A Wi-Fi 6 router sitting on a side table.
Wi-Fi 6 routers are backward compatible with previous generations of Wi-Fi client hardware. You can connect old devices to new networks.

You bought a brand-new router with Wi-Fi 6 but most of the gear in your house is Wi-Fi 5 or older. Can you still use the Wi-Fi 6 router with your old gear?

Wi-Fi Is Backwards Compatible

Your new router supports Wi-Fi 6, a bunch of your smart home gear, older tablets, and maybe even your smartphone if it’s a bit long in the tooth, don’t.

Fortunately for you, that doesn’t matter. Unlike upgrading from one generation of a console to another or similar upgrades, upgrading Wi-Fi doesn’t require you to buy all new accessories.

Current generation Wi-Fi routers are backward compatible with prior generations of Wi-Fi client hardware. Somewhere, buried deep in the mess that is my workshop, there’s an old Wi-Fi 3 (802.11g) wireless adapter for the original Xbox game console.

I have no need to put it on my current Wi-Fi network, but if I was so inclined to do so there’s nothing stopping me—and it would work just as well, if not better than it did back in the day on my old iconic black-and-blue Linksys WRT54GL router.

That’s the beauty of the Wi-Fi standard, it’s designed to maximize interoperability. While you might choose to stop using a really old device in order to use more current Wi-Fi security standards, there’s no need to retire Wi-Fi 5 devices because you upgraded to a Wi-Fi 6 network.

Your Old Devices Won’t Slow Things Down

In the early days of Wi-Fi, there was a widespread belief that using old Wi-Fi devices on a newer network would slow the whole thing down and tank performance. The worry was technically true overblown back then, and it’s certainly nothing to worry about today.

If you have a Wi-Fi 5 or even Wi-Fi 4 device on your newer network, the only performance hit you will see is a performance for that device. It will be bottlenecked by the limitations of the generation of Wi-Fi hardware it uses.

If you happen to have a blazing-fast fiber connection with robust network infrastructure in your home, you will notice the bottleneck when conducting speed tests on older Wi-Fi gear. Realistically, you’ll probably never notice the difference in performance under real-world conditions. Even Wi-Fi 4 hardware, for example, is more than fast enough to stream HD and even 4K content.

Practically speaking, you’ll see little difference between using an old streaming stick that doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6 and a new streaming stick that does, or a difference in any other similar application.

So don’t sweat it! Enjoy your upgrade to a Wi-Fi 6 router. Even with older devices mixed in, you’ll still enjoy better network management and better optimization, and as you add more Wi-Fi 6 devices to the network, you’ll get the benefits of the updated network on an ongoing device-by-device basis.

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.
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