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TP-Link rolls out its first midrange router sporting Wi-Fi 6 software specs

Earlier this week, networking hardware manufacturer TP-Link rolled out a new home router shipping with Wi-Fi 6 capabilities, the Archer AX50. This new entry drops into the company’s burgeoning Wi-Fi 6 product lineup between its little brother, the modest Archer AX10, and its hulking older cousins, the Archer AX6000 and AX11000, giving people looking to increase their home network speeds a dependable midrange choice.

Currently, the array of Wi-Fi 6 routers make for slim pickings, but although TP-Link has not yet announced the price of its new Archer AX50, if past models in the company’s Archer line are any indication, it could provide a more affordable alternative to the almost exclusively high-end offerings launched by competitors so far. The Intel chipset at the heart of the AX50 allows it to tap into all the marquee features of the Wi-Fi 6 standard, including multi-user, multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO) antenna transmission for handling more devices at once, target wake time (TWT) for battery optimization, and orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) for making more efficient use of radio spectrum, among many others.

Along with these features specific to Wi-Fi 6, the new Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) router also boasts proprietary functionality such as TP-Link’s HomeCare, which combines basic malicious traffic filtering and LAN packet management by the client device. The AX50 also has all the router essentials that consumers have come to expect like blacklisting and whitelisting, Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) and port triggering, and firewall configuration.

It is worth pointing out the announcement’s footnotes to wary consumers, as the fine-print language essentially states that TP-Link doesn’t intend for the AX50 to fully conform to or embody all the specifications that make up the Wi-Fi 6 standard. Rather, the company will pick and choose what parts of the Wi-Fi 6 standard to actually deliver to the device in hardware or firmware. One conspicuous absence of such Wi-Fi 6 features is the lack of the WPA3 secure authentication protocol. While far from perfect, WPA3 remedied many of the shortcomings of prior Wi-Fi Protected Access specifications and was designed with home consumers in mind with its “it just works,” limited-intervention approach to securely connecting to routers.

In a similar vein that is standards adoption, it should also be noted that some of the headline features of Wi-Fi 6 require client devices with 802.11ax (the technical name for Wi-Fi 6) wireless cards. Thus, people who aren’t sporting 802.11ax-compliant mobile or desktop products probably won’t get as much out of this or any other Wi-Fi 6 router just yet. Since it’s way too early to tell how much of the Wi-Fi 6 specification client device or router manufacturers will include in their products going forward, we’ll have to wait and see how Wi-Fi 6 on paper compares Wi-Fi 6 in actual practice.

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