What Is All The Buzz About Wifi 6?

Tod Caflisch
9 min readFeb 7


February 7, 2023

As Debbie and I continue our new smart home planning, a critical element is decision making around Wifi. It’s one of many important parts of our overall plan as it enables many smart integrations.

Wifi tends to be a little bit of ‘voodoo science’ as we called it in the IT business as to most people it’s just something they need but don’t know much about. It really can be confusing … 2.4GHz, 5GHz, mesh, etc. There are so many considerations and terms to keep up with. And the technology seems to change almost daily. For most people they simply subscribe to internet with their service provider and wait for the technician to show up, install their router and turn their Wifi on.

I’ll do my best to de-mystify Wifi in general while explaining what Wifi 6 is compared to previous versions.

Wifi 6, also know as 802.11ax, is faster than the current widely used version Wifi 5, or 802.11ac. It is the sixth generation of wireless network protocols trademarked by the Wifi Alliance. Based on the 802.11ax standard from the IEEE, Wifi 6 is designed to improve bandwidth, decrease network latency, and boost the battery life of wireless devices. More than speed, it provides better performance in congested areas, from stadiums to your own home (which probably has more Wifi-dependent devices than you realize). Wifi 6 has been around since late 2019 but has not become common until recently. It also includes WPA3 — the latest security standard — and encrypted public Wifi networks. Hang with me, I’ll explain all this.

As you’d imagine, the latest Wifi standard offers faster data transfer speeds. If you’re using a Wifi router with a single device, maximum potential speeds should be up to 40% higher with Wifi 6 compared to Wifi 5. Wifi 6 accomplishes this through more efficient data encoding, resulting in higher throughput. Mainly, more data is packed into the same radio waves. The chips that encode and decode these signals keep getting more powerful and can handle the extra work.

This new standard even increases speeds on 2.4GHz networks. While the industry has shifted to 5GHz Wifi for less interference, 2.4GHz is still better at penetrating solid objects (concrete, drywall, wood). And there shouldn’t be as much interference for 2.4GHz as old cordless telephones and wireless baby monitors are retired. A new ‘target wake time’ feature means your smartphone, laptop, and other Wifi-enabled devices should have longer battery life, too.

When the access point is talking to a device (like your smartphone), it can tell the device exactly when to put its Wifi radio to sleep and exactly when to wake it up to receive the next transmission. This will conserve power, as it means the Wifi radio can spend more time in sleep mode. And that means longer battery life. This will also help with low-power smart home IoT devices that connect via Wifi.

Wifi tends to get bogged down when you’re in a crowded place with a lot of Wifi enabled devices. You’ve probably been to a stadium or arena for a big game or concert where a lot of people are connected to Wifi. Painfully slow, particularly with older Wifi systems. In my technology consulting work around stadiums and arenas, especially post pandemic where there’s a heightened focus on guest experience, there’s a lot of discussion around Wifi 6 due to the speed and density benefits.

Wifi 6 also has an extension — Wifi 6E — that is available on some devices. It keeps most of the same specifications as Wifi 6, including the same IEEE designation — 802.11ax. The major distinction is that Wifi 6E incorporates the 6GHz band into the existing standard, allowing for faster, lower latency connections between devices that support the 6GHz band.

Wifi 6 devices are not compatible with the 6GHz band available to Wifi 6E devices, but they can still connect via the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands without an issue. That means you don’t need to worry about upgrading your router, modem and router combo unit, or any of your wireless devices and being unable to connect to older hardware as they’ll still work.

Wifi 6E has also been an active topic of discussions around stadium and arena Wifi. The reason why more large public venues haven’t jumped at it is due to a number of factors. First, the number of devices capable of leveraging Wifi 6/6E is fairly low in the consumer market so the ROI won’t be realized until the system is probably due to be upgraded to Wifi 7. Although the majority of consumer devices could still connect via the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands. Another factor is that Wifi 6E is broken down into indoor and outdoor. The FCC has certified Wifi 6E indoor so public venues like arenas, airports and convention centers could successfully deploy solutions now. Wifi 6E outdoor however, is looking like at least a year before it’s certified by the FCC, so it leaves open air football, baseball and soccer stadiums in limbo as the majority of users would be in the venue bowl but they also have indoor areas requiring coverage as well.

You don’t really need to know all of the details but the bottom line is that a Wifi 6 access point with a Wifi 6 device will work better. Here’s some quick points on why:

  • Wifi 6 divides a wireless channel into a large number of subchannels. Each of these subchannels can carry data intended for a different device. Basically, the Wifi access point can talk to more devices at once.
  • Multiple antennas let the access point talk to multiple devices at once. With Wifi 5, the access point could talk to devices at the same time, but those devices couldn’t respond at the same time. Wifi 6’s improvements let multiple devices respond to the wireless access point at the same time.
  • Wifi 6 wireless access points overcome the channeling issues that affect Wifi 5. Wifi 6 wireless access points near each other can be configured with different Basic Service Set. It may notice a transmission with a weak signal so it ignores this signal and transmits anyway, improving performance in congested areas . This is called ‘spatial frequency re-use.’
  • Wifi 6 also includes improved beamforming. Beamforming is used at both the transmitting and receiving ends by basically projecting coverage where signal exists. This is a huge improvement over omnidirectional reception/transmission which simply projects a coverage bubble around the access point.

