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WiFi 7 Vs WiFi 6 vs WiFi 5: What's The Difference?

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Technological advancements in WiFi technology have resulted in different WiFi standards, including WiFi 5, WiFi 6 and the latest iteration, WiFi 7.

This article will highlight the significant differences between WiFi 7, WiFi 6 and WiFi 5 to provide a clear understanding of each WiFi standard’s advancements and capabilities.

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WiFi standards compared

The table below shows the major differences between WiFi 5, WiFi 6, WiFi 6e and WiFi 7.

  WiFi 5 (802.11ac) WiFi 6 (802.11ax) WiFi 6e (802.11ax) WiFi 7 (802.11be)
Frequency 5 GHz 2.4 GHz and 5GHz 2.4 GHz,  5 GHz and 6 GHz 2.4 GHz,  5 GHz and 6 GHz
Bandwidth (Channels) 20, 40, 80, 80+80, 160MHz 20, 40, 80, 80+80, 160MHz 20, 40, 80, 80+80, 160MHz 20, 40, 80, 80+80, 160, 320MHz
Access OFDM OFDMA OFDMA OFDMA
Modulation 256-QAM 1024-QAM 1024-QAM 4K-QAM
Antenna DL MU-MIMO (4 x 4) DL + UL MU-MIMO (8 x 8) DL + UL MU-MIMO (8 x 8) DL + UL MU-MIMO (8 x 8)
Security WPA and WPA2 WPA3 WPA3 WPA3

 

WiFi 5

WiFi 5, also known as 802.11ac, is the fifth generation of WiFi standards. It was introduced in 2013 by the WiFi Alliance. It primarily operates on the 5 GHz frequency band, providing better data transfer speeds than its predecessor, WiFi 4 (802.11n), which functions on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. The 5 GHz band adds more channels and bandwidth, increasing device capacity and offering less signal interference for stable connections.

Some key WiFi 5 features include:

  • WiFi 5 provides faster speed transfers than previous standards, with theoretical speeds of up to 3.5 Gbps. These speeds depend on the 256-QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) technology, which varies the phase and amplitude of radio signals to increase the amount of data transmitted over the same bandwidth. The higher data speeds enable WiFi 5 to support bandwidth-intensive applications and improve overall network performance.
  • WiFi 5 implements Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM) technology for network access control. This technology efficiently handles data transmission across several channels to optimize bandwidth and reduce interference.
  • WiFi 5 utilizes Multi-User Multiple Input/Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) technology, which allows a WiFi access point (AP) to connect with several devices concurrently by dividing the available bandwidth into separate streams. MU-MIMO technology enables spectrum efficiency to serve multiple users simultaneously, reducing signal wait time and increasing device capacity.
  • MU-MIMO in WiFi 5 enables beamforming, which directs signals toward devices instead of broadcasting them in all directions. Beamforming improves signal quality and allows the handling of multiple devices simultaneously.
  • WiFi 5 supports the WPA and WPA2 network security protocols for security. However, these protocols have several vulnerabilities, such as dictionary attacks that enable hackers to predict an encrypted password.

Device compatibility

WiFi 5 has been around for a long time, making it widely adopted and compatible with most modern devices. WiFi 5 is also backward-compatible, meaning that older devices compatible with previous standards can connect to WiFi 5. This design ensures WiFi 5 has broad compatibility to connect seamlessly with devices across older WiFi generations.

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WiFi 6

WiFi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the sixth generation of WiFi standards released by the WiFi Alliance in 2019. It significantly improves speed, device capacity, security and latency compared to WiFi 5.

Some of the key features and improvements WiFi 6 provides include:

  • WiFi 6 operates on a dual-band frequency, supporting 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. The dual-band frequency allows more data transmission as it adds more channels, which results in more bandwidth, higher data transfer speeds and less signal interference. The increased bandwidth and less signal interference enable it to handle bandwidth-intensive activities like online gaming and streaming 4K/8K videos.
  • WiFi 6 provides theoretical speeds of up to 9.6 Gbps, especially in congested networks. It uses 1024-QAM modulation, which increases spectral efficiency and enables faster WiFi speeds, 25% faster than WiFi 5. 1024-QAM modulation is ideal for avid gamers and work-from-home tasks such as large file transfers and video conferences.
  • WiFi 6 supports WPA3, which is the latest security protocol.
  • WiFi 6 offers a battery conservation feature for devices using Target Wake Time technology. The feature extends battery life by allowing devices to control when and how frequently they wake up to receive and send data while preventing network congestion.
  • WiFi 6 features MU-MIMO and OFDMA technologies, which allow for more simultaneous connections while minimizing bandwidth competition.
  • WiFi 6 is backward-compatible with previous WiFi standards. Older devices can connect to WiFi 6, but the WiFi performance will be limited to what the device is compatible with.

