The iPhone SE supports Wi-Fi 6. Here's what that means for you
Like last year's iPhone 11 line, the new, less expensive iPhone SE supports next-gen Wi-Fi 6 connections. Here's what you should know about that.
Ry CristSenior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
ExpertiseSmart home technology and wireless connectivityCredentials
10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
That's great! Also: What exactly is Wi-Fi 6 again?
Wi-Fi 6 is the newest version of the 802.11 standard for wireless networking, which we commonly call Wi-Fi. The current version that most of your Wi-Fi devices probably use is 802.11ac, or Wi-Fi 5. Devices that support Wi-Fi 6 still speak that same Wi-Fi language to talk to each other -- they just talk faster and more efficiently than before.
The specific technical advancements that the standard brings to the table are complicated, but you can read my full Wi-Fi 6 explainer to start wrapping your head around them (and do let me know in the comments if you find the Mortal Kombat analogy helpful). But in a nutshell, Wi-Fi 6 is better than Wi-Fi 5 because:
It supports faster top transfer speeds (we've clocked it at as much as 1,320Mbps -- about 40% faster than the fastest Wi-Fi 5 speeds we've measured).
It lets devices send more information with each individual transmission.
It lets routers and other access points service more devices at once.
It helps sensors and other wireless
conserve battery power by scheduling transmissions.
It facilitates better, faster performance in dense, crowded environments like airports and stadiums.
So my internet will be faster?
Well... not really.
The new iPhones and other devices that support Wi-Fi 6, like the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, will definitely be able to take advantage of all of the Wi-Fi 6 perks -- but only if they've got a Wi-Fi 6 access point to connect to. You won't see any difference at all if you're still using a Wi-Fi 5 router. And sure, Wi-Fi 6 routers are available now (we're currently testing a bunch of the things out) -- but most are still pretty expensive.
Even if you do get one, it won't do anything to magically make your internet connection faster. If the connection from your internet service provider is, say, 100Mbps, then that's the speed limit for your home. Wi-Fi 6 can't do anything to speed it up.
Right now, the average download speed in the US is 119Mbps, which is nowhere close to the top speeds Wi-Fi 6 is theoretically capable of. Using a Wi-Fi 6 router on a network like that is a bit like driving a sports car on sand. You aren't going to go nearly as fast as your hardware is capable of.
So yeah, Wi-Fi 6 is fast and exciting -- but it's also early. Supporting Wi-Fi 6 helps future-proof the newest iPhones, but it isn't a must-have feature just yet, and you shouldn't feel obligated to rush out and replace your router.
The future looks fast
All of that said, the spread of fiber networks and other connections that approach gigabit speeds means that Wi-Fi 6 will probably be a whole lot more relevant to a whole lot more people within the next year or so. And, now that the iPhone is on board, you can expect more devices to follow suit with support for the standard, too. Apple is still a market mover.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for Wi-Fi 6 deployments in public places. One such deployment, a Wi-Fi 6 Boingo network at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, has been up and running since April of last year. If your phone supports the new standard, you'll benefit from faster public networks like those. And if you're sticking with a Wi-Fi 5 phone, don't worry -- Wi-Fi 6 networks are backward-compatible with older-gen Wi-Fi devices, even if they can't do much to make them any faster.
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The 2020 iPhone SE shines with classic Apple styling