A Wi-Fi 6 AX – why you should start to buy it now (tutorial)

Wi-Fi 6

Wi-Fi 6 or AX is here – I have a NETGEAR Nighthawk AX8 (AX6000), eight-stream router in my hands now and I am aching to see what difference it makes.

Wi-Fi 6 or AX is the next standard after Wi-Fi AC and the aborted Wi-Fi AD. I mention AD (WiGig) because it attempted to get over all the AC issues but in doing so headed off on a non-backwards compatible road requiring new client devices to make use of it.

Wi-Fi 6

Take a step back – Wi-Fi 5 – AC is a base part of Wi-Fi 6 so start here

When Wi-Fi 5 AC came out in late 2013 pimply-faced sales people drank the Kool-Aid and made promises of performance and range that simply were not true. A badly designed AC network is no better than a badly designed Wi-fi 6 AX network or even a Wi-Fi 4 G network.

Why? Because AC was all about theory – 866Mbps 5GHz channels, 433Mbps 2.4GHz channels, Wave 1 and 2, 2×2 MIMO, 4×4 MU-MIMO, VHT80/160 Channel bonding (up to 1.27/1.69Gbps), 256-QAM …

What they forgot is that in practice brick walls, concrete floors, Colourbond roofs, windows, furniture, people and much more all affect the signal. Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz can run up to 46/92 metres indoor/outdoor and Wi-Fi 5Ghz up to 15/30 metres line-of-sight. In practice cut that in half!

Wi-Fi 6

In Wi-Fi 5 we have (table based on Wikipedia) (MCS 7=64QAM, 8/9=256QAM)

Type 2.4 GHz
Config [40 MHz] 5 GHz
Config [80 MHz]
AC450 433 1 stream @ MCS 9
AC600 150 1 stream @ MCS 7 433 1 stream @ MCS 9
AC750 300 2 streams @ MCS 7 433 1 stream @ MCS 9
AC1000 300 2 streams @ MCS 7 650 2 streams @ MCS 7
AC1200 300 2 streams @ MCS 7 867 2 streams @ MCS 9
AC1300 400 2 streams @ MCS 9 867 2 streams @ MCS 9
AC1300 1,300 3 streams @ MCS 9
AC 1350 450 3 streams @ MCS 7 867 2 streams @ MCS 9
AC1450 450 3 streams @ MCS 7 975 3 streams @ MCS 7
AC1600 300 2 streams @ MCS 7 1,300 3 streams @ MCS 9
AC1750 450 3 streams @ MCS 7 1,300 3 streams @ MCS 9
AC1900 600 3 streams @ MCS 9 1,300 3 streams @ MCS 9
AC2200 450 3 streams @ MCS 7 1,733 4 streams @ MCS 9
AC2300 600 4 streams @ MCS 7 1,625 5 streams @ MCS 7
AC2350 600 4 streams @ MCS 7 1,733 4 streams @ MCS 9
AC2600 800 4 streams @ MCS 9 1,733 4 streams @ MCS 9
AC3000 450 3 streams @ MCS 7 1,300 + 1,300 3 streams @ MCS 9 x 2
AC3150 1000 4 streams @ 1024-QAM 2,167 4 streams @ 1024-QAM
AC3200 600 3 streams @ MCS 9 1,300 + 1,300 3 streams @ MCS 9 x 2
AC5000 600 4 streams @ MCS 7 2,167 + 2,167 4 streams @ 1024-QAM x 2
AC5300 1000 4 streams @ 1024-QAM 2,167 + 2,167 4 streams @ 1024-QAM x 2

I had hoped that Wi-Fi 6 – AX would only have two speeds – AX6000 and AX11000. That includes the total channel aggregated/bonded speeds above, e.g. AX6000 only has 700Mbps more bandwidth (not speed) than AC5300!

But no, we will see AX1500, AX1800, AX2700, AX3500, AX5400 as well and the router chipsets coming from (numbered from lowest to highest power)

  • Broadcom 63158/6755/3390/4906/4908
  • Qualcomm 8070/8072/8074/8078
  • Intel 2732

We will also see Wi-Fi 6 client (device) chipsets from many companies and speeds achieved will depend on the number of 2.4/5GHz antenna and streams

One last thing before we get into the jargon

But before you rip out and buy (and our AX6000 review is still a couple of weeks away), I wanted to try to dumb down what Wi-Fi 6 is and what you need to look for. You know – to counter the effects of the ill-educated Hardly Normal Spiel.

Wi-Fi 6
NETGEAR AX6000 Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router

Myth: Wi-Fi 6 will solve all your problems, its super fast and it will even cook breakfast and make coffee – but you may have to buy some new Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices – bull-s*&t.

