What Is Wi-Fi 6E?
If you’re planning to get a new router or any device that uses Wi-Fi, you should first know about the new Wi-Fi 6E standard and what it means for the upcoming wireless networks at home and in offices around the US.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, a group of Wi-Fi vendors that work with the FCC and electronics makers to set standards for Wi-Fi technology, announced the Wi-Fi 6E class in 2020 for any IEEE 802.11ax products that support a 6GHz wireless architecture. Basically, this means Wi-Fi 6E enables faster speeds and lower latencies than Wi-Fi 6 and older iterations.
Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6E: What’s the Difference?
When the IEEE 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) standard was first revealed, it was limited by law to a wireless spectrum that only incorporated the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Now, in a 2.4GHz band, you really have only three non-overlapping channels—and that bandwidth is shared by you, your family members, and your neighbors.
If you’ve ever had difficulties staying connected to a Zoom call or had the episode of Squid Game pause for buffering, spectrum jam was probably the cause. If too many gadgets compete for bandwidth on the very wireless channel, then some of those signals will be lost.
This isn’t just a matter of how many family members are connected to your home’s Wi-Fi network. Any other Wi-Fi network in the range is competing for bandwidth on a very limited number of channels.
In April of 2020, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to open up the 6GHz band for unlicensed use. With that policy change, significantly more airwaves are open that routers can use to broadcast Wi-Fi signals—and that’s awesome.
The availability of the 6GHz band is the most influential spectrum addition to Wi-Fi since 1989. The jump from 5GHz to 6GHz might not sound like much, but it actually quadruples the amount of airwaves (14 additional 80MHz channels, and seven additional 160MHz channels) available for routers and smart devices.
What Are the Advantages of Wi-Fi 6E?
The normal reason that you’ll want Wi-Fi 6E? The 6GHz band provides for internet speeds of greater than 1Gbps. Not only that, but the extended-spectrum means lower latency (less than one millisecond) for online games, video calls, or virtual computing sessions in which you need an immediate response to keyboard signals, voices, or mouse clicks.
Even with quicker connectivity, you’ll probably only see the advantages of Wi-Fi 6E when it comes to home network capability—which is to say, in the form of less spectrum crowding. Whole-home gigabit coverage and multi-gigabit Wi-Fi capacity mean average homeowners can eventually have the kind of next-generation computing activities we’ve only seen at venues like vendor demos or at trade shows. Imagine VR gaming anywhere in your house, or playing in augmented reality business presentations, all without any bandwidth reduction due to other family members watching Netflix.
Wi-Fi 6E: What’s the Catch?
There is normally a hidden “gotcha” with any new technology that sounds groundbreaking. If Wi-Fi 6E has an Achilles’ heel, it’s that the 6GHz wireless spectrum uses shorter wavelengths. Short wavelengths are excellent for fast data transfers, but they have a harder time covering long distances, and they experience greater interference from physical obstructions like thick walls or floors in a building. Any real-world Wi-Fi 6E network will likely use both the 6GHz and 5GHz bands to achieve fast, reliable connections everywhere a home or office building. It’s also completely possible that future Wi-Fi 6E networks will use a mixture of a main Wi-Fi 6E router and one or more Wi-Fi 6E repeaters to create a wireless mesh network that gives the promised performance of Wi-Fi 6E even in big homes or office buildings with various obstructions.
There is another potential issue for Wi-Fi 6E: The 6GHz spectrum in the US still has some current licensed users, and Wi-Fi 6E networks will have to take steps to circumvent interference outdoors. This won’t be a difficulty inside your home or office, but if you want to stay connected to your Wi-Fi network while you’re in the garden, a Wi-Fi 6E router will use automatic frequency control to interference with other 6GHz bands users.
In simple terms, your Wi-Fi performance will be expected to be scale back to the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands when you’re outside.
How to Get Wi-Fi 6E
Wi-Fi 6E is a must-have technology for the future and it is for everyone, let’s talk about how you can get it now. Countries like the US, Brazil, and Korea have already started up the 6GHz band, but many other countries have been delayed to open their wireless spectrum for commercial use. As a result, most of the Wi-Fi 6E gadgets you’ll find these days through the end of the year will be hardware marketed for US customers. Wi-Fi 6E gadgets will be backward compatible with Wi-Fi 6 and earlier Wi-Fi standards, but in order to use the new 6GHz channels, you’ll need a Wi-Fi 6E router and a Wi-Fi 6E client device.
That means even if you have a new Wi-Fi 6 router, you’ll still need to update to a Wi-Fi 6E model. Routers like the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500—the first Wi-Fi 6E model make good grounds for a home Wi-Fi 6E network, but you won’t be able to use that cutting-edge speed without the next generation of gadgets that support Wi-Fi 6E. In the case of the RAXE500 using a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Any new phone using Qualcomm’s FastConnect 6700 and FastConnect 6900 will be ready to use the 6GHz band.
Should You Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E?
The simple answer to this question for most people is no. Wi-Fi 6E routers are just beginning to hit the market, and as with most new technologies, they carry a great early-adopter cost. By this time next year, prices will come down significantly, and there will be a lot more Wi-Fi 6E-compatible devices available for your new router.
Additionally, Wi-Fi 6E won’t benefit you all that much outdoors, so if you’re looking to increase your work-from-home abilities to your backyard, you’ll likely be better assisted by a mesh network than a new Wi-Fi 6E router.