February 11, 2022. After our work last month comparing two inexpensive WiFi6 routers, this month we conducted a study between these two devices and the Netgear Nighthawk X4S AC2600 R7800, one of the best WiFi5 (wave 2) devices on the market.
The objective is to compare WiFi6 equipment that is now worth €40 or €80, with a high-performance WiFi5 equipment and although it has already been discontinued, it can still be found for more than €200 in some internet stores.
Will WiFi6 have improved enough for low-cost equipment to have similar features to last year's high-end WiFi5?
In this article we answer this question.
In our previous blog post, we explained a little about the instrumentation and test methodology that we use to carry out this type of WiFi network tests.
Basically, we use the CT523 equipment and the SW LANforge from Candela Technologies, with which we can measure the quality of service (QoS) of WiFi, either through protocols tailored to the client/project or following the recommendations of Broadband TR398. Forum. Here you have summary of these recommendations and the tests we carry out on WiFi equipment:
The number that goes before the description of the test. corresponds to the chapter in which its details are developed in the TR398 document.
These Broadband Forum recommendations fill a gap left by the WiFi Alliance. This last association certifies that the equipment meets certain standards, for example WiFi6, but does not guarantee that the performance is good or bad. Each manufacturer makes its optimizations and as long as it complies with the standards, it passes, but of course, this homologation system makes it possible to find equipment certified by the WiFi Alliance as WiF6, for example, that have worse performance than WiFi5 equipment. To solve this problem, the main world carriers took the initiative, within the Broadband Forum, to create a working group whose result is the TR398 recommendations (Wi-Fi Residential & SOHO Performance Testing).
These types of tests, among others, are what we can do in our laboratory.
In the photo that follows, you can see one of the equipment to generate WiFi 6 and WiFi 5 stations. As already indicated in our previous article, for some tests we used an attenuator to accurately simulate the distances of the clients with respect to of the WiFi router to check.
Our objective for this comparison is to see the main differences between these two generations of equipment (WiFi5 vs WiFi6), so we are only going to carry out the “Range vs Rate” tests (6.3.1 of TR398), this is traffic based on the distance and the test of 32 connected stations (6.2.1 Maximun Connection test of TR398).
As there are a good number of articles that explain the benefits of WiFi6 vs. WiFi5, we are only going to explain here how all these advantages have really behaved in real tests carried out in our laboratory.
As a reminder, we indicate the main characteristics of each of the teams: what we have considered.
A photo with the three devices to test is in the header of this blog entry
As always, the results that we show you are the best that have been achieved from multiple iterations and on tests without interferences. The actual results we will see in our homes/work will be lesser.
Range versus Rate (RvR) tests
The objective of this test is to verify the traffic that an AP can carry depending on the distance at which the WiFi client connects. In this way we can evaluate the quality of the RF part of the APs
To simulate the behavior of a user terminal, an ax 2*2 client (WiFi6) with download traffic is used.
In the graphs that follow, on the X axis (abscissa) we represent the RSSI signal level detected by our instrumentation and on the Y axis (ordinate) the flow of traffic that we can achieve.
For information purposes, locations with a signal level of -70dBm or less than -80dBm correspond to spaces in which we normally have very poor coverage. Locations in the -50dBm range are sites with direct line of sight between the ax client and the WiFi router.
Clearly the Huawei, although it is WiFi6, as it is 2*2 it cannot compete with the other devices. Only at very short distances does it behaves similarly to Netgear, but you have to keep in mind that the latter one is a 4*4.
The Xiaomi, which is already 4*4, allows us to see the great advantage of WiFi6. Our ax client (WiFi6) manages to connect to better modulations and the result is evident, its numbers leave the rest of the equipment behind at any distance.
The Netgear has a good behavior, but only at very far distances its numbers are already similar to Xiaomi.
Here we can see another of the surprises that WiFi6 has in store for us. It turns out that, in the 2.4Ghz band, the traffic carried by ax equipment (WiFi 6) is almost double that of n equipment (WiFi 5).
Thesa are good news, with ax stations we will be able to recover this frequency for almost any use case. Using it carefully we can decongest the 5Ghz bands somewhat, which is where everyone has gone now.
Again, Xiaomi outperforms Huawei and both have better features than Netgear despite they are 2*2 in this band vs Netgear which is 4*4. Here you can see that the improvements of WiFi6 make WiFi5 obsolete. Even a device like Huawei's for €40 leaves Netgear behind in the 2.4GHz band.
However, there is a problem, not all WiFi6 devices support ax operation in this band. Some of them, to save costs, leave 2.4GHz with the previous standard (n stations with WiFi5).
Multiple STA Performance Tests
From the above tests, it seems that the result is clear from a coverage point of view. We are now going to stress the equipment with traffic from multiple stations (TR398 specifies 32, 2*2 clients), which leads to testing the entire router suite (radio, processor, communications protocols, OS, etc.). Given that what we want is to generate the maximum "throughput", these tests are only carried out in the 5Ghz band with ac clients (more realistic test based on the terminals that users currently have in their facilities), download traffic and 80Mhz channels.
Well, it seems that the Netgear finally appears! It can handle all the traffic we send it. We already knew it was a good device! But hey, the Xiaomi is close (-7% with 32 stations).
The tests carried out allow us to have a first perspective of what WiFi6 brings.
As we have seen. the improvements it provides allow low-cost WiFi6 equipment to compete against a high-end WiFi5 (Wave 2) that until recently was the reference in the market. We can imagine that this comparison would be even better if we used high-end WiFi6 equipment. But we will leave that for later works.
It is not the object of this comparison to determine which equipment is better than another, but rather to explain, with a representative sample of low-cost routers, what WiFi6 allows.
In addition, it would not be fair if we only analyze the equipment from the point of view of the traffic that they are capable of handling in an ideal lab scenario. This information is very useful, but it is not definitive.
There are multiple other tests that must be done to see if one device is better than another.
For example, there are Wi-Fi routers that have better/worse behavior than others with interference (immunity/generation), so it may turn out that the throughput that they carry in situations with interfering traffic, in adjacent channel (typical case), can be reduced to the half!.
Another behavior that we have seen that greatly distorts the performance of the equipment is the throttling of traffic with slow stations (n or a). In some devices, a slow station associated with the WiFi router reduces the available bandwidth to 10%!
For this reason, we recommend our clients carry out test benches (TR398 type or at least the most significant ones), to have real information on the behavior of their equipment, before using them in projects or putting them on the market. The marketing of this type of product is usually very exaggerated with the benefits and it seems that all the devices are the best.
Finally, that everyone goes to WiF6!. It seems we have a good excuse to change the PC, mobile, TV, ... ?
More information about our solutions for WiFi quality measurement can be found here.