Technical Support for Antennas & Related Gear

WiFi Network Standards Compared: 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6E, 802.11ac

George Hardesty
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WiFi 6 & 6E Compared to 802.11ac & 802.11n

  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) uses the 5.8 GHz and 2.4GHz bands 
  • WiFi 6E is the latest WiFi standard and it uses the same bands as Wi-Fi 6 but also includes the entire 6GHz band:  So Wi-Fi 6E adds a range from 5.925 all the way up to 7.125 Gz.
  • 802.11ac uses the 5.8GHz and 2.4GHz frequency bands.  It is also called Wi-Fi 5.  
  • Older standards 802.11n, 802.11g and earlier used 2.4GHz as its frequency band.

Wi-Fi Standards Comparison-Data Alliance

Advantages of 802.11ac over 802.11n

802.11AC is the latest standard and has six major improvements over 802.11n that result in much higher throughputs:

  1. Uses 5GHz band, which is much less congested than 2.4GHz: 802.11n runs on the heavily overused 2.4GHz which is prone to interference from the many devices on this spectrum. Although it has less penetrating power, the 5GHz band is free from high noise and congestion. A quality Wi-Fi antenna fitted to a 5GHz router improves its range within usable distances. 2.4 GHz is optional with 802.11ac.
  2. 80MHz channel: 2x the width of 802.11n: 802.11n can only support a 4X40MHz bandwidth compared to 802.11ac’s 8X160Mhz. the high-density modulation allows 256 different signals to be transmitted over the same frequency by phase shifting each signal; this improves the spectral efficiency up to 4 times over 802.11n.
  3. 256QAM: This provides a 1/3 increase in throughput
  4. MU-MIMO: Multi-user MIMO functions like a switch, whereas 802.11n functions like a hub.
  5. 802.11ac uses 8x8 MIMO vs. 802.11n's maximum of 4x4 MIMO (most 802.11n uses 2x2 MIMO in 2015: That is to say, 802.11ac has 8 special streams, whereas 802.11n has a maximum of 4: 8x8 MIMO is double the throughput of 4x4 MIMO.
  6. Beamforming: 802.11ac also introduces standardized beamforming transmission technology. Beamforming transmits only the required signal to the specific user. This makes transmission more efficient, consistent and saves on the power cost of transmission.

All of the advantages combined result in 802.11ac having a combined multiple-station throughput of at least 1Gbs and a singular throughput of at least 500Mbs through a single link. 802.11ac features a wider bandwidth of 160MHz, up to 8 MIMO special streams, higher density modulation of 256 QAM, and up to 4 simultaneous downlink users.

You will attain all of these benefits only if all the APs and devices in the network are 802.11ac. Otherwise, you would have the same performance with 802.11ac as with 802.11n.

Despite the significant differences between the two standards, 802.11ac is fully backward compatible with 802.11n. devices that feature a dual frequency receiver can easily switch between the two standards.

Wi-Fi Standards-Data Alliance

The IEEE 802.11ac is a wireless Wi-Fi standard developed within 2008-2013 to provide high-throughput connectivity across the 5GHZ band. The standard is an improvement on the earlier 802.11n wireless standard transmitting via the 2.4GHz frequency band.

Application-Specific Advantages:

Streaming media on a local-area network: 802.11ac is best choice because of the much higher throughput.

802.11n wireless adapters only work optimally when connecting to a 802.11n that's operating in 802.11n mode.

Frequency Ranges of the 802.11 network-types:

  • 802.11ac: 5GHz band
  • 802.11n: 2.4GHz & 5GHz bands: 802.11n equipment is made for either 2.4GHz or 5.8 frequency band: 5.8 is typically much less cluttered with signal-traffic.
  • 802.11a: 5GHz band
  • 802.11b and 802.11g: 2.4GHz only: Operate only in the 2.4GHz frequency band. 802.11G is from 2004 and 802.11B was the first WiFi standard: 1990s to 2004.

WiFi frequency advantages and disadvantages

WiFi is operable at the following frequencies, with more capacity being aggressively sought in other parts of the radio frequency spectrum as the more congested frequencies being prone to interference. This had led to the expansion of WiFi into the sub microwave and microwave frequencies though coverage is decidedly lower.

  • 2.4 GHz frequency band is commonly used for WiFi as this is typically unlicensed around the world. 802.11b/g/n specifies the use of this frequency which provides good coverage and penetration. This frequency band does suffer a lot of interference from other wireless products that use it, including microwave ovens, cordless phones, and wireless technologies like Bluetooth and ZigBee.
  • 5 GHz WiFi is specified by 802.11a/h/j/n/ac/ax. It has a far greater capacity than its lower frequency counterparts with up to 23 distinct channels, but lower coverage and penetration of walls.
  • 5.9 GHz is currently allocated for Intelligent Transport Systems but has been aggressively targeted for WiFi but has faced pushback from the automotive industry who feel that sharing this band may be a transport safety risk.
  • 900 MHz known as WiFi HaLo utilizes the 900 MHz ISM band to provide longer range WiFi coverage with lower energy consumption. Its protocol 802.11ah was published in 2017.
  • 6 GHz or the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) frequency band has an allocation of about 500 MHz for use by WiFi according to the WiFi 6 protocol.
  • 60 GHz was devised by the Wireless Gigabit Alliance who merged with the WiFi Alliance to publish the standard 802.11ad. Operating at such a high frequency allows high speed and volume data transfer, especially as there are relatively vast amounts of unallocated spectrum around this frequency. However, coverage is drastically reduced compared to lower frequency networks, often limited to the same room. It is intended to be used alongside lower frequencies or be used as a cable replacement for a short distance, high traffic wireless links.

