Do I need Wi-Fi 6?

Dan Howdle | February 1st, 2024

WiFi selection on device

Like any new feature being touted by some broadband providers as a selling point, you're right to regard Wi-Fi 6 with caution. Like so many other buzzword features of the past several years – Dolby Atmos, Full Fibre and more – you need to conform to a specific set of circumstances to make use of it, and most households don't. Or, in the case of Wi-Fi 6, don't very much.

Many customers signing up to a new, fast or full fibre broadband deal now will get a router with Wi-Fi 6 as standard. But there do still remain broadband packages where whether or not you'll get it will depend on the package you pick. So the question does remain; do you need it? But also, what is Wi-Fi 6 exactly? And is it useful? Let's find out.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

There's a lot of confusion around wifi and broadband these days, not least of all because the younger generation has decided to refer to their broadband connection as 'wifi' over the past five years or so. It can actually be quite hard therefore to understand exactly what it is we're talking about when discussing wifi.

Wifi versus broadband - what's the difference?

For the purposes of this guide, we're going to stick to the traditional way of categorising these technologies. So before we continue, the commonly understood definitions are:

  • Broadband – The data connection that comes into your home, be that from a fixed line, fibre optic or otherwise, or via a 5G network or satellite uplink
  • Wifi – The wireless link between your home broadband router and your various household devices

What's a wireless network protocol?

We now know what wifi is in the context of Wi-Fi 6, but in order to understand what the '6' means, we have to delve into the ultra-techy history of wifi protocols. If you would rather put pins in your eyes than read about that, then the short explanation is that there have been six generations so far and each basically is faster and more capable of sending and receiving data than the last. You can now skip to the next section, or stick around to find out about protocols and what they're capable of.

A brief history of wifi

The following table provides an overview of where wifi started, and how the technology has been iterated and improved across generations one through six. It's also why it's hard to provide a simple answer to the question 'What is Wi-Fi 6?' – because any good answer has to be contextualised by the previous generations of the same technology. It's very much like 4G and 5G in this regard: It does the same stuff, only better.

Generation Year introduced Speed (Max) Key features over previous
Wi-Fi 1 (802.11b) 1997 11 Mbps* First widely adopted standard
Wi-Fi 2 (802.11a) 1999 54 Mbps* Higher speed, 5 GHz frequency
Wi-Fi 3 (802.11g) 2003 54 Mbps* Backward compatibility with 'b', faster speed
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) 2009 600 Mbps* MIMO, increased data rates
Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) 2013 3.5 Gbps* 5 GHz, wider channels, improved efficiency
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) 2019 9.6 Gbps* OFDMA, MU-MIMO, improved efficiency, increased capacity

Wi-Fi 6 will never run at its maximum speed

Couple of important things to understand here before we move on. First, that those max speeds, which we've dutifully asterisked, are 'theoroetical limits'. In other word, they're the speeds scientists were able to get in a perfect laboratory environment. In the real world, maximum speeds are much, much slower. Fo example, most people won't be able to get a single connection over Wi-Fi 6 (to their phone, tablet, laptop, PC or whatever) of more than around 600-700Mbps.

That's because in the real world, unlike in a lab, a wifi signal has to deal with walls and metallic objects, interference from other sources of electromagnetism such as other wifi networks, and other obstacles.

Wi-Fi 6 is limited by your devices, and your broadband package

The second thing to note is that not only will you need devices that are explicitly compatible with Wi-Fi 6 in order to make use of the extra speed it offers, most devices you can attach to a Wi-Fi 6 network don't actually need the sort of speed on offer. Not to mention the fact that many broadband packages now offered with a Wi-Fi 6 router aren't fast enough to take advantage of it either.

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Which providers offer Wi-Fi 6?

In short, here at the beginning of 2024, almost all of them do. However, things are rarely simple in the world of broadband packages and that remains the case here. Because although providers all have a Wi-Fi 6-enabled router option, few of them are offering it across their entire range of packages.

It makes sense at one level: Why supply a router capable of 700Mbps over wifi with a 35Mbps broadband package? But it also creates potential problems down the line when you want to upgrade to full fibre and take advantage of those nippy Wi-Fi 6 speeds – you'll need a new router from your provider, making that upgrade far from frictionless.

Which broadband packages come with Wi-Fi 6?

Here's a list of the UK's biggest providers, which routers they offer, and which packages you'll need to pick to get a Wi-Fi 6 router. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does demonstrate that, broadly speaking, you'll want to aim for higher speeds – full fibre or Virgin Media if you can get it – to get the best router.

Provider Wi-Fi 6 Router Packages
Sky Sky Max Hub Any, but requires Wi-Fi Max upgrade for £7.50 to £10 per month (package dependent)
Virgin Media Virgin Hub 5 Gig1 only (1130Mbps)
BT Smart Hub 2 All except ADSL (10Mbps)
TalkTalk Amazon eero Full Fibre 900 as standard, or upgrade any other full fibre package for additional £6 per month
Plusnet Not yet available None
Vodafone Broadband Ultra Hub Pro II Broadband packages only
EE Broadband Smart Hub Any fibre or full fibre package

You may have noticed some providers are more generous with their top spec Wi-Fi 6 routers than others. For example, EE Broadband offers its Smart Hub to anyone, even those taking up basic fibre broadband, whereas Virgin Media won't offer you a Wi-Fi 6 router (Virgin Hub 5) automatically unless you plump for their flagship Gig1 package (though you can ask for one on its other fast packages once you've been a customer for a while).

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Which devices are compatible with Wi-Fi 6?

First of all, Wi-Fi 6 routers are compatible with all previous-generation devices. That means your devices won't have to be Wi-Fi 6 compatible to work with a Wi-Fi 6 router. That's because all Wi-Fi 6 routers are also able to operate on all previous generations of the technology.

But, that isn't the same the other way around. You devices will need to be Wi-Fi 6 compatible to make use of the extra speed offered by the latest protocol. And as you may have guessed, that means newer, more high-end devices for the most part: Phones, tablets, laptops, PC motherboards and so on, all manufactured within the past few years and all at the mid-range to high end. Smart home devices, in fact, will likely never be Wi-Fi 6 enabled because coloured bulbs and thermostats and so on don't need that kind of bandwidth.

List of Wi-Fi 6-ready devices

The following is a list of popular devices that are built to use the latest Wi-Fi 6 protocol. It is by no means exhaustive and is meant to offer a flavour or idea of the sort of devices you can expect to be compatible rather than a complete reference:

Device Type Devices
  • Huawei P40 or later
  • iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max or later
  • Samsung Galaxy S10, S10+, Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy Note 10+, S20 Ultra, Galaxy Z Fold 2 or later
  • Google Pixel 6 or later
  • OnePlus 8, 8 Pro or later
  • Apple M1 MacBook Air, M1 MacBook Pro or later
  • Asus Chromebook Flip c436 or later
  • Dell XPS 13 (2020) or later
  • HP Spectre x360 (2020) or later
  • Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2020) or later
  • Microsoft Surface Pro X or later
  • Amazon Fire Max 11 or later
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 or later

Do I need Wi-Fi 6?

No. You don't. You may be wondering how we can give such a definitive answer here. Aren't articles like this one meant to hedge and say 'well, some people will and some people won't'? They generally do, but with Wi-Fi 6 we can confidently stae you don't need it. Whether you want it or not is a slightly different question.

The reason no one needs Wi-Fi 6 yet is there are no compelling cases where a 500-700Mbps connection over wifi would be advantageous. Only downloading huge files can take any real advantage of such speeds (20-30 times what you need for streaming 4K media, for example), and in the rare cases you may do such a thing, such as downloading a huge videogame there are other factors that are going to make doing so over a Wi-Fi 6 connection somewhat unnecessary and pointless. That's because:

  • Game downloads are bottlenecked – PlayStation Network and Xbox Gamepass/Live bottleneck the speed you can download their games at the source. Steam and some other PC storefronts don't bottleneck, however…
  • Most PCs aren't Wi-Fi 6 compatible – Despite many offering 2.5Gbps LAN ports these days, most PC motherboards still aren't Wi-Fi 6 enabled, meaning if you had, for example, a 1Gbps broadband connection you're much better off connecting your PC directly to your router via a LAN cable to get the best speed
  • Mobile devices are for content consumption – What do we use out phones and tablets for that requires the download of 50GB+ files? Nothing. Phones and tablets are used to watch videos, browse the internet and chat with our friends for the most part. They have no real use for Wi-Fi 6 beyond bragging rights on a wifi speed test

Conclusion: Should you worry about Wi-Fi 6?

Our advice now is going to be different from the advice we would offer you in five years time. As things stand, Wi-Fi 6 is a technology that's landed long before it's really needed. So the question of whether you should concern yourself with it becomes moot.

If you look at the tables around the middle of this guide you can see that newer devices are all becoming compatible with Wi-Fi 6, and that providers are increasingly making it a feature of their routers. Ultimately then, the answer becomes that you will have it when you need it, whether you want it or not.

See also