February 26, 2021
Wi-Fi 6 has arrived, promising faster speeds, broader coverage and the ability to share connections across a single household’s wireless devices. The latter means that if one device is consuming huge amounts of data, it will not slow down the household’s other devices. The new generation Wi-Fi actually debuted in 2018 but is only now affordable enough and more widely available on Internet routers to become mainstream. While consumers can now purchase smartphones and computers including chips that enable use of Wi-Fi 6, the tech’s real benefits will likely have a stronger impact once households have more connected devices.
The New York Times reports that Wi-Fi 6 prevents heavy tasks from slowing down all the household devices by “directing traffic.” Instead of a single lane, which creates traffic jams, there are now multiple “carpool lanes for the newer, faster devices and a slow lane for the older, slower ones.” “Wi-Fi 6 can be much more efficient at getting a lot more cars down the road faster,” said Netgear senior vice president David Henry.
The NYT reporter tested two Wi-Fi routers — the Amazon Eero Pro 6, which costs about $230, and Netgear’s Orbi, priced at $380 — comparing them with a 2016 previous generation Google router. The results were “middling … as well as more surprising improvements.”
He found that, in downloading an episode of Netflix series “The Final Table” on “two smartphones and a tablet while streaming video on another tablet,” the two Wi-Fi 6 routers only did “marginally better” — 45 seconds versus 51 seconds on the old Google router. He next streamed an HD video on a tablet while other devices were downloading files, and none of the three routers showed a “noticeable delay in the playback of the streaming video.”
Why the underwhelming results? According to Eero chief executive Nick Weaver, “the benefit of reduced congestion with Wi-Fi 6 would be more visible in an environment with many more devices, like an office with hundreds of computers doing heavy tasks at the same time. “It’s less important in the home environment,” he said.
At Hewlett Packard Enterprise company Aruba, founder Keerti Melkote pointed out that, to work, “the majority of the devices in my home would need to have chips that made them compatible with Wi-Fi 6 before the benefits were more pronounced.”
But the NYT reviewer did notice “subtle changes.” His Amazon smart speakers were “more responsive,” with the Wi-Fi 6-enabled Alexa turning on the lights with only a half-a-second delay. He found the same lack of latency with his myQ, a smartphone app to control the garage door, and “my video calls also look clearer than they used to, and they take less time to connect.”
His conclusion is that, “Wi-Fi 6 is a long-term investment … The more Internet-connected devices that enter people’s homes in the coming years, the more the perks will become visible.”