Do you remember when everyone was singing WiFi 6’s praises, talking about how it was basically the best thing to happen to the internet since wireless devices were invented? Well, the WiFi Alliance and FCC decided they could actually do better and announced WiFi 6E in 2020. Here’s everything you need to know about the new designation.
What is WiFi 6E?
This is the designation or industry name for products that will operate in the 6GHz wireless spectrum. It will apply to any WiFi 6 (802.11ax) products that support the new unlicensed spectrum.
What is the 6GHz wireless spectrum?
The unlicensed spectrum is where WiFi operates. We’re used to hearing about the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrums – these are the frequency bands where WiFi has existed for decades. Now though, different countries and regulatory bodies have voted to open up the 6GHz band for unlicensed use.
This might not seem that exciting, but this is the first time in a long time that the amount of available unlicensed spectrum has changed. While WiFi demands have been and continue to explode, the spectrum that networks and devices had to operate within remained the same size. Now that’s changing for anyone who lives in the U.S., as well as Brazil, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, and the U.K.
What’s the real difference between WiFi 6E and WiFi 6?
In a lot of ways, the two are the same. 6E will offer higher performance, lower latency, and faster data rates – exactly like 6. However, the 6GHz band has significantly more channels available for APs and devices to use. Specifically, it adds 14 additional 80MHz channels and 7 additional 160MHz channels. As an added bonus, the only devices that can access those channels are 6E devices, no legacy devices allowed.
This means that WiFi 6E will be less congested and offer less signal interference, so its promised faster data throughput and lower latency will be even faster and even lower than that offered by the other frequency bands. This makes it especially useful for data intensive next generation technologies like cloud computing, augmented and virtual reality, or anything requiring instantaneous responses to commands or mouse clicks.
Are there any downsides?
All technologies have their pros and cons, and WiFi 6E is no different. The 6GHz spectrum uses shorter wavelengths than its 2.4GHz and 5GHz counterparts. This is partly what allows it to transfer data so quickly, but these shorter wavelengths struggle to travel long distances and experience greater degradation from non-WiFi friendly obstructions like dense walls, metal doors, and large bodies of water like aquariums.
This means that anyone using the new technology will need to be very strategic about the placement of APs, which is nothing new for anyone familiar with network design. They will also likely want to make sure that devices and APs have the ability to connect to the network using the other frequencies as well for the most reliable connections.
Should I start upgrading now?
There aren’t many 6E devices on the market, and any you do find are likely to be fairly expensive. If you operate in a congested, data-intensive environment and have a critical need for any technology that will shave even seconds off network response times, you probably want to start researching 6E and making room in your budget. For everyone else, you’re safe to wait until more devices are on the market and your network infrastructure actually needs an upgrade.