What Do Your Wi-Fi Router’s ‘AC’ and ‘AX’ Numbers Mean?

When it comes to product specifications and model numbers, the higher the number, the better. So, is an AC2000 wireless router better than an AC1900 router? Isn’t AX6600 supposed to be more capable than AX6000?

We understand if you’re unsure. Router manufacturers have chosen a convoluted, perplexing naming scheme that varies widely between manufacturers and can leave you, the customer, in the dark. Yes, those are speed statistics, but they reflect speeds that you won’t see on your phone or computer because they are the total of all conceivable speeds across all channels and frequency bands supported by the router.

Tri-Band vs. Dual-Band

Routers that support Wi-Fi 5 (AC) and Wi-Fi 6 (AX) are usually dual-band or tri-band. They are dual-band if they work on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and tri-band if they work on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands at the same time.

You may be able to use the quicker upper-range channel with a tri-band router, or that channel may be devoted to backhaul between mesh system devices. (This is dependent on your router.)

In any event, the number on the router represents the aggregate of all the router’s possible bands, not the speed of any single band or device. As an example, if the total speed of all of a Wi-Fi 5 router’s bands is 1,900Mbps, it may be promoted as AC1900.

Wi-Fi 5: Choose One Band, Not Both

The most crucial thing to remember about Wi-Fi 5 router speeds is that they’re a mix of the router’s 2.4GHz and 5GHz speeds, and a Wi-Fi 5 device connecting to it can only use one of them. You’ll most likely be on 5GHz. So, with an AC1750 router, your laptop has a maximum download speed of 1,300Mbps. (See the graph below.)

802.11ac Modes

Mode Identify2.4GHz Mbps2.4GHz Streams5GHz Mbps5GHz Streams
AC300045031,300 (x2)3×2
AC500060042,167 (x2)4×2
AC53001,00042,167 (x2)4×2

Telephones and smaller units usually deal with just one or two spatial streams. The Samsung Galaxy S21 and the Apple iPhone 13 each have 2×2 MIMO of their Wi-Fi.

When utilizing an AC1750 router, this means that each device will only get 867Mbps. (In my experience, that number is frequently closer to 650Mbps.) A router that supports more streams can handle more devices at the same time while maintaining the highest possible speeds.

The accompanying graph primarily shows dual-band 802.11ac modes. The bottom three are tri-band modes, which have two 5GHz channels active at the same time.

Wi-Fi 6: Larger Channels, Increased Speeds

Wi-Fi 6 permits quicker speed primarily based on several new applied sciences. Higher encoding and wider channels enable extra knowledge to be carried on a single stream.

Otherwise, the same regulations as for Wi-Fi 5 apply. Your device must choose between 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and it may not be capable of handling the same number of spatial streams as your router. We used data from Asus and other router manufacturers to supplement Netgear’s list of Wi-Fi 6 modes.

Twin-Band 802.11ax Modes

Mode Identify2.4GHz Mbps2.4GHz Streams5GHz Mbps5GHz StreamsMax. Channel Width
AX60001,14744,804Eight or 4160MHz or 80MHz

Tri-Band Wi-Fi 6: Sooner Speeds (within the Background?)

Both the low and high 5GHz channels are supported simultaneously by tri-band Wi-Fi 6 systems. They might employ the upper 5GHz channels as dedicated backhaul for a mesh system, using them just to transport data between router units, preventing consumers from using that channel for their devices.

Tri-band mesh systems will have larger AX numbers even if the speed given to each particular device (on 2.4GHz or 5GHz) is the same as a standalone dual-band router with a lower number, as shown in this chart (mainly provided by Netgear and modified by PCMag).

Tri-Band 802.11ax Modes

Mode Identify2.4GHz Mbps2.4GHz Streams5GHz Mbps5GHz StreamsMax. Channel Width5GHz-2 Mbps5GHz-2 Streams5GHz-2 Channel Width
AX6000574 or 1,1472 or 41802 or 2,402Three or 480MHz3,603 or 4,804Three or 4160MHz or 80MHz
AX108001,14744,804Eight or 480MHz or 160MHz4,804Eight or 480MHz or 160MHz

The “5GHz” columns within the chart consult with the decreased 5GHz channel utilized by the router, and the “5GHz-2” columns consult with the upper 5GHz channel.

What About Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E makes use of a brand new 6GHz channel to ship even quicker speeds to units. However, there are only a few Wi-Fi 6E routers out but, and so they’re very costly. (See, for instance, our assessment of this Netgear Nighthawk Tri-Band 6E model.) Meanwhile, although they appear to be following the identical naming conference as different Wi-Fi units, the quantity is the sum whole of all speeds.

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300 router with lots of antennas
Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300 router

You are utilizing a real Wi-Fi 6E consumer machine, although you are prone to get increased speeds than on Wi-Fi 6 if, so your supply connection is quick enough to deal with it.

The Real World vs. Router Numbers

The most essential point is that no single client device will ever be able to achieve the maximum speed displayed on a router box. These are theoretical top speeds, not actual measurements. Here are some of the variables that work together to slow things down:

  • Your device will choose between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, rather than mixing the two.
  • The claimed rates are based on extremely strong signals! With reduced signal strength, speeds decrease even more.
  • Interference. There are a limited amount of Wi-Fi channels available, and your network may be competing for them with other neighboring networks.
  • Only one or two data streams can be used by handheld devices like phones. One to three can be handled by laptops and desktop computers.
  • The broadest channels that routers support, 160MHz, are still not supported by most laptops, tablets, and phones.

Last but not least…

  • You won’t be able to get a quicker connection than what your source connection can provide. No matter how good your router is, if you’re trying to download something over a 100Mbps Ethernet cable connection, you’ll never get more than 100Mbps. The pipe, the pipe, the pipe, the pipe, the pipe, the pipe, the

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