Wifi 6 is also more secure than previous versions of Wifi. The Wifi Alliance requires Wifi 6 Certified devices to support Wifi Protected Access 3 (WPA3), the latest security standard.

WPA3 presents a few significant improvements over WPA2.

  • It makes weak passwords more resistant to brute-force attacks
  • It encrypts your internet traffic on public Wifi networks
  • It makes stronger encryption schemes available for enterprise use

It means that the weak, easily memorable passwords for Wifi networks is less vulnerable to hackers than it used to be.

Encrypting all of your traffic while on a public Wifi network is also a huge win for privacy and security. Previously, public Wifi networks would transmit your information unencrypted, which meant it could conceivably be read by eavesdroppers also connected to the network.

You can upgrade to Wifi 6 by replacing your router with a newer model that supports Wifi 6. The real trick is figuring out which router you want. Wifi 6 routers come in every shape and size, and router specs and features vary significantly between models. There really isn’t a single router that would work for every circumstance, so here are some things to consider when planning a purchase.

Wifi signals weaken over distance, and if you have a large home, you might find that even a well-placed router struggles to deliver good coverage to every location. The materials your home is made of matter too — like brick, concrete, and metal are great at blocking Wifi signals, whereas drywall and wood don’t typically dampen your signal very much. Surprisingly, water (pipes, aquariums) also affects Wifi signal. You can read more about this in my previous post ‘Why Does My Home WiFi Stink?

Wifi 6 routers don’t inherently provide a more powerful signal than Wifi 5, so if your current router struggles to deliver the performance you want, you should consider a Mesh Wifi System when you upgrade. Mesh Wifi networks are composed of a main hub and several satellites. You connect the hub to your modem like you normally would, then you place the satellites in the parts of your home with poor Wifi reception. Your wireless device, like a phone or laptop, connects to the satellite with the best connection, and then the satellite transmits the information to the hub. For more details on Mesh Wifi see my post ‘Is Home Mesh Wifi the Answer?

Physically, the upgrade process is pretty simple. Just connect your new router or Mesh Hub to your modem using an Ethernet cable. Modems and routers often mark the port you should use to connect them in yellow, though that isn’t universal. Routers will also typically mark the correct port ‘Internet,’ while the corresponding port on the Modem is often labeled ‘Ethernet’ or ‘LAN.’ Then configure the Wifi router using the appropriate app or with a computer on the network.

Things like cell phones, tablets, and most other small devices cannot be upgraded to Wifi 6 — sadly you’ll need to replace them if you want to use Wifi 6. But don’t run out to Best Buy just yet and spend a load of money. Wifi 6 routers are fully backward compatible with devices that use Wifi 4 or Wifi 5, so none of your devices will suddenly stop working because you upgraded your router.

In other words, if you want Wifi 6 performance on your phone, you’ll need both a wireless router or access point and a smartphone that supports Wifi 6. If you connect a laptop that only supports Wifi 5 to your Wifi 6 router, that particular connection will operate in Wifi 5 mode. But your router can still use Wifi 6 with your phone at the same time.

Most new wireless devices — like Apple’s iPhones, Samsung’s phones, a majority of laptops and most other things you can think of — all support Wifi 6. You don’t need to go out of your way to get Wifi 6-enabled hardware if you buy something produced in the last few years. Just keep an eye out for ‘Wifi 6’ or ‘Wifi 6 Certified’ in the spec sheet if you want to be absolutely sure.

Larger devices with user-serviceable parts, like desktop PCs and some laptops, can be upgraded to support Wifi 6 by adding a wireless network card. Not all laptops are user serviceable, however, and for those that aren’t, your only option is a USB network adapter if you want Wifi 6.

What are your thoughts on Wifi 6? I’d be interested in feedback on your experience if you already have Wifi 6 deployed at home. If you don’t, are you considering it? As the market is not flooded with Wifi 6 capable devices just yet I think the jury is still out regarding adoption. Again, I’m not sure the ROI is there just yet, especially with the additional cost of replacing or upgrading devices to take advantages of the benefits of Wifi 6. Needless to say, I’ll be deploying a Wifi 6 network in our new home however.

Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails what you think about Wifi 6. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’



In full disclosure, I’m not an affiliate marketer with links to any online retailer on my website. When people read what I’ve written about a particular product and then click on those links and buy something from the retailer, I earn nothing from the retailer. The links are strictly a convenience for my readers.



Tod Caflisch

Smart Home technology visionary with passion for out of the box solutions for home technology integrations, focusing on efficiency, safety and sustainability.