT-AC88u with Orbi RBS40V – Would be nice to have Alexa built into extender. Use wired switches at television stations.

    Any benefit in repurposing a flashed AC86u as main router over using the XD4 router?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Thanks, Gerard. I’d go with the RT-AC86U and XD4 via wired backhauls. They support Alexa by the way, though, you probably don’t want to use it. Note though, that you only have a Guest network (for now) if you use the XD4 by itself. More here.

    • @Dong Ngo, Thanks for the quick response. A couple of follow up questions, if you don’t mind. Is there an advantage to using the flashed AC86U over simply using the XD4R as the router? Is there an advantage, security wise, to using a guest network for the IOT smart home devices? Thanks again. I hope you know how many people you are helping, especially as we do more work and schooling from home and are reliant on our wi-fi.

      • @Dong Ngo, Thanks for the explanation regarding the use of the guest network for IOT devices. Clearly, there is no reason to do that. Looking back, I made an error. The existing router I have is the RT-AC 68U, not 86U. Does that change your recommendation? It’s pretty old, so I’m assuming its performance would be worse than just eliminating it and using the XD4 system on its own, would you agree?

        • @Dong Ngo, Hi Dong – Could you comment on the option of using Blue Caves instead of the XD4 units? They seem to have similar, if not better performance, based on what I’ve seen on your site. The added benefit, for me, is that I wouldn’t need to use a switch at the satellite locations. Thanks.

  16. It seems everyone is possessed about speed, but from a practical perspective, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that with an internet speed below about 300 Mbps and tech more than a year old, anything more than a 2×2 mi-mo router is not of any practical value.

    Throw in that most streaming services only use\require 5Mbps for HD and about 25Mbps for 4K, even with a few people streaming, 433Mbps still seems like a lot.

    Yes, a PC with a good card and a NAS may benefit with local content, but how much does Alexa or a handheld device really need (specs are generally thin)?

    As I sit here today shopping for a new system for a large house, I am not seeing much reason to buy more than an RT-AC86U or the RT-AX56U (I will need at least 2). Buying the AX at about the same price I get a device that will probably be supported longer (firmware). Also been looking at the CT8, but with a wired infrastructure and it’s Guest LAN issues, not seeing the point, other than style.

    Dong, your perspective is appreciated.

    • You’re correct, Ranger. I talked more about that in this post. As far as Internet speed is concerned, you only need so much Wi-Fi bandwidth. For your station, the routers you mentioned will do. Considering you have wired your home with cables, I’d also recommend a 2-pack ZenWiFi AX Mini.

      • Are you suggesting that instead of 2 routers I get 1 and a 2 pack of DX4.

        Can you confirm this would have Guest on both Dx4 nodes when connected to the RT-AX56U?

        Can I connect one DX4 on a Ethernet and wireless mesh it to the second (or AX56U). If we could plug this in as needed on the covered porch I think it should span the entire backyard.

        • Just reread the DX4 and the Guest answer appears to be NO, so I then need to ask if I use multiple RT-AX56U will the Guest LAN be available on all devices.

          In my particular case the primary router is in a basement corner and the most unlikely location to actually server the Guest LAN. I need it on the clients.

          • The answer is, hell no, Ranger, for now. 🙂 More here. The point is among AiMesh routers, the XD4 is your best bet when it comes to the Guest network.

  17. Hi,
    Your review is very helpful.
    I would like to ask a very armature question before buying Archer AX6000 or Archer AX11000.
    Will my Broadcom 802.11ac Network Adapter(Laptop,Win 8.1) and Few old phones (Oldest is Android 4.5)will be able to connect the wifi and wired connection(in Laptop) and get better speed from AX6000 or Archer AX11000?
    Does Archer AX11000 has Lifetime malware protection?
    Thank you so much.

    • I don’t know the answer to your first question, Rupam. Chances are it’s the same. As for the 2nd, you have to ask TP-Link. For now, it’s free.

