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Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 6e: What's the difference?

The Wi-Fi symbol displayed on the screen of a smartphone held in a person's hands.
(Image credit: FREEPIK2/Shutterstock)

While Wi-Fi 6 (aka IEEE standard 802.11ax) currently dominates the sales of home Wi-Fi routers, there's a new wireless data standard on the block, and it could blow away all the others.

Wi-Fi 6e, an extended implementation of 802.11ax, not only pushes data throughput to the limit by adding more than a gigahertz of wireless spectrum but opens up ultra-wide data channels to be used for everything from online gaming to augmented-reality goggles.

However, Wi-Fi 6e routers cost a lot more than their Wi-Fi 6 siblings, and there aren't yet many laptops, smartphones or tablets that are compatible with the latest standard. Read on to figure out whether Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6e is right for you.

Wi-Fi 6

When the first 802.11ax routers appeared in 2019, it was like a breath of fresh air for wireless home networking. Dubbed High Efficiency Wi-Fi, or HEW for short, Wi-Fi 6 was a major reworking of the way wireless data traveled through the air and was a big step up from 2012's 802.11ac standard (retroactively rebranded as Wi-Fi 5).

In addition to the use of 1024 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (1024-QAM) to squeeze as much as 25% more data into the same frequency range, Wi-Fi 6 added Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OPFDMA) to reduce the downtime between bursts of data transmission. It could also handle up to eight independent streams of data to create reliable connections to devices throughout the house.

Wi-Fi 6 can send and receive data over both the 2.4- and 5-gigahertz (GHz) bands (Wi-Fi 5 is 5-GHz only) and can move even more data by running a single ultra-wide 160-megahertz (MHz) channel on its 5-GHz band.

Perfect for gaming, this data-hog channel is a specialty feature that requires grabbing eight 20-MHz general-purpose channels. In other words, it comes at the expense of less-data-hungry users around the house.

The new standard added up to a big increase in available bandwidth for everything from streaming 4K movies to catching up on ignored emails. For instance, the four Wi-Fi 6 routers on our Best Wi-Fi Routers page moved an average of 1.146 gigabits per second (Gbps) at a range of 15 feet in our tests. That's more than one-third faster than the average 739 megabit-per-second (Mbps) rate delivered by our top six Wi-Fi 5 routers. 

Want yet more performance? Read on to see what Wi-Fi 6e can do for your home wireless network.

The Need for Speed
Wi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6e
Data delivery rate at 15 feet739 Mbps1.146 Gbps1.788 Gbps

A bar chart showing the data-delivery differences among the Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e networking standards.

(Image credit: Brian Nadel/Future)

Wi-Fi 6e

The Wi-Fi 6e specification made its debut on consumer devices in the spring of 2021. In addition to lowering a router's latency to create faster network response, Wi-Fi 6e added more than a gigahertz of fresh electromagnetic spectrum space in the U.S., ranging from 5.925 GHz to 7.125 GHz.

This additional block of spectrum, generally referred as the 6-GHz band, allows routers to create an extra 14 data channels that are 80 MHz wide or as many as seven heavy-duty 160-MHz-wide data channels. In the real world, this means that an online gamer or an augmented-reality-goggle wearer can now grab a 160-MHz channel without starving the rest of the household of data.

Virgin territory as far as Wi-Fi is concerned, the 6-GHz realm helps those who live (and often work) in areas crowded with different Wi-Fi networks, such as apartment buildings. In other words, if it's hard to get a reliable connection to your router with a 5-GHz network, due to congestion on that band, then Wi-Fi 6e's 6-GHz band will likely work better and deliver more data.

This 6-GHz advantage is also one of Wi-Fi 6e's greatest shortcomings. Higher frequencies mean shorter range, and the 6-GHz frequency is so high that its range is limited to same-room or next-room connections. Once you're out of 6-GHz range, the router automatically switches your connection over to a 5-GHz link.

Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6e: Specifications
Wi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6e
Data bands2.4 and 5 GHz2.4, 5 and 6 GHz
Number of 160-MHz-wide channels available1 (in 5-GHz band)8 (1 in 5-GHz, 7 in 6-GHz bands)
Mesh capableYesYes

Which devices support Wi-Fi 6e?

There's no shortage of Wi-Fi 6e routers, including several mesh kits, now available. The limiting factor is at the client-device level. At the moment, there are Wi-Fi 6e-compatible Windows PCs and Android smartphones, but no Wi-Fi 6e-ready Apple macOS and iOS computers, phones or tablets.

The result is that as of early 2022, only a handful of client systems were available to take advantage of the extra speed, such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Motorola Edge 5G and Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones and the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro laptop. 

The list of compatible devices is expected to grow in 2022 with dozens of new systems coming out that have the Wi-Fi 6e speed advantage.

Among the three Wi-Fi6e routers on our Best Wi-Fi Routers page, the average data throughput in our tests was an amazing 1.788 Gbps. Not enough? The Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 led with 2.396 Gbps of total bandwidth available. 

This blows away Wi-Fi 6, was more than twice as fast as the typical Wi-Fi 5 router and makes a credible case for ditching gigabit-Ethernet wired local networks, at least for short-range uses.

On the other hand, the first Wi-Fi 6e routers are priced more like a bottle of rare wine than a keg of beer. Netgear offers the Orbi RBKE963 three-piece mesh kit for $1,500, and it is hard to justify paying that when there are competent Wi-Fi 6 routers that cost $150.

Also, bear in mind that the average home broadband speed in the U.S. is currently about 50 Mbps. The fastest broadband that most people can buy for their homes tops out at 1 gigabit, or 1 Gbps — far less than what Wi-Fi 6 can deliver, not to mention Wi-Fi 6e. Your internet speed won't get much faster if you upgrade from a Wi-Fi 6 router to a Wi-Fi 6e one, although the connection speeds between compatible devices in the home may.

At least for the moment, getting a Wi-Fi 6e router makes sense only for homes that have gigabit internet connections from their ISPs and the latest and most expensive Windows and Android client devices. Otherwise, Wi-Fi 6e remains a luxury that most people don't yet need and can't yet afford.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in technology reporting and reviewing. He works out of the suburban New York City area and has covered topics from nuclear power plants and Wi-Fi routers to cars and tablets. The former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing and Communications, Nadel is the recipient of the TransPacific Writing Award.