Wifi6 Standards

The impetus for this post is that while on my lunch break the other day my wife asked me if I needed an 802.11ax router from the Amazon Treasure Truck deal, and she sent me the model number and I thought it was a good price, so I told her to make the purchase. The router in question has firmware built on top of OpenWRT (as many do) and I hope will receive open source support in the future, since neither the router nor the range extender on the current table of hardware for OpenWRT support, but for the price I’m willing to accept that for now. Our previous WiFi network was fine, running TP-Link Archer A6 routers using OpenWRT firmware, but there were a few tricky spots where the one extender didn’t always handle the client transfer especially smoothly.

I’ve been in the WiFi game since the original 802.11b standard, at a whopping 11 megabits per second, which was on par with 10BaseT ethernet networks, but well behind 100BaseT “Fast Ethernet.” Now that gigabit is bog standard, and 2.5 Gigabit is starting to show up on higher end motherboards, and the price of IT gear is coming down, the current wireless “bog standard” is 802.11AX, aka “WiFi6” and will likely remain the industry standard until “WiFi7” standards are solidified and industry adopted.

So..what’s the big deal and why am I posting about it? There are two very useful features of WiFi6. The first feature is “mesh network” and the second is “Wireless Protected Access 3” or WPA3. The first one is great for larger homes, or distributed homes. The second is really only useful if you want to keep a budding hacker off your wireless network.

If you go forth and buy a decent “mesh network” WiFi6 system, the cost of entry starts around $229 US and goes up from there, well into the 700 dollar range and beyond. However, if you are ok with managing your own ecosystem, you can start off with a TP-Link AX55 router (or similar 802.11AX router with TP-Link’s OneMesh capability), which can be had for around 90 to 110 dollars, and add on 35 dollar TP-Link mesh capable extenders (which are mini-routers for all intents and purposes). So for 125 to 145 US dollars, you can have a really great WiFi experience even in your large home, with the latest security.

You can still get “WiFi5” 802.11AC mesh network products like the Google Nest system, or the cheaper Vilo Mesh system, or TP-Link’s Deco system, but then you are pretty much stuck with WPA2 encryption, which a proximate attacker can defeat. However, WPA2 encryption still requires “close/proximal access” to successfully crack, so if you have other security measures to keep attackers from getting close, it’s still a viable networking technology for those people (or for those who just don’t care). But, given the 25 dollar difference between a WiFi6 solution from TP-Link and the current 99 dollar Vilo Mesh, the TP-Link AX setup is the better buy from a security perspective.

However, if your current setup meets your needs, and you don’t have poor reception/dead spots, there’s really no need to upgrade unless you need WPA3 security. The longer you wait, the cheaper a WiFi6 system will likely become, especially after “WiFi7” becomes the new standard, and manufacturers start “end of life” for all the 802.11AX products.

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