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When will Wi-Fi 6 smart home gadgets get here? Here's what the industry's saying

Waiting for smart home devices that support Wi-Fi 6? Don't hold your breath -- and don't rush to replace your router just yet.

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Next-gen Wi-Fi 6 routers like this Netgear model are already popping up at retailers like Best Buy -- but you won't find many gadgets capable of taking advantage of them, yet.

Ry Crist/CNET

This year marks the debut of a new version of Wi-Fi called 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6. Key among the improvements: the ability to send information to multiple devices at once with a single transmission, and better energy management for battery-powered devices, too. That means that consumers with an abundance of smart home gadgets under their roofs competing for bandwidth might be among those with the most to gain.

The Wi-Fi Alliance won't start offering official certification for new Wi-Fi 6 devices until this fall, with ratification of the standard forecast for shortly thereafter, but that hasn't stopped router manufacturers from going ahead and embracing the new standard. In fact, you can already find new Wi-Fi 6 routers from names like Netgear and Asus on the shelf at retailers like Best Buy and on Amazon. Wi-Fi 6 mesh options are on the way, too.

Read more: Wi-Fi 6 speed test: Fast enough to download every Marvel movie in under 3 hours  

Those fancy new routers are backward-compatible with older versions of Wi-Fi, so they'll continue to support your old devices. However, they won't do much of anything to speed things up until you've got Wi-Fi 6 smart home devices that are capable of taking advantage of next-gen Wi-Fi features like OFDMA and Target Wake Time. And, to date, those gadgets don't exist yet. To my knowledge, none have even even been announced yet.

That's not the case in other categories. In the world of smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S10 already supports Wi-Fi 6, and other new phones are very likely to follow suit. Beyond that, I'd say that the odds are decent that we'll see Wi-Fi 6 support in a growing number of new laptops by the end of this year, too, and perhaps also in bandwidth-heavy products like media streamers. If you've got the right kind of computer, you can even purchase a Wi-Fi 6 adapter right now for $35 on Amazon.

So when are the Wi-Fi 6 smart home gadgets coming? My guess is that we'll start seeing brands touting support for the new standard in Las Vegas next January at CES. At that point, it'll be a flashy new way to grab headlines and stand out from the crowd. For now, though, there's basically no demand for these devices yet, except among the earliest of adopters and those looking to future proof their smart homes.

"Although the Wi-Fi 6 enabled device shipment is expected to remain small in 2019, once the two critical milestones -- Wi-Fi Alliance certification and standard ratification -- are reached, we expect a strong market adoption of Wi-Fi 6," says Yogita Kanesin, a senior research analyst who studies Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the Internet of Things for IHS Markit. "Beginning early 2020, major global device manufacturers will begin to embrace the technology and Wi-Fi 6 will start to establish itself as a standard feature for high-end WLAN enabled products."

Experts don't forecast the arrival of mainstream Wi-Fi 6 tech until after the new standard is ratified. That means we likely won't see much of anything until 2020.

IHS Markit

Wi-Fi 6 devices might start to appear a bit sooner if a noteworthy manufacturer decides to get ahead of the curve and embrace the standard sometime this year, perhaps with "Wi-Fi 6-ready" devices that could be built to support the standard and updated once it's ratified. We aren't seeing any hints of that yet, though. Earlier this week, for instance, Amazon announced a new Alexa smart display called the Echo Show 5. That device uses Wi-Fi to connect wirelessly with your router -- but according to the specs, it's sticking with Wi-Fi 5.

And, despite the early birds already on the market, some notable names from the world of routers are taking a wait-and-see approach with Wi-Fi 6, too.

Read more: Wi-Fi 6: Better, faster internet is coming -- here's what you need to know  

"In order for users to benefit from Wi-Fi 6's higher speeds, all devices in the home would also need to have an 11AX chip and be no more than 15 feet away from the router," explains Sanjay Noronha, Product Manager for Google Wifi within the Google Nest team. "A user also needs to have more than 50 connected devices on their home network (the average Google Wifi user currently has 18) to notice a significant difference between a Wi-Fi 5 and a Wi-Fi 6 router." 

"Wi-Fi 6 is also expensive," he adds, "with Wi-Fi 6 routers currently $150 to $200 more than Wi-Fi 5 routers. We think that Wi-Fi 6 could be impactful further in the future, as costs come down and more devices adopt the 11AX chip."

Jason Johnson, CEO of the smart lock brand August, suggested that adoption of that level will take time. "I can't comment on future product plans but I can say that we generally embrace new features of the IEEE 802.11 Working Group as they make their way into silicon. It usually takes a year or two for mainstream chip suppliers to implement the new features," he tells me.

Meanwhile, other smart home gadgets might not make that upgrade anytime soon because they don't rely on Wi-Fi at all, and see little to no benefit in making the change. That includes Philips Hue, a smart lighting system that skips Wi-Fi in favor of a direct, wired connection between your router and the Hue Bridge. From there, the Bridge communicates with Hue lights using Zigbee signals.

