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What is Wi-Fi 6E: Routers, devices and how it’s better than Wi-Fi 6

Wi-fi 6e
(Image credit: Netgear)

Just when you got used to Wi-Fi 6 being the best way to build a home network, Wi-Fi 6e arrives with the power to change the way you think about and use wireless data. By adding a new 6GHz transmission band and opening up a slew of high-performance data channels, Wi-Fi 6e can boost data delivery to new levels but it suffers from limited range.

What is Wi-Fi 6e?

Based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11ax specification, Wi-Fi 6e opens up 1.2GHz of high frequency spectrum from 5.925- to 7.125GHz for moving huge gobs of data. This makes it the biggest addition to Wi-Fi since the original 802.11b gear came out more than 20 years ago.

Wi-fi 6e

(Image credit: Netgear)

“This is a gigantic leap forward for Wi-Fi,” says Kevin Robinson, senior vice president for marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance. “It pushes performance to the limit and can help enable new uses.” In addition to all-out online gaming and more easily viewing 8K online videos, Wi-Fi 6e can help keep videoconferencers from staring at frozen faces and opens up new vistas in telemedicine as well as augmented and virtual reality.

Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6e

A look inside the Wi-Fi 6e spec shows there are several key performance updates. In addition to a low latency design that will make gamers drool, Wi-Fi 6e can tolerate interference better and adds more than 100 new data channels compared to Wi-Fi 6. In fact, it offers seven extra ultra-wide 160MHz channels – up from Wi-Fi 6’s single usable 160MHz channel.

While it matches Wi-Fi 6 with an overall bandwidth of 9.6Gbps, WiFi-6e can help users frustrated with low throughput by spreading the data out over a wider swath of spectrum by using the 2.4-, 5- and now the 6GHz bands. Think of Wi-Fi 6e as a cascade of data: up close to the router, 6GHz’s peak performance will dominate, then it will automatically switch over to 5GHz as you go down the hallway and finally rely on 2.4GHz for long range connections.

“Wi-Fi 6e will be most beneficial in areas where high-speed data is most important,” adds the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Robinson. “It will provide an extra punch of performance.”

When is Wi-Fi 6e coming?

The wait for Wi-Fi 6e equipment will likely be much shorter than earlier wireless data specs. That’s because some of it is already here. The first Wi-Fi 6e routers have already started selling and we'll begin to see more Wi-Fi 6e routers and mesh systems throughout 2021.

After that, Wi-Fi 7 is on the way. The details are still being worked out, but it will be based on the 802.11be’s Extremely High Throughput (EHT) technology. This next-gen spec has promise to further lower latency, while raising available bandwidth and making sure everyone at home has access to all the data they want.

But these changes are all in the developmental stages, and we don't expect to see Wi-Fi 7 arriving to consumer products until 2024, making Wi-Fi 6e the biggest standard change to watch for in the coming years.

Wi-Fi 6e routers

On the router side of the 6e equation, there are chips available from Intel, Broadcom, Qualcomm and others that will be used to create a new generation of routers. A glance at our list of the routers of CES 2021 shows several Wi-Fi 6e routers on the horizon.

Wi-fi 6e

Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 (Image credit: Netgear)

The first three products are the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000, the Linksys AXE8400 mesh system and the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500.

Wi-fi 6e

Linksys AXE8400 (Image credit: Belkin)

All are tri-band premium devices that will sell for between $450 for a conventional router and $1,200 for a three-piece mesh networking kit.

Wi-Fi 6e devices

At the receiving end, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra phone has Wi-Fi 6e built in. Others are expected to jump in with their own hardware over the year.

Wi-fi 6e

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image credit: Future)

The good news is that the Wi-Fi Alliance has started certifying the new Wi-Fi 6e gear that it will not only work with existing systems but a new generation of wireless gear. By summertime, look for hundreds of Wi-Fi 6e products, from routers, laptops and tablets to phones and augmented reality headsets.

Brian Nadel
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.