Someone holding a Wi-Fi 6 compatible iPhone.
guteksk7/Shutterstock.com
Wi-Fi devices are backward compatible, so your new device will work with your old Wi-Fi router. However, you will lose out on all the speed improvements and optimizations that come with Wi-Fi 6.

Your shiny new phone supports Wi-Fi 6, but will it play nice with your older Wi-Fi 5 router at home? Here’s what you need to know about using newer devices on older routers.

Don’t Worry, Your Devices Are Backward Compatible

Wi-Fi standards are, thankfully, backward compatible across generations. Whether you have a Wi-Fi 6 router and a Wi-Fi 6 device, a Wi-Fi 5 device and a Wi-Fi 4 router, or any number of permutations of the Wi-Fi standards from the last twenty years or so, your newer device can connect to your older Wi-Fi router.

That means whether you’re connecting your new iPhone that supports Wi-Fi 6 to a Wi-Fi 5 router you haven’t upgraded yet or to the very dusty old ISP-supplied Wi-Fi 4 router at your parent’s house, your phone will negotiate a connection to the router using the appropriate Wi-Fi technology.

You Won’t Get Wi-Fi 6’s Improvements

You can use new devices on old routers, so upgrading your phone doesn’t automatically mean a forced Wi-Fi router upgrade. But there is a downside to using devices that support new Wi-Fi tech on older network hardware.

While your new phone or other devices will happily switch to an older Wi-Fi version to get you a connection, it’s a downgrade from what your device is capable of.

You won’t get the maximum speeds the newer version of Wi-Fi could afford, nor will you get any of the Wi-Fi 6 improvements like better device battery life, less wireless congestion, and better performance in a home with many devices. (You do get those improvements with Wi-Fi 6 devices connected to the router, just not with the Wi-Fi 5 devices.)

So while you don’t need to upgrade your router to Wi-Fi 6, it’s not a bad idea to seriously consider it at this point. More and more devices support Wi-Fi 6, and even if the bulk of your devices are still Wi-Fi 5, upgrading your router improves the Wi-Fi experience network-wide.

The Best Wi-Fi Routers of 2022

Best Wi-Fi Router Overall
Asus AX6000 (RT-AX88U)
Best Budget Router
TP-Link Archer AX3000 (AX50)
Best Cheap Router
TP-Link Archer A8
Best Gaming Router
Asus GT-AX11000 Tri-Band Router
Best Mesh Wi-Fi Router
ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) (2 Pack)
Best Budget Mesh Router
TP-Link Deco X20
Best Modem Router Combo
NETGEAR Nighthawk CAX80
Best VPN Router
Linksys WRT3200ACM
Beat Travel Router
TP-Link AC750
Best Wi-Fi 6E Router
Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000
Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »