Future proofing is something that factors into any decision I make when buying technology.
For instance, I am currently shopping for a PC upgrade but one of my big bug bears is whether I will need to a system refresh in less than two years.
Strangely however, I don’t apply this same thinking to my networking. This is because, for the most part, my internet connection doesn’t call for transfer speeds of more than 20Mbps, so, I often opt for the cheapest option.
When I spotted the ASUS AX6100 RT-AX92U 2 pack during a visit to ASUS earlier this year (you can hear more about that here) I spotted something curious, a router with support for WiFi 6 or as the stalwarts might know it, 802.11ax.
So what is WiFi 6 first of all and then perhaps more importantly, do you need it right now?
802.11ax / WiFi 6: What is it?
For starters, let’s adopt the WiFi Alliance’s terminology and refer to this connectivity standard as WiFi 6.
The problem with WiFi 5 (previously known as 802.11ac) is that despite its theoretical output of up to 3.5Gbps, folks still struggled with congestion when a group of folks were connected. While you might not have noticed this at home, it’s likely you noticed it while using the painfully slow public WiFi we enjoy in South Africa.
The idea behind WiFi 6 is to increase the amount of capacity, the coverage of the network and, more importantly, the performance of the network.
Key capabilities of WiFi 6, according to the WiFi Alliance include:
- Uplink and downlink orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) increases efficiency and lowers latency for high demand environments
- Multi-user multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO) allows more data to be transferred at one time, enabling access points (APs) to handle larger numbers of devices simultaneously
- Transmit beamforming enables higher data rates at a given range to increase network capacity
- 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM) increases throughput for emerging, bandwidth-intensive use cases
- Target wake time (TWT) significantly improves battery life in Wi-Fi devices, including IoT clients
So then, from that we can infer that what WiFi 6 is trying to do is solve issues that we may have not yet encountered yet such as congestion on the network as a result of the internet of things.
More than that, at home you could have somebody streaming from YouTube, another person on a video call and perhaps somebody streaming to Twitch with each device theoretically, seeing performance gains over WiFi 5.
The question we have to answer then is whether it works and that’s a bit tricky.
The Asus AX6100 RT-AX92U 2 pack
Like the Lyra system we looked at last year the AX1600 system is powered by Asus’ AiMesh technology.
Where this system differs however is in its use of WiFi 6.
The AX1600 system comes with two RT-AX92U routers which boast three bands – one 2.4GHz and two 5GHz. Excessive? Perhaps, until you learn why that is.
One of the 5GHz bands are reserved for inter-router communications which is actually rather fantastic because AiMesh is able to monitor the signal you’re getting and if need be, switch you to another access point on the network that offers better signal.
In addition to this you get the MU-MIMO functionality as well as support for OFDMA and 1024-QAM are used to insure the best quality network you can imagine.
So what’s the capacity like?
Answering that question is tricky because in my home there are only:
- Two desktop PCs
- Three notebooks
- Five smartphones
- One console
Even if I were to add more smartphones and PCs to that equation I doubt I would be able to match demand seen in offices or public spaces. Quite simply, we don’t have enough people to test how well WiFi 6 works.
As regards speed, we’re not seeing any real improvement given that we don’t have a wireless card that supports WiFi 6.
That having been said, the AX1600 does perform well and in the two weeks we’ve been using it, it’s remained stable and never glitched out.
The short answer is no, not today but that could change of course.
That’s not to say the AX1600 is bad, not at all. The router performs incredibly well for everyday tasks but unfortunately we don’t have the capacity to test the network’s capacity.
The star of the AX1600 is the AiMesh system because it’s mindlessly easy. You can plug the routers in, connect it to your network and be up and running in 10 minutes or less, depending on how long firmware updates take.
Can we recommend this router then? Well yes, so long as you are in an office or managing something like a bed and breakfast.
For the average home user this solution might prove excessive. Our advice is that you wait just a bit for WiFi 6 to be more widely adopted, at least for now.