Time for a closer look at the next-gen Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking tech, which is slowly but surely appearing in access points and devices; does it make a difference?
Broadband infrastructure provider Chorus asked itself that same question, and I got to compare notes with network strategy manager Kurt Rodgers plus techies Bobby Dickson and Doneel Maran who have been testing Wi-Fi 6 gear to see what it offers.
Chorus has a vested interest in making sure that the fast performance UFB connections provide reach all the way to wireless user devices. Long story short, Wi-Fi 6 delivers in spades on that.
The speed bump comes via several improvements over older Wi-Fi standards. For example, the Wi-Fi 6 radio signals pack in much more information, and can be aggregated into wide bands so you get really high speeds under ideal conditions.
Chorus testing with a laptop using the Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 chipset using 160 MHz of bandwidth in the 5 GHz range hit 1.5 gigabits per second.
That's actually more than most wired home networks, which have maxed out at 1 Gbps for ages now.
Getting such high speeds from Wi-Fi can be quite involved however, whereas wired network connections consistently deliver the speed they're rated for, with low transmission delays which is what gamers love.
Finding the right spot for access points, and the height they are at can make a big difference because of where the antennas are on devices, and where they're pointed.
Chorus has been trialling its third generation of its Optical Network Terminal (ONT, or the box on the wall that the laser data signal ends at), which comes with a Wi-Fi router as well.
Testing showed that mounting the ONT on the wall with the antenna facing downwards, and set at a slight angle provided the best results. That's not obvious, and would've taken patient trial-and-error testing to figure out.
Rodgers' team has a large headcrab looking router from ASUS in the lab hooked up to an 8 Gbps HyperFibre UFB link.
It not only has an over-the-top design but is named accordingly as well: The Republic Of Gamers Rapture GT-AX11000.
The GT-AX11000 is a beefy box that's advertised as having a very high 11 Gbps theoretical aggregate throughput split between the 2.4 and 5 GHz radios.
It also costs a shade under a grand, more if you add ASUS AI Mesh satellites for increased Wi-Fi coverage in large houses.
I suspect the more understated Nokia Beacon 6 mesh system in the Chorus lab would be home designers' choice, if their internet providers make it available.
The Nokia boxes also feature tri-band Wi-Fi 6, which has a dedicated 5 GHz band for wireless mesh communication. This makes them easier to place around the house, as you don't need to pull Ethernet network cables to them for best performance.
Cheaper dual-band mesh Wi-Fi in comparison shares the 5 GHz band for wireless data backhaul, which halves the maximum possible speed. Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 is the way to go, but it's not cheap and the access points are bigger as well.
Wi-Fi 6 has much improved multi-user capabilities compared to earlier Wi-Fi versions and can, among other things, direct wireless signals to user devices with moveable antennas like 4G and 5G mobile cell sites do, a feature called beamforming.
Being able to connect more devices wirelessly and sharing the available bandwidth fairly and with low lag is probably the performance-boosting Wi-Fi 6 feature users will appreciate the most, rather than big speed numbers as such.
Processing large amounts of data at high speeds requires plenty of computing prowess in devices. That means more power usage, which heats up devices, as I discovered with wired 10 Gbit/s Ethernet adapters.
For some tests, Rodgers said the techies put the devices in the fridge to keep them cool and performing optimally. Obviously not a practical cooling technique for everyday use, but good ventilation for Wi-Fi 6 devices is a must.
There's more to come with Wi-Fi 6 too: it looks like New Zealand will be able to piggyback on the United States, and get Wi-Fi 6 devices that use the uncongested 6GHz band once the government approves it.
Called Wi-Fi 6E or 802.11axe, it provides another 14 80MHz or seven 160 MHz channels of nice and clear 6 GHz spectrum.
Using 6 GHz spectrum for wireless backhaul could be a game changer: ASUS has an E variant of the Rapture router that rated at theoretical speeds of up to 4.8 Gbps for both the 5 and 6 GHz bands.
Even when you take off overheads, that sort of speed should be enough to future-proof your home network for 8K TV and more until 2024 or thereabouts. That's when Wi-Fi 7 is expected to come out, which might just make wired home networking a thing of the past.