When a pandemic hit our lives, many of us were forced to stay home and move our jobs and hobbies to the internet. Office and classroom meetings have been replaced by video calls. We love Netflix, play more video games, and shop online.
The result: We close our home Wi-Fi network with more active devices than ever before. Our congested internet connection, the cause of unstable video calls and slow downloads, has become the # 1 tech headache.
Now, a new generation of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, has emerged to solve this problem. It delivers faster speeds and wider coverage. Most importantly, wireless technology does a better job of sharing your data connection more efficiently on a large number of home devices, like phones, tablets, computers, smart speakers, and TVs. .
With Wi-Fi 6, when a device consumes a large amount of data, such as a video game console downloading a large game, it will not slow down the entire network, which happens to the public. Wi-Fi technology before.
Wi-Fi 6 launched in 2018 but has only become a popular trend this year, as it becomes more affordable, with devices priced at just $ 70 and more widely available across sets new internet routing. Many newer smartphones and computers today also incorporate chips that help them take advantage of Wi-Fi 6.
So how exactly does it work? Imagine cars running on a road. On older Wi-Fi networks, cars, which represent data transfer devices, drive in a lane. A device takes a long time to complete a data-heavy task like an obnoxious deceleration forcing everyone in the back to press the brakes.
Wi-Fi 6 reduces congestion by navigating traffic. More lanes now available: a car lane for newer, faster devices and a slow lane for older, slower devices. All vehicles are also full of people, this represents a large amount of data being transmitted over the network simultaneously.
“Wi-Fi 6 can be much more efficient at getting more cars down the road faster,” said David Henry, senior vice president at networking company Netgear.
Recently, I tested two new Wi-Fi 6 routers and compared them to previous generation Wi-Fi routers, resulting in some average results as well as more surprising improvements. Here’s what I learned.
I usually have more than two dozen internet-connected devices running, including smart speakers, thermostats, and bathroom scales. That seems to make my home the ideal test environment for Wi-Fi 6.
The Wi-Fi 6 routers that I choose are Amazon’s Eero Pro 6, which costs around $ 230, and Netgear’s Orbi, which costs $ 380. I compared them to a Google Wifi router, which cost around $ 130 when it was released in 2016.
One test involved downloading an episode of the Netflix series “The Final Table” on two smartphones and a tablet while streaming video on another tablet.
Wi-Fi 6 router performs better than older ones, but only to a minor extent:
On the Eero and Netgear routers, it takes about 45 seconds for all three devices to finish downloading the TV episode. On older Google routers, the task takes 51 seconds, 13% slower.
When I tried streaming high definition video on my tablet while other devices were downloading files, there was no noticeable delay when streaming video on Wi-Fi 6 router or router older.
I ran the routers through many tests like the one above, including downloading video games while making a video call. The results are usually not as good. So what for?
Nick Weaver, chief executive of Eero, maker of Amazon-owned routers, said the benefits of reducing congestion with Wi-Fi 6 will be more apparent in a more device-intensive environment, such as an office with hundreds of computers doing heavy duty. same time.
“It’s less important in a home setting,” he said. Most homes still don’t have that many.
Keerti Melkote, the founder of Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company specializing in providing Wi-Fi products for businesses, has another theory. The majority of devices in my home will need to have a chip that is compatible with Wi-Fi 6 before the benefits become clearer, he said. Only about a quarter of my internet-connected devices have them.
Those are not staggering results. But the good news is that when using Wi-Fi 6, I noticed subtle changes throughout my home.
First, my Amazon smart speaker is now more responsive. In my bedroom, I asked Alexa to control a pair of internet-connected light bulbs. With the older router, whenever I say, “Alexa, turn on the light”, there will be a delay of about two seconds before the light comes on. It is less than half a second now.
I noticed something similar about MyQ, which allows me to use a smartphone app to control my garage door. Previously, after pressing the button, I waited a few seconds for the door to open. Now wait a moment.
My video calls look clearer than before, and take less time to connect.
This shows that Wi-Fi 6 is a long-term investment. The more internet-connected devices into people’s homes in the coming years, the more perks will become more apparent.
“It will take time, but improvements will be real,” Melkote said.
Out of the two Wi-Fi 6 routers I tested, I liked the Eero Pro 6. It’s $ 150 cheaper than the Netgear Orbi, and both routers were equally fast in my tests. The Eero setup is also simpler.
But who should buy?
My experience has shown that people who have bought a router in the past 5 years probably won’t see major improvements right away, so there’s no rush to upgrade.
These customers should probably wait for Wi-Fi 6E, a newly announced technology, that is expected to offer even more improvements to reduce network congestion in densely populated areas. Routers that work with Wi-Fi 6E are only just getting started – and very expensive – so it could take a few years until it’s practical to consider an upgrade.
But if you bought a router more than six years ago, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 gives a massive speed boost, and the overall benefits will be more noticeable. That is largely because in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission removed restrictions that restrict the wireless transmission power of Wi-Fi routers, allowing new routers to be more powerful than 20. times.
Here’s an even simpler rule of thumb: If you’re happy with the internet connection at home, hold back what you have and upgrade when you feel the need. Even Mr. Melkote hasn’t made the move to Wi-Fi 6. He said he has plans for this year because his family is working and studying at home in the near future.
For me, while the improvements over my old router are minor, nothing comes back. I seem to connect half a dozen new devices to my network every year, so I’ll need those extra lanes.