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. If you're buying a router today, you should buy one that supports Wi-Fi 6.

How is Wi-Fi 6 better than 5?

You might have noticed that one of the specs for new phones like the 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 since 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. It thinks this makes it easy for us to know which is newer, and therefore better. It's probably right.

That's why the Galaxy S10 was the first device to use the Wi-Fi 6 name. 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're 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 Wi-Fi 6 router?

If you're happy with the router you have right now, you're probably wondering if you really need to switch and buy one that supports Wi-Fi 6 because it's the latest and greatest. If you're really happy with what you have the good news is that you shouldn't.

But if you do need a new router the one you buy should be Wi-Fi 6 capable. Prices have dropped since Wi-Fi 6 debuted and even if the wireless equipment you have today won't be able to use the new standard the gadgets and electronics you buy in the future probably will.

The latest standard

Netgear Nighthawk AX4

Wi-Fi 6 for the masses

The Nighthawk AX4 brings a fast 3Gbps connection to your network without breaking the bank. With plenty of speed for streaming and gaming, this is a great option.

We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.