  18. This is a really good explanation. Thank you for properly breaking down the annoying marketing tricks all these companies use. Might also want to point out that Wi-Fi bandwidth is rated at half duplex. So while a 1Gbit Ethernet port says “1000Mbps”, it’s really doing 1000Mbps in both directions simultaneously thus alleviating things like TCP overhead. Wi-Fi on the other hand must wait for the return transmission. So when they say a single 802.11ac stream is rated at 433.3 Mbps, in reality you will see real world one way speeds of about 50-60% depending on the protocol in use. I consider 480Mbps on a 2×2 client about as fast as you can get, just over half the rated 866.6Mbps max throughput.

  19. Good article! I would just like to point out that the asus rt-ax89x is vastly superior to the asus rt-ax88u. Here’s why. Let’s assume we are operating on 5Ghz 80Mhz with a 2×2 client. Throughput maxes out at 1200 Mbps. The rt-ax88u is only 4×4 capable, so it can only really push out 2400Mbps to (2) 2×2 Clients simultaneously. The rt-ax89x is a true wifi 6 spec router with 8×8 spatial streams on 5Ghz band. This allows it to supply 1200Mbps to (4) 2×2 clients simultaneously, achieving the 4800Mbps spec that is commonly marketed to consumers. This is why they also contain two completely different chipsets, one Broadcom (trash, in my opinion)…….one Qualcomm (vastly superior). I switched from a gt-ax11000 (4×4: 4×4: 4×4 Broadcom chip) to the rt-ax89x (4×4: 8×8 Qualcomm chip) and the rt-ax89x beats it in every way.

  20. Two key innovations are accelerating Wi-Fi 6 associations: MU-MIMO and OFDMA.
    MU-MIMO, which means “multi-user, multiple inputs, multiple outputs,” is as of now being used in current switches and gadgets, however Wi-Fi 6 redesigns it.
    The innovation permits a switch to speak with various gadgets simultaneously, instead of broadcasting to one device, and afterward the following, and the following. At present, MU-MIMO permits switches to talk with four gadgets, one after another. Wi-Fi 6 will allow devices to speak with up to eight.

  21. Hi Dong,

    Excellent article and it’s noce to “connect” again,i was wondering where you’ve been since you lefft CNET and came across your site recently! I bought an Asus RT-AC87 after watching your video on CNET before where you mentioned you had bought two!

    After reading this and other articles, i still have a question which is unanswered: My family has only wifi5 enabled clients. So are there any advantages to having a wifi6 router? eg would there be better coverage and less break in the wifi signal (my children complain “the wifi is slow” despite having a 1Gpbs home broadband plan).



    • Glad you’re here, Simon. No, generally you won’t see any improvement though it doesn’t hurt to have a Wi-Fi 6 router, you might need a more powerful one anyway, maybe a tri-band. For your situation, though, check to make sure none of the devices in your home is hogging the Internet. You can do that via the current router’s interface, the Traffic Analyzer feature. Also check out this post for more.

  22. I have a Google Nest WiFi mesh network that is adequate — it’s comprised of all router components, since the access points are less capable — but as we’ve spent an extended time at home, I’ve had the occasional slowdown or drop-out that makes me wonder if I can do better with a different mesh system. I was looking at the top-end Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 mesh system until the Wi-Fi 6E announcement came out. Since it will be a significant investment, should I wait for Wi-Fi 6E or should I buy now? I can hold out until then with my current system. Thanks in advance for your recommendation!

    • I’m familiar with the Google Nest, Ron. My take is don’t use it for privacy reasons alone. Another thing is don’t count on Wi-Fi 6E, chances are it’s useless for your existing clients. That said, almost any of these new Wi-Fi 6 mesh solutions will work better than what you have now.

  23. Hi Dong – thanks for the article! Can current Wifi6 routers actually broadcast 6ghz (via firmware etc), or is this a hardware upgrade that future routers will need to have? If the latter, doesn’t it make sense to hold off on any current Wifi6 routers if they are physically limited to 5ghz?


  24. Thanks for your quick answer, but I still don’t quite get it. If 2 routers are 4×4 8 stream , but one of them has 4 antennas and the other has 8 antennas, what’s the difference between them?

    • That’s because vendors tend to add the number of streams all the bands up into a single number. You need to be specific but generally, it’s confusing, read the post again, slowly, and also this post, and you’ll find out yourself.

  25. I’ve seen similar routers claiming the same WiFi speeds while having a different number of antennas (4,6,8). Are more antennas always better?


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