Wi-Fi 6E vs Wi-Fi 7: What’s the difference?

A smartphone showing the logo for Wi-Fi 7
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Wi-Fi technology is better than ever, but if you’re hunting for one of the best Wi-Fi routers right now, choosing the right Wi-Fi version can be a bit complicated. 

Your choice is complicated by a new Wi-Fi standard called Wi-Fi 7 that was recently approved and will soon be available in new devices early next year. Although they’ve historically been more expensive, the best Wi-Fi 6 routers will likely come down in price once devices with Wi-Fi 7 begin rolling out.

Whether you’re in the market for a new router or just doing your research before your next big upgrade, this is everything you need to know about how Wi-Fi 6E compares to Wi-Fi 7 and why you might want to hold off before replacing your existing networking equipment.

Wi-Fi 6E

Wi-Fi 6E

(Image credit: Broadcom)

Back in 2019, the introduction of Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) was quite the big deal as it was the first new Wi-Fi version in five years. The previous Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac only used the 5 gigahertz (GHz) band while 802.11n used both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. Not only does Wi-Fi 6 use both bands, it also pushed the maximum speed from 6.9 gigabits per second (Gbps) to 9.6 Gbps.

In 2021, though, something new happened with Wi-Fi that had never occurred before. An extended implementation of 802.11ax called Wi-Fi 6E was introduced. Wi-Fi 6E not only lowered a router’s latency but also added a new 6 GHz band thanks to an additional block of spectrum being unlocked by the FCC. This gave users even more bands to work with, and while the 2.4GHz band has the longest range, the 5 and 6 GHz bands are much faster.

It’s worth noting that Wi-Fi 6E is the same as Wi-Fi 6 in terms of speed, though Wi-Fi 6 routers can't access the 6GHz band. (They don't cost as much as Wi-Fi 6E routers, though.) Also, if you’re considering picking up one of the best mesh Wi-Fi systems but don’t have any Wi-Fi 6E devices, don’t worry — many mesh routers use the 6GHz band for wireless backhaul. As the mesh satellites will be communicating over the 6GHz band, this frees up the 2.4 and 5GHz bands for your other devices. 

Another important thing about Wi-Fi 6E is that it has wider channels than previous Wi-Fi standards — and it also has more of them. There’s a total of 21 channels at various frequencies, so if you live in a crowded area, you’re less likely to experience interference from your neighbor’s router. 

There is one downside to the 6GHz band, though. Since it uses higher frequencies, it has a much shorter range. For this reason, you’ll want to be in the same room as your router if you're connected to the 6GHz band.

Wi-Fi 7

Wi-Fi 7 (also known as 802.11be) will use the 2.4, 5 and 6 GHz bands just like Wi-Fi 6E but its biggest selling point is Extremely High Throughput (EHT). This will allow Wi-Fi 7 routers to reach speeds of up to 46 Gbps. Yes, you read that correctly.

Another big advantage the latest Wi-Fi standard claims over existing ones is that it will have several multi-link options to significantly increase throughput while reducing latency. Traditional Wi-Fi devices use just a single link to transmit data, but Wi-Fi 7’s Multi-Link Operation (MLO) makes it possible for devices to simultaneously send and receive data across different frequency bands and channels.

If you’re looking for the fastest experience possible, Wi-Fi 7 is 4.8x faster than Wi-Fi 6E. The battery life of your smartphone, laptop and other connected devices will likely also see an increase due to Wi-Fi 7’s new Restricted Target Wake Time feature that lets your router reserve bandwidth for certain types of transmissions.

Wi-Fi 6E may have opened up more bandwidth but Wi-Fi 7 looks to top this with a 320MHz channel width available on the 6GHz band. This is double the maximum channel bandwidth of the 5GHz band at 160 MHz and almost four times the 83Mhz of channel bandwidth available on the entire 2.4GHz band.

We’ll have to wait until we get a chance to test out some Wi-Fi 7 routers in person but on paper, Wi-Fi 7 is a huge upgrade over both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E.

Wi-Fi 6E vs Wi-Fi 7: Specifications

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Wi-Fi 6EWi-Fi 7
Data bands2.5, 5 and 6GHz2.5, 5 and 6GHz
Bandwidth (Channels)20, 40 , 80, 80+80, 160MHz20, 40 , 80, 80+80, 160, 320MHz
Max speed9.6 Gbps46 Gbps

When will Wi-Fi 7 devices become available?

TP-Link Deco BE95 mesh router

(Image credit: TP-Link)

Wi-Fi 7-enabled routers are expected to arrive early next year and TP-Link has already shown off quite a few new models at its Wi-Fi 7 launch event (opens in new tab) back in November. We’ll likely get to see them in person as well as similar offerings from Netgear, Linksys, Asus and other networking hardware makers at CES 2023 when that trade show gets underway in January.

Is it worth upgrading to a Wi-Fi 7 router?

Whether or not it will be worth upgrading to a Wi-Fi 7 router depends on your current equipment. If you have an older Wi-Fi 5 router, then it will definitely be worth it, as you’ll likely see a big performance boost. However, if you have a newer router with Wi-Fi 6E, you might want to hold off a bit before upgrading. 

Regardless, one of the best things about the introduction of new Wi-Fi standards is that they are always backward-compatible with existing ones. This means that your Wi-Fi 6 devices will work just fine with your Wi-Fi 7 router but you won’t be able to reach the maximum speeds offered by the latest generation of Wi-Fi. 

If you’re currently using an older router, waiting until Wi-Fi 7 devices are released could be worth your while, especially if you’re looking for a better deal on a new Wi-Fi 6E router. 

Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.