"Overall, Wi-Fi 6 is largely moot for Philips Hue," says George Yianni, the company's head of technology.

Aside from August and Hue, I reached out to a long list of manufacturers with skin in the smart home space to ask how each was planning for the advent of Wi-Fi 6, whether they ultimately expected the new standard to make a noticeable impact on the way their platform performs, and whether or not any new devices were in the works. No one had anything to share about upcoming products (not a surprise), but they also didn't have a whole lot to say about Wi-Fi 6, in general.

More than anything, that tells you just how early it still is for the new standard. Official device certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance should help spur adoption, and like I said, I'll be surprised if Wi-Fi 6 isn't one of the trends we track at CES next year. But until then -- and until new Wi-Fi 6 phones and laptops help gin up demand for those new Wi-Fi 6 routers on the shelf at Best Buy -- don't expect to see much movement towards the new standard in the smart home.

For now, here's a complete list of everything I've heard about Wi-Fi 6 from every smart home manufacturer I reached out to for this piece. All quotes are from unnamed company spokespersons unless I've indicated otherwise. I'll keep it updated if anything changes. 

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Abode: "No new hardware at this time supporting the new standard but definitely something for the future." 

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The Amazon Echo Show 5 smart display.

Amazon

Amazon Alexa: "Nothing on this that I can share, sorry!"

Anker Eufy: "I was just checking with the team and as far as I know, all Wi-Fi-connected devices from Eufy are supporting Wi-Fi 4 because it's still the most common and reliable Wi-Fi standard at the time being. Stability, power consumption, technical maturity, and cost will be our key points when considering a new standard. We will pay sustained attention to the development of Wi-Fi 6."

Apple: (Did not respond to request for comment.)

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Arlo Ultra Security Cameras.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Arlo: "While we have no news to share at this time, Arlo is continuously evaluating future technologies in an effort to determine what makes the most sense for our customers. We will be sure to share developments as they arise."

Eero: "We can't comment on any future Eero activities but will keep an eye on Wi-Fi Alliance and Wi-Fi 6 to see how it develops."

Ecobee: (Did not respond to request for comment.)

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The C by GE Smart Light Switch.

Ry Crist/CNET

GE Lighting: "Team tells me Wi-Fi 6, like other evolutions in tech, is something they are researching to understand more, but nothing in the works as of today."

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The iRobot Roomba 675.

iRobot

iRobot: "We do not currently have plans."

Kwikset: "Kwikset does not have immediate plans to introduce products that support Wi-Fi Certified 6. The brand is familiar with the new standard and exploring how it could benefit Kwikset smart lock users in the future."

Lenovo: (Did not respond to request for comment.)

Lifx: "We're not in a place to share our thinking about how Wi-Fi 6 will work into our product road map outside internal discussions right now, but will be sure to get back to you when we can."

The Lutron Caseta Smart Dimmer Switch.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Lutron: "Since Lutron products operate via our proprietary Clear Connect wireless technology, wired protocols, and interfaces to Wi-Fi networks (e.g. routers to Apps), the rollout of Wi-Fi 6 will not impact our users."

Neato: "We are continually looking at ways to improve the connectivity experience as well as maintain more reliable connections in the home. We cannot comment on future products."

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The Philips Hue White starter kit.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Philips Hue (George Yianni, head of technology): "We made the choice with Philips Hue to focus on Ethernet setup since placement of the bridge is not important, thanks to ZigBee mesh, and it offers the easiest onboarding experience. Even if we did support Wi-Fi, the data bandwidth needs of Hue are so low that bandwidth benefits are not relevant. Overall, Wi-Fi 6 is largely moot for Philips Hue. I'd be interested to see how having a large number of Wi-Fi IoT devices on a normal lower end router affects performance and how that compares to Wi-Fi 6 but it doesn't pertain to Hue."

Ring: "I can't comment on the roadmap at this time, but I can tell you that Ring will make product decisions based on what will best empower neighbors with an affordable, effective way to monitor and secure their homes."

Samsung SmartThings: "We are not able to speculate on future products."

Schlage: "We don't have a comment on Wi-Fi 6 at the moment."

SimpliSafe's DIY home security system.

Chris Monroe/CNET

SimpliSafe: "We're watching Wi-Fi 6 closely. We understand it will improve speed and congestion. At the same time, it's new and untested. 

"We're always evaluating ways for our devices to work better for our customers. But we'll have to test it thoroughly before making any decision. We'll monitor the rollout of Wi-Fi 6 among devices and routers (access points), and will take advantage if we find it will provide enough value to our customers."

TP Link Kasa: "Nothing Wi-Fi 6 from Kasa planned right now, at least that we're aware of."

Yale: "Yale has no comment at this time, but thanks for asking."

Originally published June 1
Updated June 5: to clarify that Google Wifi is a part of the larger Google Nest team.