Differences between WiFi routers with 802.11ac, 802.11ax, and 802.11n standards, which ones are better, and how much more is it worth the money.
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Which Wi-Fi to choose for the new router
The main difference between the wireless standards is the transmission speed, but the signal coverage also varies significantly between one protocol and another. So let’s see together what are the characteristics of the newest standards available (i.e. Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6) and how they compare to the oldest standard still supported (Wi-Fi 4).
Wi-Fi 6 (o IEEE 802.11ax)
Let’s start with the most recent standard, which is Wi-Fi 6. It represents the maximum evolution of Wi-Fi technology, therefore it concentrates within itself all the best features so far seen only separately on the old protocols: with Wi-Fi 6 we can in fact obtain higher transmission speeds (between 600 and 9608 Mbps) and support for all wireless frequencies used today (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), effectively reducing to zero any interference with neighboring networks. Consequently, a Wi-Fi 6 network will take to every corner of the house and offer very fast speeds.
If we want to try this network at home we have to equip ourselves with very recent smartphones, tablets, and PCs (at least late 2020) and get a compatible router like the Xiaomi Mi AX3600, available for less than 150 €.
This router offers the new generation Wi-Fi 6 and can be connected in cascade to the modem provided by the operator, as also seen in the guide Connect a new router to the modem without changing networks.
Wi-Fi 5 (o IEEE 802.11ac)
Among the most used protocols on the New Networks, we also point out Wi-Fi 5, Also known as 802.11ac on many modems and routers on the market before the nomenclature change for the protocols. This network was born as a response to the limitations of previous Wi-Fi networks and allows to obtain a very good transmission speed (between 433 and 6933 Mbps), even if limited to the 5 GHz frequency. This frequency limit makes it less prone to interference but offers much less coverage, usually reduced to just two rooms.
If we do not yet have a modem or router that supports this protocol, we can remedy this by purchasing the TP-Link Archer C50 AC1200 Wi-Fi Router, available for less than € 30.
Also in this case we can connect the router in cascade to the proprietary modem, but only if the operator’s modem does not support the 5 GHz network (which is very difficult nowadays). To learn more we can read our guide Activate a second WiFi network to improve connection stability.
If, on the other hand, we want to overcome the limits of the 5GHz network, we can use the dedicated range extenders, as also seen in the article Best 5 GHz WiFi repeaters, to increase internet coverage.
Wi-Fi 4 (o IEEE 802.11n)
The oldest protocol we can use on modems and routers is Wi-Fi 4, Also known as 802.11n. This protocol offers a decent transmission speed (between 72 and 600 Mbps, with an average of 150 Mbps) and can work both on both the 2.4 GHz frequency and the 5 GHz frequency. On the 2.4 GHz networks, it offers better coverage but is prone to interference, while on the 5 GHz network it works very well but is limited by poor coverage (just like Wi-Fi 5, which however offers much higher speeds on this frequency. ).
All modems manufactured after 2010 support Wi-Fi 4, so there is no point in cascading an additional router; however, we can expand the potential of this protocol by connecting a Wi-Fi repeater such as the TP-Link TL-WA850RE, available for less than € 20.
We place one or two repeaters for Wi-Fi 4 and expand the network, so as to be able to cover the farthest points of the house and reduce the impact of interference typical of 2.4 GHz networks. To learn more, we invite you to read our guide How does the wifi repeater or “Range Extender” work and which one to buy.
To answer the question of the title, we advise you to immediately buy a Wi-Fi 6 router if possible, so as to be ready to use it on the new devices that will come out on the market. If we want to save money, we can still focus on Wi-Fi 5 routers, now well supported by many devices and well usable in small houses or in the rooms immediately close to the router; for devices further away, on the other hand, it is advisable to always keep Wi-Fi 4 on with some repeaters, so as to obtain good coverage and a good connection speed.
If we can’t make good use of the Wi-Fi in a distant room, we recommend that you take into consideration the Powerline technology, as also seen in our guide Internet on the electrical outlet with the Powerline.
If, on the other hand, we wanted to create a modern Wi-Fi Mesh network to cover every room of the house, we can deepen the discussion in our article Wi-Fi Extender vs WiFi Mesh: what are the differences.