UniFi Diary: Wi-Fi 6 is finally here, but is it worth upgrading your Ubiquiti setup?

Wi-Fi 6 has become the latest trend in networking, and after seeing just about every other player in the consumer and business space branch out to support the standard, Ubiquiti finally joined in on the action. But now that they’re actually available, is it worth the network upgrade? After putting the latest UniFi Wi-Fi 6 access points to the test, we’re answering that question in our latest UniFi Diary piece. Head below for all of the details.

Having first gone live at the tail end of 2020, the latest access points from UniFi arrived to mark the notable introduction of Wi-Fi 6. As the first offerings from the brand to support the new standard, there was and still is quite a bit of hype around their release. But before we dive into seeing if Ubiquiti actually delivered or not, let’s take a moment to rehash the specs.

Those considering getting in on the UniFi Wi-Fi 6 game have two options as of now, the standard U6 Lite at $99 and higher-end U6 LR at $179. Throughout most of the year, supply shortages have made the question of upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 on the Ubiquiti side of things more of a when rather than a question of if. Now that stock is finally stabilizing, you might be wondering if it’s worth the upgrade.

The setup 

As for which of the UniFi Wi-Fi 6 access points that we’re putting to the rest, I’ve added two of the standard U6 Lite models into my setup. As the option Ubiquiti notes as being ideal for home use, it’s the better of the two releases right now for setting up in residential deployments. Here’s a breakdown of the specs:

  • 2×2 high-efficiency Wi-Fi 6
  • 5 GHz band 2×2 MU-MIMO and OFDMA with radio rate of 1.2 Gbps
  • 2.4 GHz band 2×2 MIMO with radio rate of 300 Mbps
  • Gigabit Ethernet, powered with 802.3af PoE (PoE injector not included)
  • Compatible with UAP-nanoHD covers and recessed mounting bracket

How do Ubiquiti’s Wi-Fi 6 routers actually perform?

To say Wi-Fi 6 has been a buzzword in the networking space throughout 2021 would be a bit of an understatement. The overall narrative has certainly left its mark on the space, as the 802.11ax standard has a lot to live up to. So while there are lots of areas that have notable benefits right out of the box, home use isn’t necessarily one of them right now.

After using the UniFi Wi-Fi 6 access points for the past few months, I’ve noted that performance is solid for what you pay for, but there’s nothing too groundbreaking here. All of which is to say that the experience isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

One of the big perks of the newer standard is its increased support for devices, so unless you have a collection of devices that actually support 802.11ax connectivity, you won’t really be able to reap the full benefits. 

As for speed, the 1.5Gb/s throughout isn’t anything too grand when compared to the rest of the Ubiquiti lineup. The nanoHD is a far better value by comparison, even if it isn’t one of the UniFi Wi-Fi 6 access points, thanks to sporting 2.0Gb/s throughout. While benchmarks backed me up, in practice, I noticed that the 802.11ax releases did in fact have worse performance than the older, albeit more powerful counterparts. So going with the latest doesn’t necessarily mean the greatest.

9to5Toys’ Take: 

With all that Wi-Fi 6 is cracked up to be, the expectation that the latest UniFi access points would live up to the hype is certainly there. Though, in practice, things are a bit more complicated of whether 802.11ax is just outright better than its predecessor. This isn’t even an issue specific to Ubiquiti, as it’s just a testament to how close the gap is between higher-end access points that may be a few years old and the latest releases.

Right now, Ubiquiti’s current lineup of Wi-Fi 6 gear is targeted more at the budget space rather than delivering anything flagship level. There’s better performance to be had in pretty much every metric elsewhere in the UniFi stable, even if the price isn’t as low. 

So, where does that leave our recommendation of the existing UniFi Wi-Fi 6 access points? If you’re looking to finally upgrade your whole network to finally get in on the new standard, I’d say waiting out the end of the year may be beneficial. Many of the existing access points provide the same, if not better, performance regardless of the Wi-Fi 6 status, for now. It’s worth noting that Ubiquiti does have a new UniFi access point in the works that seems to target the higher-end side of Wi-Fi 6 connectivity. Though it’s currently in the Early Access store, we can’t really discuss its specific feature set, although we’ll be excited to see how it changes things upon release later this year. 

But if you happen to be a first-time buyer into the Ubiquiti ecosystem or someone who is expanding out their existing setup, going with the new releases is certainly as compelling of a starting point as you’ll find from the brand.

By far, the biggest perk of the UniFi Wi-Fi 6 releases so far is just how future-proof the access points are for the price. Adopting the latest and greatest in the world of networking now will only pay for itself more as time goes on and additional devices are released to support the standard. And the affordable price means if you pick one up now to tinker with, expanding your network down the line when more capable offerings come out won’t break the bank.

Even until every device in our homes is ready to jump on the Wi-Fi 6 network, the $99 price of the UniFi 6 access point provides plenty of value. Regardless of if the 802.11ax rollout has you finally ready to get in the Ubiquiti action or you’re just keen on upgrading to the latest standard, there is plenty to write home about here. Just know there are better packages out there for those who can live with 802.11ac coverage. 

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