Device compatibility

Since WiFi 6 has been around since 2019, most modern devices like laptops, smartphones, tablets and smart home devices, are compatible with WiFi 6 standards to ensure an improved WiFi experience.

According to CNET, a range of high-profile devices support WiFi 6, including flagship devices in the following categories:

Mobile Phones:

  • Huawei P40 Pro
  • iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max and 12 Mini
  • LG V60 ThinQ
  • Motorola Edge Plus
  • OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10E
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10
  • Samsung Galaxy S20
  • Samsung Galaxy Fold

Laptops:

  • Asus Chromebook Flip c436
  • Dell XPS 13 (2020)
  • HP Spectre x360
  • Lenovo Yoga c940
  • LG Gram 17
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

Confirm with the manufacturer’s website to check which device supports WiFi 6 before purchasing. While WiFi 6 is backward-compatible, non-compatible devices won’t enjoy the full benefits that WiFi 6 offers.

WiFi 6e

WiFi 6e is an upgraded WiFi 6 that introduces significant improvements over WiFi 6. It was announced in 2020 and has key features and enhancements compared to previous WiFi generations.

  • WiFi 6e extends to the 6 GHz frequency band, in addition to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands supported by WiFi 6. The 6 GHz frequency adds additional channels and a 1200 MHz spectrum, providing more bandwidth, increasing device capacity, lessening channel congestion and lowering latency, especially in congested environments with multiple connected devices.
  • WiFi 6e leverages WiFi 6’s technology, such as OFDMA, MU-MIMO and 1024-QAM, while expanding the spectrum’s availability. These technologies enable simultaneous device connections, reduced interference and faster data transfers that are ideal for bandwidth-intensive applications like online gaming, 4K/8K video streaming, teleconferencing and virtual reality (VR).
  • WiFi 6e’s 6 GHz is only compatible with WiFi 6e-enabled devices. This exclusivity means that only WiFi 6e devices can fully enjoy the benefits of 6 GHz extensive bandwidth, faster speeds and less interference.
  • It implements the latest WPA3 security protocol for networks.
  • Despite the 6 GHz band being higher than the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, it has a shorter range limited to same-room or next-room environments. When you leave the 6 GHz coverage, the router switches you to the 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz range.

Device compatibility

As WiFi 6e becomes mainstream in the market, device manufacturers are swiftly adopting the WiFi technology across various sectors. Some of the notable examples of devices that are compatible with WiFi 6e include:

Smartphones

  • Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
  • Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
  • Asus ROG Phone 5s
  • Asus ZenFone 8

Laptops

  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4
  • Acer Predator Triton 500 SE (PT516-52s)
  • Acer Predator Helios 300 (PH315-55)

Tablets

  • Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (4th generation)
  • iPad Pro 12.9 inch (6th generation)

Routers

  • Netgear Nighthawk AX1800
  • TP-Link Archer AX73
  • Asus RT-AX89X

Gaming consoles

  • Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S
  • Smart TVs
  • Samsung QN900B, LG OLED C2

Remember to check the manufacturer’s website to see if the devices are designed to support the WiFi 6e standard before purchase.

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WiFi 7

WiFi 7, also known as 802.11be, is the seventh and most recent WiFi standard, released by the WiFi Alliance in early January 2024. It introduces improvements that mark a significant leap from previous generations’ WiFi performance.

Some of the significant features that WiFi 7 provides include:

  • 320 MHz channels that pack more data for transmission and offer a large bandwidth to boost data throughput and device capacity. The added channels can accommodate multiple simultaneous connections and handle data-heavy applications.
  • 4K-QAM modulation that increases data transmission rates compared to WiFi 6’s 1K-QAM. WiFi 7 offers speeds up to 46 Gbps, compared to 9.6 Gbps in WiFi 6 and 6e and 3.5 Gbps in WiFi 5.
  • Tri-band data transmission as WiFi 7 operates on the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz frequency bands.
  • Multi-Link Operation (MLO) technology enables devices to connect and transmit data simultaneously over different channels within the same or multiple frequency bands, increasing overall data throughput. If a channel or band is congested, MLO switches to another, maintaining a stable and efficient connection.
  • It enhances spectrum efficiency and interference mitigation using multiple resource units (MRUs). A user can manage bandwidth allocation by assigning resources to a specific device depending on its requirements.
  • Power-saving features for devices using TWT technology and Spatial Multiplexing Power Save (SMPS) to ensure devices maintain high-performance levels while consuming less power.
  • WiFi 7 offers preamble puncturing, which enables spectrum efficiency by avoiding congested channels or channels with interference. Preamble puncturing allows for high data transmission rates and efficient channel usage, even in congested or interference-heavy environments.
  • WiFi 7 is backward-compatible with previous WiFi generations, just like WiFi 6. However, your devices must be compatible with WiFi 7 to fully enjoy the improved speeds, low latency and higher bandwidth WiFi 7 provides.

