Best answer: Wi-Fi 6 is the new designation for what used to be called Wi-Fi 802.11ax. It was changed to alleviate some of the confusion that seemingly random numbers and letters bring. You probably don't need a new Wi-Fi 6 router unless you have a Galaxy S10, which is the first phone to support the new standard.

Amazon: Netgear Nighthawk AX8 ($400)

How is Wi-Fi 6 better than 5?

You might have noticed that one of the specs for the new Samsung Galaxy S10 is something we've not seen before on a spec sheet: Wi-Fi 6. It's new, but also something that you might have heard about under a different name as it was formerly known as 802.11ax. Don't get confused here — the Wi-Fi Alliance (the standards body that decides what happens with each new generation of Wi-Fi) has decided to stop using seemingly random letter designations for Wi-Fi versions and switch to regular cardinal numbers. They think this makes it easy for us to know which is newer, and therefore better. They're probably right.

That's why the Galaxy S10 is the first device to use Wi-Fi 6. The Wi-Fi Alliance wants to see all devices use this naming convention from now on, and since Samsung has done it most other phone makers will. So we'll have to get used to seeing it. That's easy enough, but what exactly makes Wi-Fi 6 better? Is it enough to want a new router?

Better battery life

A device can never be too power efficient, and that goes double for mobile devices. We only want to have to charge our phone once per day and that's after we're finished with it. Anything that helps reach that goal is welcome.

Less time on the charger? Bring it!

A lot of things promise better battery life, but how WI-Fi 6 does it is really cool. When you're4 on Wi-Fi your phone communicates with an access point. If both the access point and the device are using WI-Fi 6 the AP (that's the abbreviation for Access Point) can enable a new TWT feature. It's short for Target Wake Time and what it does is tell the device when to expect the next packet of data so it knows it can shut the Wi-Fi radio down until that time.

The time between data packets is really short when sending a lot of data, but even having the radio down during those times can make a difference. Every little bit helps.

Faster data speeds

Of course, Wi-Fi 6 offers faster speeds than Wi-Fi 5 (which used to be called Wi-Fi ac), that's why it's one bigger under the Wi-FI Alliance's new naming convention.

And it will really be faster this time, too.

How Wi-Fi 6 is able to be potentially 40% faster than Wi-Fi 5 is — you guessed it — it can send more data in the same amount of time. It can't do it because of any new data magic, though. More data can be compressed inside every packet because the hardware is now able to encode and decode more data at once. Wi-Fi 6 devices will all have hardware that's capable of this on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks, too.

Better performance on busy networks

Ever notice that a Wi-Fi network with a lot of users is really slow? that's because wireless traffic is just like automobile traffic and can get congested if too many things try to take the same lanes.

Wi-Fi handles traffic better because all the lanes are two-way.

Wi-Fi 5 brought what's called MIMO (Multiple In and Multiple Out) to Wi-Fi radios where multiple antennas allow an AP to "talk" to multiple devices at the same time. Wi-Fi 6 has upped the ante and brings MU-MIMO (Multiple User Multiple In and Multiple Out) and the AP can now listen to multiple devices at the same time, too. That means it can handle twice or more inbound traffic because devices no longer have to queue up to talk back to the AP.

Do I need a new router?

If you want Wi-Fi 6, yes, you need a new router.

Should you buy one right now? Probably not. Even if you bought a Galaxy S10, you don't really need a new router yet.

That's because you're not likely to have enough devices on your home WI-Fi (and certainly not going to have enough devices that are all Wi-Fi 6 capable) to see any real difference. Most of the things we use Wi-Fi on our phones to do depend on internet speeds and those are the bottleneck. Even a relatively slow Wi-Fi network will be faster than your download and upload speeds between you and your internet provider.

You next router needs to be Wi-Fi 6 ready.

That only applies if you aren't shopping for a router right now, though. If you're looking to buy a new router you totally want to make sure it supports Wi-Fi 6. That's because your Wi-Fi router is your Wireless AP and we see above why you want your next AP to be Wi-Fi 6 ready. A router is something you ideally only need to replace once every few years and runs along happily every day without any fiddling around. That's why I recommend the Nighthawk AX8 from Netgear. It's not cheap at $400 and uber-power-users may scoff at consumer grade routers, but it will chug along without you messing with it day in and day out. Oh, it also has super-fast wireless and it looks like a cool UFO or something, too.

Fastest Wireless

NETGEAR Nighthawk AX8

Bring on Wi-Fi 6

You'll want your best router to be Wi-Fi 6 ready. The Netgear Nighthawk name has meant fast and futureproof wireless routers for years and the AX8 carries on that tradition with Wi-Fi 6 readiness and a host of other features to make even your older gear faster.

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