What Are Wi-Fi 5 And 6 … And What’s The Difference?

Click The Arrow For The Table Of Contents
Hand turns dice and changes the expression "WiFi 5" to "WiFi 6".

In this tech-insight, we look at what Wi-Fi 5 And 6 are, including their differences plus the improvements that Wi-Fi 6 offers. 

Wi-Fi Standards

Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 are the names of the most recent Wi-Fi standards. Wi-Fi standards are services and protocols that dictate how a Wi-Fi network (and other data transmission networks) acts. 

Wi-Fi 5

Wi-Fi 5, released in 2014, is the previous generation of Wi-Fi technology, which is now being replaced by Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac technology is a wireless networking standard in the IEEE 802.11 set of protocols. This is part of the Wi-Fi networking family which provides high-throughput wireless local area networks (WLANs) on the 5 GHz band. 

Wi-Fi 6

Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax technology, introduced in 2019, is the new wireless networking standard that is now being used in many more new routers after being initially limited to high-end ones, e.g. Netgear, TP-Link, Asus, and D-Link. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 is also now included in more recent mesh network systems (a group of devices that act as a single Wi-Fi network), such as multiple sources of Wi-Fi / ‘points’ around the house. 

What Are The Differences?

Some of the main differences that Wi-Fi 6 offers over Wi-Fi 5 are: 

– Maximum potential speeds of up to 40 per cent higher due to more efficient data encoding. 

– A longer battery life for Wi-Fi-enabled devices because the Wi-Fi radio (on the device) will be instructed to spend more time in sleep mode with Wi-Fi 6. 

– Better performance in congested areas where there are a lot of connected devices in operation. This is due to Wi-Fi 6 configuring access points near each other to have different Basic Service Set (BSS) “colours” (a number between 0 and 7). 

– A cut in latency (communications ‘lag’). 

– The ability to send more data to multiple devices simultaneously. This is because Wi-Fi 6 uses Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) to divide a wireless channel into a more significant number of subchannels. Also, improved Multiple In/Multiple Out (MIMO) lets the access point talk to multiple devices simultaneously. Those devices can respond simultaneously to the wireless access point (which did not happen with 5). 

– Better Wi-Fi signal reception in devices due to Improved ‘beamforming’, i.e. the focusing of a Wi-Fi signal in a specific direction. This means that instead of simply beaming-out a Wi-Fi signal in all orders, Wi-Fi 6 allows the router to determine where a device is and send a more robust password.  

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Wi-Fi 6 essentially offers businesses a faster Wi-Fi speed, plus the ability to improve performance in environments with multiple devices, e.g. offices. This could translate into time savings, improvements in productivity and scalability, and a better all-around Wi-Fi experience. However, to reap the full benefits, it’s important to remember that to get Wi-Fi 6 performance on your device, you’ll need both a wireless router and a device that supports Wi-Fi 6. So, for example, connecting to a device that only supports Wi-Fi 5 with a Wi-Fi 6 router will still only deliver Wi-Fi 5 performance. However, more devices and routers are now being made to support Wi-Fi 6, which means that when routers and devices are replaced with the latest models, businesses will enjoy the considerable benefits of Wi-Fi 6.