Device compatibility

Like any emerging technology, it will take time for WiFi 7-compatible devices to hit the market. Most devices in homes and available for sale today aren’t WiFi 7-compatible so consumers cannot reap the benefits of this latest technology.

However, some WiFi 7-compatible devices have emerged, mainly WiFi routers. Soon, we can expect to see more WiFi 7-enabled devices such as laptops, smartphones, and other smart devices.

Some WiFi 7-compatible routers include:

Flagship phones that are compatible with WiFi 7 include:

  • OnePlus 11 5G
  • Motorolla Edge +
  • Google Pixel 8 Pro

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Benefits of upgrading your network

Some of the benefits that you enjoy when you decide to upgrade your WiFi network include:

  • Speed: Each newer WiFi standard supports faster WiFi speeds, which makes high-speed activities like online gaming, high-quality video streaming and file uploads and downloads quicker and smoother.
  • Extended range and coverage: Upgrading your WiFi standard provides better range and coverage while maintaining high network performance. Newer WiFi standards contain features such as beamforming and mesh WiFi support, which extend WiFi signals and reduce dead zones in your home.
  • Lower latency: Lower latency in newer WiFi standards due to less signal interference improves your general WiFi experience. Real-time applications like online gaming and video conferencing become smoother and more enjoyable as it takes less time for data to be transmitted.
  • Improved device capacity: Newer WiFi standards like WiFi 6e and WiFi 7 support 6 GHz bands that increase device capacity, handling more devices simultaneously. Improved device capacity enables multiple users to use the internet concurrently in a household without compromising performance.
  • Enhanced security: Upgraded WiFi networks have improved features like WPA3 encryption. WPA3 is the latest network security protocol that provides better protection against cyber threats.

Upgrading your WiFi network improves your online experience and meets the growing demand for high-speed, reliable and secure internet connectivity for your needs.

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When should you upgrade your WiFi?

As you add more devices to the network and the demand for faster and more stable WiFi speeds increases, knowing when to upgrade the WiFi becomes imperative. Let’s look at some circumstances that indicate the need for an upgrade.

  • Device compatibility: Most modern devices support the latest WiFi standards and benefit the most from their advantages and features. Upgrading guarantees that all new devices can connect seamlessly and fully use their features.​
  • Usage: If you are an avid gamer, 4K or 8K streamer, or work from home, you require more bandwidth, faster speeds and lower latency. Upgrading to a more advanced WiFi standard provides faster speeds, more bandwidth and lower latency to handle these intensive activities with ease and reliability.
  • Cost implications: Upgrading might seem like an added expense as it requires a new router that may be costly. However, newer WiFi standards are future-proof as some are backward-compatible (WiFi 6 and 7), and as you buy compatible devices in the future, you will eliminate the need to replace your WiFi setup to accommodate the new devices.
  • Network/bandwidth congestion: As you add new devices to your network, older WiFi standards may struggle with network congestion, leading to slow performance. Newer WiFi standards offer better bandwidth management and increased device capacity, supporting multiple devices simultaneously without affecting performance.
  • Poor WiFi coverage: if your current WiFi network cannot cover all areas in your house, consider upgrading to a newer WiFi standard and combining it with a mesh WiFi system. The mesh system extends WiFi coverage across your house and maintains improved performance throughout.

Conclusion

The evolution from WiFi 5 to WiFi 7 represents significant developments in wireless technology, providing major improvements in speed, capacity, efficiency and security.

WiFi 5 paved the way for present WiFi capabilities with faster speeds and dual-band support. WiFi 6 built upon WiFi 5’s technology by improving speeds up to 9.6 Gbps, lowering latency and implementing MU-MIMO and OFDMA technologies that increased device capacity and network efficiency. WiFi 6e offers tri-band frequency by introducing the 6 GHz band, which provides additional channels for more bandwidth and less signal interference.

WiFi 7 is the latest standard, significantly improving speeds up to 46 Gbps and implementing newer technologies like MLO, MRU and preamble puncturing to maximize spectral efficiency, increase device capacity and improve overall network performance.

Upgrading your WiFi provides benefits such as faster speeds, extended coverage, enhanced security, lower latency and overall efficiency, making it a viable choice for various uses, including online gaming, remote work, and home automation. However, consider factors such as device compatibility, internet usage, cost implications and network congestion before upgrading.

If your home WiFi connection uses an older standard, consider upgrading to newer WiFi standards by choosing the right ISP for network improvements and efficiency. Astound Broadband provides a robust internet connection that will improve your overall internet experience.

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