The other half of the overall experience, of course, is performance. The big thing with the ECW230 is the move from 802.11ac to the new 802.11ax or if we are using the new names. The change from WiFi 5 to WiFi 6 does offer basic transfer speed improvements. In fact, they suggest that 6 will be about 40% faster than WiFi 5 was. But WiFi 6 is actually designed for the much heavier WiFi use that businesses and homes see today. So a lot of routers and devices have been moving to MU-MIMO which stands for Multiple User – Multiple Input, Multiple Output. They have improved MU-MIMO to allow devices to respond at the same time. They also now split channels up into a large number of subchannels with a tech called OFDMA which helps allow your AP or router to talk to more devices at the same time. The end goal is to be able to better handle WiFi congestion which didn’t use to be a problem when a house might have an average of 4 or 5 devices. But now with everyone carrying a phone, most TVs being on WiFi, all of your Echos or Google homes, not to mention IoT devices like light bulbs, appliances, even door locks all connecting. I know at any point in my house there might be 20 devices connected and that is with just my wife and I living there AND our house is heavily hard-wired to keep most traffic on the wired network. I can’t even imagine the additional load that a family household gets on the wireless network when nothing is hard-wired. With those heavy congestion situations, they are saying people could see speed improvements up to 4 times as fast as WiFi 5.
For my testing I kept things simple, the number of devices with WiFi 6 support is still low. I do have a phone that supports it but to keep testing consistent I stuck with something similar to how I test motherboards. I set up our test bench using the Asus Crosshair VIII Hero WiFi which supports WiFi 6. I then set up the EnGenius ECW230 as close as I could to where our current AP is mounted. The current AP is a Ubiquiti Unifi AP AC Long Range which is a popular AP. I used Passmark Performance Test 9’s network test and ran 15-20 tests on each of the networks (WiFi 5 and 6) to get my antenna positioning in the best possible position for each AP. Then I ran four tests on each and averaged them documenting the average speed each time as well as min and max speeds. Both APs were set with Channel HT Mode set to 80. The ECW230 connected at 1.2 Gbps and the Unifi connection speed was 866.7 Mbps. Here were the results.
I honestly didn’t expect to see a huge performance gap between the two in my specific situation. We already use an access point designed for high speeds, long-range, and most importantly it able to handle high client counts. On top of that our usage is around average due to using wired devices whenever possible even though we do overall have a LOT of networked devices. Both APs were in near ideal conditions because I don’t sit far from the location it is mounted. But what I found was a big improvement, slightly more than the 40% they suggest people will see. Most of this was from the max speeds as the lows in the tests were closer. But I will say that in my testing WiFi 6 was more consistent on the lows which is great. I wish I could have done more testing on the range and through multiple walls or levels but that will have to wait until I have a WiFi 6 device like a laptop that I can move around more than my open-air test bench is capable of. That said, WiFi 6 is looking great and the focus on allowing more clients to talk at the same time is huge.