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Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6: What Are Their Differences?

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Posted on August 15, 2020
October 1, 2020
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Wireless local-area networks are essential for internet access users in places like homes, offices, factories, etc. These networks have different international standards, including Wi-Fi 1 (802.11b), Wi-Fi 2 (802.11a), Wi-Fi 3 (802.11g), Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) or even higher level. Current networks mainly use Wi-Fi 5, some of which have been upgraded to Wi-Fi 6. Then, what is the difference between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6? This post will focus on the comparison on Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6 in detail such as Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6 speed, battery life, performance in crowded areas, etc.

Overview of Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6

Here is the comparison chart of Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6, followed by the explanation of several main comparative items.

Parameter Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)
Frequency 5.0 GHz 2.4 and 5.0 GHz
Modulation 256-QAM 1024-QAM
Data Transfer Speeds Relatively Lower Relatively Higher
Maximum Data Rate 3.6 Gbps 9.6 Gbps
TWT Not Support Support
Battery Life Relatively Shorter Relatively Longer
Access Technology OFDM OFDMA
Antennas 4 x 4 MU-MIMO 8 x 8 MU-MIMO
Performance in Crowded Areas Worse than Wi-Fi 6 Better than Wi-Fi 5
Device Response Time Longer Shorter
Interconnected Wireless Devices Supported Relatively Less Relatively More
BSS Coloring Not Support Support

Wi-Fi 6 Has Faster Data Transfer Speeds

Wi-Fi 6 is faster than Wi-Fi 5. The Wi-Fi 6 uses higher order modulation 1024-QAM than 256-QAM in Wi-Fi 5. Higher order modulation increases the efficiency and speed of data transmission on the whole network. This technology can give up to 25% improvements in speed. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 has improvements in signal encoding, enabling devices to send more data in one transmission, resulting in speed improvements of up to 20%. Together, these two features provide up to 40% improvement in connection speeds.

Wi-Fi 6 Support Longer Battery Life for Wi-Fi-Enabled Devices

Wi-Fi 6 could support longer battery life than Wi-Fi 5 for Wi-Fi-enabled devices like smartphone, laptop, etc. because of its new “target wake time” (TWT) feature. When the access point is talking to a Wi-Fi-enabled device (for example, a smartphone), it can tell the device exactly when to put its Wi-Fi radio to sleep and when to wake it up to receive the next transmission. This will conserve power to some extent and make longer device battery life since the Wi-Fi radio can spend more time in sleep mode.

Wi-Fi 6 Has Better Performance in Crowded Areas

You may find that in some places such as airports, malls or other crowded areas, Wi-Fi tends to have a weak signal and may get bogged down or even can’t be connected. In these places, Wi-Fi 6 performs better than Wi-Fi 5. The Wi-Fi 6 incorporates many new technologies such as orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) and 8-stream multi-user-multiple-input multiple-output (MU-MIMO) to help with this. In Wi-Fi 5, it uses orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) and 4-stream MU-MIMO. The OFDMA is essentially a multiple-user version of OFDM, making it possible to increase the capacity of a Wi-Fi 6 access point (AP) compared to a Wi-Fi 5 AP. The MU-MIMO in Wi-Fi 6 allows 8 x 8 APs to use all eight streams to transmit information, increasing the traffic efficiency as well.

Note: It not only applies to busy public places, but also applies at home if you have a lot of devices connected to Wi-Fi, or if you live in a dense apartment complex.

Wi-Fi 6 Will Provide the Increased Capacity for Interconnected Wireless Devices

Compared with Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6 will provide the increased capacity needed for a growing number of interconnected wireless devices, ranging from internet of things (IoT) sensors and smarter 5G wireless cellular telephones to even connected cars. To accomplish that, Wi-Fi 6 borrows useful techniques from 4G long-term evolution (LTE) cellular radio technology.

Wi-Fi 6 Supports BSS Coloring While Wi-Fi 5 Doesn’t

Wi-Fi 6 uses basic service set (BSS) coloring while Wi-Fi 5 doesn’t. This feature essentially codes traffic with “colors” (here means a number between 0 and 7) on a frequency to identify whether it can be used. Wireless access points (WAPs) near each other may be transmitting on the same channel. Under such circumstances, the radio listens and waits for a clear signal before replying. With Wi-Fi 6, WAPs near each other can be configured to have different BSS “colors”. For example, if a device is checking whether the channel is all clear and listens in, it may notice a transmission with a weak signal and a different “color.” It can then ignore this signal and transmit anyway without waiting, so this will improve performance in congested areas. This is also called “spatial frequency re-use”. The goal of BSS coloring is to diminish and prevent cochannel interferences, which can improve network efficiency.

Summary

From all the above, there are many differences between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 such as Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6 speed, Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6 access technology, etc. For better network performance, Wi-Fi 6 is likely to be a must for future needs given that more Wi-Fi-enabled devices would appear and need higher capacity of handling data. If you need faster data transfer speeds, better network performance in crowded areas, less device response time, etc., just upgrade to Wi-Fi 6.