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Wi-Fi 6 is the fastest standard yet, but Wi-Fi 6E will take it to another level

Published On : Thursday Jun 25 2020

Wi-Fi 6 is the fastest standard yet, but Wi-Fi 6E will take it to another level

Speed is key with Wi-Fi, and the category has certainly been moving fast as of late. First came Wi-Fi 6, a brand-new, faster version of Wi-Fi that started hitting the market in 2019. Now, after a unanimous vote in April, the Federal Communications Commission is opening up an entire new band of spectrum to accommodate next-gen devices designed to tap into it.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group that manages Wi-Fi nomenclature, branded this new spectrum and the devices that can take advantage of it under a new name: Wi-Fi 6E. The first such devices are expected to begin hitting stores by the end of this year. One industry-funded report claims that, along with providing faster speeds and new room for growing internet traffic, the move will generate more than $180 billion in US revenue over the next five years.


In other words, it’s been a busy couple of years for Wi-Fi — and the arrival of Wi-Fi 6E might be the most significant development yet. Here’s some context to help you wrap your head around it.

Let’s talk 6GHz

Last year, I wrote a post about Wi-Fi 6 that explains the new capabilities it brings to next-gen routers. In a nutshell, it’s a faster, more efficient version of Wi-Fi that allows wireless access points like routers to better manage networks crowded with lots of users and client devices. My convoluted metaphor for all of that was to imagine your router as a bartender, and the devices on your network as the people trying to order drinks. A Wi-Fi 6 router is like a four-armed bartender capable of efficiently serving drinks to several patrons at once.

Enter Wi-Fi 6E. It isn’t a new version of Wi-Fi like Wi-Fi 6, but rather a term that identifies Wi-Fi 6 devices that are equipped with the chips and radios needed to operate in that new mass of spectrum the FCC just opened up. If a Wi-Fi 6 router is a better bartender, then a Wi-Fi 6E router is a better bartender with a brand-new bar, one with an exclusive client list and lots of room to work.

That new spectrum sits in the 6GHz band, a band that wasn’t previously allocated for unlicensed Wi-Fi use like the 2.4 and 5GHz bands already were. So what’s so great about 6GHz?

All about bandwidth

Time for another metaphor!

Let’s say that you’ve got a gallon of milk sitting on your kitchen counter representing the entire spectrum of radio frequencies. You take a needle, jab it into the side of the carton, and then pull it out. A very thin stream of milk begins to jet out several feet. Then, you take something a little thicker, like a nail, and poke another hole into the side of the container. More milk shoots out this time because the hole is wider — but it doesn’t go as far.

You can think of those two holes as the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. With a frequency range of just 70MHz, the 2.4GHz band is the narrower of the two. Like the needle-poked hole shooting milk across your kitchen, it can send data at a reasonable distance, but with such a small opening, there’s a limit to how much it can send. With 500MHz of bandwidth, the 5GHz band represents a bigger hole in the milk carton. It can pass more data at once — but it can’t send it quite as far.

That brings us to Wi-Fi 6E’s 6GHz band and its 1,200MHz of additional bandwidth. It’s like you’ve punched a hole in the milk carton the size of a quarter. Tons of milk comes gushing out, but it gushes downward and doesn’t travel very far at all.

The takeaway is that the 6GHz band will be best suited for close-range connections, ideally between devices that are in the same room as one another. In situations like that, the two devices should be able to pass huge amounts of data back and forth with the full efficiency of Wi-Fi 6. We’ll look forward to testing connections like those (and their range limitations) at the end of this year, when Wi-Fi 6E-compatible routers start to arrive…Read more>>



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