For a couple of years, Wi-Fi 6 was hyped as the solution to wireless networks that had become over-crowded with smartphones, computers, and countless smart home devices all demanding their slice of bandwidth. In 2020 we finally saw a big influx of Wi-Fi 6 devices, just in time for the arrival of a new protocol, Wi-Fi 6E, which companies like Netgear are already embracing as a huge improvement to congested wireless networks.
Wi-Fi 6 (also known as Wi-Fi 802.11ax for those who refuse to abandon the old naming scheme) improved upon Wi-Fi 820.11n’s dual 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band technology by increasing the bandwidth on each channel to accommodate more devices simultaneously with less interference which increased wireless transfer speeds. Wi-Fi 6 was a big improvement for wireless networking technology but at the same time, it was also kind of a band-aid for older technologies that were quickly becoming overwhelmed by the number of wireless devices we use on a regular basis, and their demand for more and more bandwidth.
If 2.4 GHz was the paved suburban road leading to your house while 5 GHz was the major double-lane thoroughfare that takes you downtown, Wi-Fi 6E will introduce a new 6 GHz band that’s the equivalent of a massive multi-lane highway allowing many devices to operate at maximum speed at the same time. The top speeds it will theoretically allow will be on par with what the 5 GHz band offers, but the real benefit of the 6 GHz band is that will offer 59 non-overlapping channels (compared to 25 non-overlapping channels on the 5 GHz band, and just three channels on the 2.4 GHz band) which will dramatically reduce interference that’s a major contributor to reduced bandwidth speeds on a crowded network.
The 6 GHz band spans 1,200 MHz giving Wi-Fi 6E compatible devices access to multiple high-bandwidth 160 MHz channels at the same time which will be much appreciated for anyone jumping on the 8K TV bandwagon. But most importantly, while older wifi protocols were backward compatible, no legacy devices will be able to use the new 6GHz band, only new devices that support it. Using the highway analogy again, your devices won’t find themselves stuck behind a decades-old device that can’t hit the speed limit.
It seemed like it took a couple of years from the time Wi-Fi 6 became an industry buzzword to the time when consumers could actually get their hands on Wi-Fi 6 compatible hardware, but Wi-Fi 6E looks like it’s going to enjoy a much faster rollout. One of the first Wi-Fi 6E wireless routers will be Netgear’s new Nighthawk RAXE500 arriving later this year. Powered by a quad-core 1.8 GHz processor the router will be able to deliver multiple gigabit-speed wireless connections to devices using the Wi-Fi 6E 160 MHz channels, plus fast wired connections with five additional gigabit LAN ports (including one Multi-Gig 2.5G port), and a pair of USB 3.0 ports
As with any new technology, there’s a couple of good reasons to not run out and buy a Wi-Fi 6E router just yet. The first reason is the price. The Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 will sell for $US600 ($780) at launch which can also get you a well-equipped Wi-Fi 6 mesh network system with at least three nodes scattered throughout your house. The second reason is there are very few devices out there that can actually connect to a Wi-Fi 6E network. It’s only in the past few months that companies like Intel, Broadcom, and Samsung have released (or submitted for FCC approval) devices that can take advantage of Wi-Fi 6E speeds. Your new iPhone 12 Pro? Nope. All the gadgets you found under the tree at Christmas? Sorry. It’s going to be quite a while before consumers can actually reap the benefits of Wi-Fi 6E. So for the time being your best plan is to hold out as long as possible until 6E routers like the new Nighthawk start to drop in price.