Your WiFi router is really that slow

In general, all manufacturers advertise their WiFi data with so-called gross data rates. This is basically comparable to the speeds of Internet access or mobile phone networks – only that they can theoretically be achieved. With WLAN, on the other hand, you have no technical chance of getting the advertised gross data rates as net data rates in practice on your computer or smartphone.

The gross data rates also include tax and administrative data. This so-called overhead traffic is used to operate the WLAN network. This means that the data is transmitted and the frequencies are occupied. But you cannot use the data rates in practice. This means that if a manufacturer advertises with a WLAN speed of 1,733 Mbit / s or 1.7 Gbit / s, you will never be able to measure this data rate in a speed test. In the specific example, your measured value will be a maximum of 860 Mbit / s.

What does the WiFi speed depend on?

In general, the WiFi speed that can be used in practice is determined by three technical things:

  • The WLAN standard
  • The number of data streams
  • The channel bandwidth used

The interaction between router and end device is always important. So it does not help you if you have a high-end router, but operate a cheap smartphone with a WLAN chip that is several years old. Conversely, the same applies: the best high-end computer won’t do you any good if the WiFi router is no good. But what do you have to pay attention to now? We’ll explain it to you.

The right WiFi standard

Do you still know terms like WLAN 802.11n or WLAN 802.11b? Then you already know your way around. For many users, however, these standards were too complicated. Therefore, it has been agreed to simplify the WLAN standards by name. Basically, three standards still play a role today: WLAN N (also referred to as WLAN 4), WLAN AC (or WLAN 5) and the new WLAN AX (or WLAN 6). There are other standards, but we will ignore them here.

The general rule is that the standards are backwards compatible. That means: A router with WLAN 6 can also supply end devices with WLAN 4 or 5 with data and a WLAN 6 cell phone can register with a WLAN 4 router. However, the transmission then “loses” the features of the better standard – in other words, the transmission slows down.

The data streams

Maybe you’ve heard the term MiMo before. The abbreviation stands for Multiple Input, Multiple Output. Described very technically, this means that depending on the variant, several data streams on the same frequency are sometimes sent via several antennas using coding methods. This means that there are several connections between the router and the device at the same time, which increases the data rate. The latest devices support MU-MIMO, which is a multi-user Mimo. Here, the router sends data to several devices in the network at the same time, which increases efficiency even more – especially if many devices generate a lot of traffic.

The channel bandwidth

In WLAN, one always speaks of the 2.4 and 5 GHz band as frequency. But there are several channels within these frequencies. This means that there is a spectrum of 60 MHz in the 2.4 GHz band and a total of 340 MHz in the 5 GHz band. WLAN routers can use up to 160 MHz of it. The wider the spectrum, the higher the data rate. However: only if the end device also supports this will you get high data rates. The spectrum is specified in the technical specifications as HE160 for 160 MHz, HE80 for 80 MHz and so on. The difference in practice can be blatant.

Your neighbours

Another factor that determines how fast your WiFi is in the end is your neighbors. Because WLAN is a shared medium. You don’t share your WiFi with your neighbors, but you do share the frequencies. And if your neighbors are already sending a lot of traffic over the air, your router will have less capacity. We have put together more in a detailed guide. Last but not least, the actually usable data rate also decreases with increasing distance from the router.

Theory and practice: Your WiFi really delivers that

WiFi standard Data streams Channel bandwidth Advertised data rate theoretical, actual maximum data rate
WLAN AX (WLAN 6) 2×2 160 MHz 2400 Mbit / s about 1440 Mbit / s
80 MHz 1200 Mbit / s about 720 Mbit / s
40 MHz 600 Mbit / s about 360 Mbit / s
20 MHz 300 Mbit / s about 180 Mbit / s
1×1 160 MHz 1200 Mbit / s about 720 Mbit / s
80 MHz 600 Mbit / s about 360 Mbit / s
40 MHz 300 Mbit / s about 180 Mbit / s
20 MHz 150 Mbit / s about 90 Mbit / s
WLAN AC (WLAN 5) 4×4 80 MHz 1733 Mbps about 860 Mbit / s
40 MHz 800 Mbit / s about 360 Mbit / s
20 Mhz 347 Mbit / s about 175 Mbit / s
3×3 80 MHz 1300 Mbit / s about 600 Mbit / s
40 MHz 600 Mbit / s about 300 Mbit / s
20 MHz 289 Mbit / s about 130 Mbit / s
2×2 160 MHz 1733 Mbps about 860 Mbit / s
80 MHz 866 Mbit / s about 430 Mbit / s
40 MHz 400 Mbit / s about 200 Mbit / s
20 MHz 173 Mbit / s about 85 Mbit / s
1×1 160 MHz 866 Mbit / s about 430 Mbit / s
80 MHz 433 Mbit / s about 215 Mbit / s
40 MHz 200 Mbit / s about 100 Mbit / s
20 MHz 86 Mbit / s about 40 Mbit / s
WLAN N (WLAN 4) 4×4 40 MHz 600 (64 QAM) or 800 Mbit / s (256 QAM) about 240 (64 QAM) or 320 Mbit / s (256 QAM)
20 MHz 288 Mbit / s about 120 Mbit / s
3×3 40 MHz 450 (64 QAM) or 600 Mbit / s (256 QAM) about 180 (64 QAM) or 240 Mbit / s (256 QAM)
20 MHz 216 Mbit / s about 90 Mbit / s
2×2 40 MHz 300 (64 QAM) or 400 Mbit / s (256 QAM) about 120 (64 QAM) or 160 Mbit / s (256 QAM)
20 MHz 144 Mbit / s about 60 Mbit / s
1×1 40 MHz 150 (64 QAM) or 200 Mbit / s (256 QAM) about 60 (64 QAM) or 80 Mbit / s (256 QAM)
20 MHz 72 Mbit / s about 30 Mbit / s

Data source: AVM

How do I find out how fast my WiFi is?

A little bit of know-how is required to find out how fast the combination of router and end device really is. The easiest way is if you use a FritzBox from AVM as a router, for example. In the current versions of the operating software, you can see in the WLAN settings which parameters your device is currently connected to your router with.

Here you can read the WLAN standard, the channel bandwidth, the number of data streams and other parameters such as the frequency band and multi-user MiMo. The Fritzbox also specifies a data rate. It is the gross data rate.

WLAN information in the Fritzbox
WLAN information in the Fritzbox

You can call up the network status in the settings on your Windows PC. You will then see the connection parameters under “Status” and Properties.

For example, you can install the Fritz! WiFi app on your smartphone. Although it is from AVM, it also works with other WLAN routers. It also shows you the gross data rate. With the “Measure WLAN” function, you can then determine how powerful the connection actually is.

Google Nest Wifi


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