The 802.11 standard for wi-fi networking is now 20 years old, and each new generation of the standard has provided greater speed than its predecessors. However, the forthcoming 802.11ax — also known as Wi-Fi 6 — represents perhaps the greatest change in the relatively short history of this now-ubiquitous technology.
We’ve covered some of the technical aspects of Wi-Fi 6 in recent months, but the defining feature of this new standard is that as well as providing greater speed, Wi-Fi 6 is also intended to support greater ‘density’ of networking connections for the millions of permanently-connected smart devices that now form the Internet Of Things (IoT).
As we’ve reported, the final standard for Wi-Fi 6 isn’t expected until late 2019, but a number of manufacturers have already announced plans for new routers based on the current ‘Draft 3.0’ version of that standard. Netgear certainly isn’t the first manufacturer to announce support for Wi-Fi 6, but it is one of the few networking companies that could be described as a household name and the release of its new Nighthawk AX range of routers represents something of a mass-market debut for the technology.
Pricing & options
There are four routers in the new range, with prices starting at £150 ex. VAT (£180 inc. VAT, or $200) for the Nighthawk AX4. That’s the entry-level model in the range, but it supports dual-band, 4-stream 802.11ax wi-fi with speeds of up to 3Gbps — which would be close to top-of-the-range for a conventional 802.11ac router.
The second model is the Nighthawk AX8, which is also a dual-band router, but steps up to 8 streams with speeds of up to 6Gbps, and is priced at £250 ex. VAT (£300 inc. VAT, or $299). The AX8 also adopts an eye-catching ‘winged’ design, that hides the router’s multiple antennae within large plastic fins that project upwards on each side of the unit.
The AX4 and AX8 routers are primarily aimed at home users who want high-speed wi-fi for tasks such as gaming or streaming video on multiple devices. However, it’s the two high-end AX12 routers that are most likely to appeal to business users, as they provide even greater speed as well as advanced features that will be suitable for larger offices, public venues such as hotels and restaurants, or even large sports venues.
The first of these two models to ship is the Nighthawk AX12, which Netgear demonstrated for ZDNet recently. Priced at £300 ex. VAT (£360 inc. VAT, or $500), the Nighthawk AX12 is another dual-band router with speeds of up to 6Gbps, but it supports up to 12 streams with eight antennae providing greater range and reliability for connecting large numbers of devices. The router also supports ‘dual Gigabit Ethernet aggregation’, allowing you to combine two Ethernet ports to provide a 2Gbps wired connection for office networks, as well as a ‘mesh’ wi-fi option that can link multiple routers together in order to cover a greater area than a single router.
The AX4, AX8 and AX12 models are all available now, and Netgear is also planning to release the top-of-the-range Nighthawk Tri-Band AX12 router during the summer, a tri-band model that supports 12 streams and a top speed of 10.8Gbps that goes far beyond any previous generation of wi-fi. Pricing for this model has yet to be announced.
The 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6 routers will be backward-compatible with existing devices that use 802.11ac (which the Wi-Fi Alliance has retrospectively renamed as ‘Wi-Fi 5’). However, new Wi-Fi 6 features such as TWT (Target Wake Time), which helps to save battery power for always-on devices such as smart lights and security cameras — do require client devices that support 802.11ax as well.
It’s still early days for this new wi-fi standard, but the promise of greater speed and reliability for IoT devices in large offices and public venues suggests that Wi-Fi 6 will find an eager audience when the final version of the standard is released later this year.
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