802.11N (Also called Wireless-N):

WIRELESS-N (802.11n) is the previous generation of wireless networking technology - prior to 802.11ac. 802.11n enables speeds up to 300Mbps and is backward compatible with 802.11g & 802.11b.

802.11n built upon the previous 802.11G standard by adding two new technologies:

  • Frame Aggregation technology: Increases throughput by sending two or more data frames in a single transmission.
  • MIMO

11n products have one of the following: "3 TX + 3 RX" , "2TX + 2RX" and "1TX + 1RX" ~ all of them using MIMO technology. "1TX + 1RX", products only have one antenna.

802.11N is mostly in the 2.4GHz frequency band. 5GHz is an optional component that most manufacturers ignore in favor of the cheaper, and much more congested 2.4GHz.

We offer a dual-band antenna for 2.4 GHz band and 5.x GHz band

802.11a uses the frequency range 5.2 to 5.8GHz:

This range of frequencies is much less used than 2.4GHz

802.11a allows for use of so many channels that you don't have to worry about interference between access points. In the U.S., 802.11a offers eight non-overlapping channels vs. three channels shared by 802.11b and 802.11g. If the company or department next door (or upstairs or downstairs) has an 802.11a network, more channels makes it easier to configure your 802.11a network to avoid interference. In dense installations, extra channels can make 802.11a networks up to 14 times faster than 802.11b networks.

If you operate a wireless adapter that's made for wireless-N, on a 802.11B/G network, will have lesser performance/signal strength than a 802.11G adapter of similar standards

We reached these conclusions based in part by comparing the Alfa 1000mw G version and the Alfa 2000mw N version. AWUS036H is the G version; AWUS036NH is the N version.

Connecting to a 802.11G network? Then an 802.11G wireless USB adapter will perform better than an 802.11n USB adapter

  • 802.11b will provide better range/distance than 802.11g
  • 802.11g cards automatically select 802.11b mode for long-distance connection

802.11B for Long Distance Links on Older Gear


If you are trying to reach a distant or weak network signal for internet access, 802.11b will provide better range/distance than 802.11g, and 802.11b provides plenty of bandwidth for internet access at broadband-speed.

For longer-distance links, your wireless card/ USB adapter will automatically select a lower-bandwidth data-rate: Therefore will automatically select 802.11b mode.  Many people assume that 802.11g mode is better than 802.11b for their situation. However:

If range matters more than bandwidth requirements, run your card/adapter in 802.11b mode: 802.11b has better range and penetration. Its throughput will degrade less with the same distance and obstacles. This scenario is applicable for internet access for web-surfing and email access: If you are using the connection just for web-surfing and email access, your bandwidth bottleneck is the Internet connection - not the "B" bandwidth. If you are using the connection for local-area networking that requires a lot of bandwidth (file-sharing, streaming media on the local network), then you should use 802.11g mode or 802.11n mode.

An 802.11g access point will support clients operating in either 802.11b or 802.11g mode. Similarly, a laptop with an 802.11g card is able to access 802.11b access points as well as 802.11g access points. 802.11b and g clients (cards) automatically select the best data rate, based on available signal strength. For longer-distance links, a lower data-rate will be selected. Therefore, for longer distance links or links that have some obstruction (no clear line of sight), there is no added benefit in having an 802.11g client as compared to an 802.11b client. 

The selected data rate will be either 1, 2, 5.5 or 11 Mbps: The rate selected is influenced by signal-strength factors such as the distance between the access point and client-radio, and the degree of openness of the line-of-sight, versus obstruction of the line-of-sight by any type of object. For the longest-distance links, the lowest data rate will be selected, and for the short-distance links with no obstructions, the highest data rate will be selected.

Many major WiFi implementations, such as municipality-wide and in apartment complexes, were using 802.11b as late as 2018 in network implementations: The reasons are:

  1. G requires use of three different channels simultaneously, and the network implementation may have a constraint to not lock up three channels
  2. B is fast enough and lower-cost (with actual throughput of 1 to 6 Mbps exceeding the Internet connection speed).
  3. Any B client on an 802.11g network will force the access point to operate in B mode, so that the bandwidth advantages of G are nullified.

802.11b equipment can transmit data-frames at rates up to 11 Mbps, and the network protocol overhead reduces the actual/net data-transmission rate to 5-6 Mbps.

A laptop's battery-charge will last longer with 802.11b, because it consumes less power than either 802.11g or 802.11a.

The 802.11b Wi-Fi standard is still in use in 2024, albeit its prevalence has greatly diminished compared to newer standards like 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) and 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6). Originally ratified in 1999, 802.11b was one of the first widely adopted Wi-Fi standards, offering speeds up to 11 Mbps.

Despite its slow speed by modern standards and inefficiency in spectrum usage, 802.11b can still be found in some environments, particularly in older equipment or in specific setups where compatibility with legacy devices is necessary. However, most modern wireless networks and devices use more advanced and faster standards, which also provide better security features and efficient use of the radio spectrum.

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