Home Technology Wi-Fi 6E: The future of wireless connectivity today (with some caveats)

Wi-Fi 6E: The future of wireless connectivity today (with some caveats)

Wi-Fi 6E: The future of wireless connectivity today (with some caveats)

Netgear Orbi


Thanks to COVID-19, according to a Deloitte connectivity survey, “Almost overnight, lines blurred between consumers’ physical and digital worlds, and home became the headquarters for virtual working, learning, fitness, healthcare, shopping, socializing, and entertaining.” To make all that happen, we need more Wi-Fi equipment and high-speed bandwidth than ever. That’s where Wi-Fi 6E comes in. 

In 2022, the average home had 22 networked devices. While some of us, like yours truly, run Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) and 10 GbE, most of us, at our homes or offices, use Wi-Fi. To keep our work running, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming, and Minecraft mining, we need the speed that Wi-Fi 6E can deliver. 

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Wi-Fi 6E, known in engineering circles as 802.11ax, is the latest wireless technology advancement. It extends the capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 into the 6 GHz band. This new frequency band, ranging from 5.925 GHz to 7.125 GHz, offers up to 1,200 MHz of additional spectrum, enabling more bandwidth, faster speeds, and lower latency. 

Another Wi-Fi 6E advantage is that its channels don’t overlap with the existing Wi-Fi bands where channels are currently crammed into a limited spectrum range. In particular, the 2.4 GHz range, which we’ve used since 1999’s 802.11b Wi-Fi standard limited frequency range, makes it a Wi-Fi traffic jam. Just like real-world traffic jams, this causes both throughput and latency slowdowns. 

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Wi-Fi 6E’s 160 MHz channels traffic lanes also can handle far more data. How much more? While Wi-Fi 6 devices max out in theory at 9.6 Gigabits per second (Gbps), in the real world, you’ll see speeds at just a hair over 1 Gbps at best.  With Wi-Fi 6E, using a NetGear Orbi 960 Series Quad-Band WiFi 6E Mesh System, I managed to get a speed above 1.5Gbps. Now, that’s fast!

How? Several factors play into it. 

Wi-Fi 6E

Wi-Fi Alliance

First, while Wi-Fi 6E also supports 2.4 and 5 GHz, its 6 GHz additional spectrum capacity can accommodate 14 additional 80 MHz channels or seven additional 160 MHz wide channels. The bigger the MHz range, the more data you can pack into it. 

Wi-Fi 6E also supports multi-user, multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO). This standard enables your access point (AP) to transmit concurrently to multiple receivers while also simultaneously receiving from multiple transmitters. The latter is useful for maximizing mesh network performance. 

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Wi-Fi 6E uses 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM) to encode more data in the same amount of spectrum. It also uses beamforming to enable higher data rates at a given range resulting in greater network capacity for specific devices. Finally, it deploys orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) to share channels to increase network efficiency and lower latency for both uplink and downlink traffic in busy Wi-Fi environments. 

What all that means for you is you can enjoy 8K movies, AR/VR gaming, and large file downloads — all without buffering. It also means your overall Wi-Fi performance, whether it’s just you, your family, or a business, will see a dramatic improvement. 

Sadly, it’s not all fun and games. While Wi-Fi 6E offers numerous performance benefits, it’s important to note that the 6 GHz wireless spectrum uses shorter wavelengths. Short wavelengths are great for fast data transfers, but they have a harder time traveling long distances and suffer greater interference from physical obstructions like dense walls or floors in a building. 

Also: Mesh routers vs. Wi-Fi routers: What is best for your home office?

For all practical purposes, to get the most from Wi-Fi 6E, it must be in the same room with the equipment using it. Now, mesh networks can help with that, so it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. 

Furthermore, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working on finalizing the Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) system. This will allow 6E Wi-Fi devices to operate at increased power levels. This fix, which firmware upgrades will distribute, will increase 6E’s range and overall performance.

But, before you run out to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E, there are several things you should know.

First, it costs serious coin. That Netgear mesh network I mentioned earlier? It’s $1,471. I can justify that. Can you? There are less expensive Wi-Fi 6E routers, such as the Nest Wifi Pro$395, the NETGEAR Nighthawk 12-Stream WiFi 6E Router (RAXE500) for $510 and the TP-Link Archer AXE75 for $195. But they’re not cheap either. Remember what I said about this technology’s very limited range? You need either a mesh or multiple APs to cover more than a single room. 

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That’s only the start of your Wi-Fi 6E shopping list. To make the most of it, you need a phone, PC, or whatever that supports 6E. For example, only 2023 Apple equipment supports 6E; for Samsung smartphones, you need a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or newer; and Google Pixel 6 or more recent models. As for PCs and laptops, any that support Windows 11 may also support Wi-Fi 6E. Before buying, be sure to check that it comes with Wi-Fi 6 built-in.

If you have an older laptop or PC, you may be able to upgrade it to use 6E. Gear to look into for this include the D-Link DWA-X-1850 USB-to-WiFi 6 Adapter; NETGEAR Nighthawk WiFi 6E USB 3.0 Adapter (A8000); and Asus PCE-AXE58BT WiFi 6E PCI-E Adapter. These all tend to cost between $70 and $80.

In addition, Wi-Fi 6E can only deliver 1 Gbps+ speeds if you’ve got a 1 Gbps+ connection. If your internet is stuck at 300 Megabits per second (Mbps), they’re not a lot of point in spending on 6E.  

Also: How to convert your home’s old TV cable into powerful Ethernet lines

Last but not least, there’s the range problem. You’ll see a rapid drop off in maximum speed past about ten feet. 

But, if you need serious speed for your networking or want to future-proof your geat, go ahead and get W-Fi 6E. The next generation of Wi-Fi, 802.11be, Wi-Fi 7, is still a work in progress. You won’t see finished gear using the final version of the standard until 2024 at the earliest. 

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