Wi-Fi 6 is fully compatible with Wi-Fi 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 – you don’t need to throw away any old IoT devices. It does this by keeping an older ‘wireless’ in the router and a newer Wi-Fi 6 wireless.

If AC5300 does not do it for you, the AX6000 probably will not either! Although it may make more efficient use of the AC bandwidth.

If you have a new Wi-Fi 6 device like the Samsung Galaxy S10 series (review here), these will achieve up to two times more Wi-Fi speed than Wi-Fi AC’s 866bps, but you can get that now with some AX5300 routers anyway.

Myth: Wi-Fi 6 will eliminate dead coverage spots – absolute Bull-s*&t

It will not give you better range (Hardly Normal has already tried to spin that porkie with me). If you have coverage black spots now, Wi-Fi 6 will not fix that. A properly designed network will, and the answer is usually not a Mesh network.

Myth: Wi-Fi 6 will stream 4K UHD content – 50% bovine excrement

No router can improve the speed of your internet. Wi-Fi 6 is all about internal network speed – not external internet speeds. At a minimum 4K content requires 25Mbps steady streaming or it falls back to 1080p (5Mbps) or 720p (3Mbps) or less. So, the 50% that is true is that Wi-Fi 5 and 6 can stream 4K content wirelessly from the router to the TV.

The 50% BS is getting 4K content to the router over the internet.

If you have ADSL, it will crawl along at somewhere between 5 and 20Mbps (megabits per second) download and 1Mbps upload. The average in Australia is 7.99Mbps – if you are extremely lucky. No router can improve your download speed.

If you have NBN, you can pay for one of four Mbps tiers (Download and Upload)

  • 12/1 (expect perhaps 8Mbps)
  • 25/5 (expect 20/1)
  • 50/20 (expect 40/15)
  • 100/40 (expect 90/30)

Now, remember all your network devices have to share this bandwidth.

Security cameras will chew up a fair bit of that; music streaming is about .32Mbps (not too bad), voice over IP (VoIP) is about .064Mbps etc. But if you have 20-30 devices on your network it all adds up.

The real problem is that Wi-Fi signals are half-duplex (think a one-lane road shared by two-way traffic that must pull over when someone else is using it). The router can only send or receive to one device at a time.

So, if your router has 866Mbps and you have four devices it can send or receive at 866Mbps, and it is monogamous – it can only talk to one device at a time. It must use ‘magic’ to via multiple radios/antenna, beamforming, or time slicing to service those four devices. But on average these devices will get 100Mbps speeds.

Most routers have 1Gbps (1000Mbps) dedicated ethernet LAN ports, and these can communicate at full-duplex – two-way traffic with no hold-ups. Ethernet is the key to a well-designed home network.

Wi-Fi 6

OK to the Wi-Fi 6 jargon

  • Uplink and downlink orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) increases efficiency and lowers latency for high demand environments. In English it allows several users to share data transmission rate instead of one user at a time and it is more efficient in the use of Wi-Fi 5 and 6 bands. It may increase the battery life of Wi-Fi clients.
  • 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM) enables better efficiency for bandwidth-intensive use cases. It allocates bandwidth as needed using combined data streams.
  • Improved medium access control (MAC) control signalling increases throughput and capacity while reducing latency.
  • 2×2 or 4×4 MU-MIMO means the number of antennae that can stream simultaneously to different devices. More antenna = more devices
  • VHT80 or 160 allows bonding or aggregation of two 40GHz or 2 80GHz bands for 1.27/1.69Mbps on Wi-Fi AC devices -that just means the traffic hog gets all the attention
  • Dual or Tri-Band – Basically this relates to the number of radios that can transmit at the same time. Tri-band is better.
  • QoS – the quality of service means you can allocate priority to certain streams like Video or audio or games at the expense of quality of other connections.
  • Increased symbol durations make outdoor network operations more robust – better line of sight performance
  • Premium routers may have onboard security from AV partners, automatic fall back to 4/5G, LAN/WAN port Ethernet aggregation, Voice Assistance, USB 3.0 and Bluetooth connectivity to enable streaming to multi-room devices.
  • Mesh versions will come sometime after the normal versions.

Prices are likely to start at A$599 (AX6000) and go up from there. Manufacturers see lots of life left in Wi-Fi 5 AC routers so don’t panic thinking you need to upgrade.

GadgetGuy’s take. It is safe to buy Wi-FI 6 but you will pay a premium

In simple terms buy the fastest router with as many bands as you can afford. The two real advantages of Wi-Fi 6 is OFDMA and MU-MIMO. You may not need all that capacity now but add security cameras, smart speakers, smart TV/Blu-ray/soundbar, Netflix et al., and it does not take long to overwhelm a cheaper router.

A Wi-Fi 6 AX

Over time we will update this tutorial as we get to test more Wi-Fi 6 AX routers.

Wi-Fi 6