As of early 2023, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E are the newest and fastest Wi-Fi systems in mainstream use. Wi-Fi 6 was officially released in 2019, with 6E following a year later.
The two standards are almost identical, except that Wi-Fi 6 operates in the established 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands, whereas Wi-Fi 6E is the first Wi-Fi standard to use the 6GHz band.
How fast are Wi-Fi 6 and 6E?
Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are both based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard, which defines a base connection speed of 1.2Gbits/sec. Since many devices and routers can transmit and receive two data streams at once (a configuration called 2×2 MIMO), an effective speed of 2.4Gbits/sec is often achievable. With the right hardware, 4×4 and 8×8 connections are also possible.
Such performance figures can be misleading, however, as wireless performance is invariably affected by environmental factors, including electrical interference. The 6GHz band typically experiences less interference than the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, with the result that Wi-Fi 6E tends to provide better real-world performance than Wi-Fi 6.
What advantages do Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E have over previous Wi-Fi standards?
Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are faster than any previous standard. Wi-Fi 5 (also known as 802.11ac) uses a lower base connection speed of 433Mbits/sec, which translates to slower transfers and downloads.
Wi-Fi 6 also introduces a new bandwidth-sharing technology called OFDMA, which reduces network slowdown when multiple clients want to communicate at once. And the Target Wake Time feature lets mobile devices temporarily turn off their wireless hardware when it’s not in use, reducing battery drain.
Finally, Wi-Fi 6 devices are required to support the latest WPA3 encryption standard, which ensures that wireless communications can’t be spied on.
Can older devices connect to Wi-Fi 6 and 6E?
Wi-Fi 6 is fully backward compatible. Any Wi-Fi device from a previous generation can connect to a Wi-Fi 6 router, on either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio band – although the older technology won’t be able to take advantage of the full speed of the router.
Legacy devices also can’t make use of the 6GHz band, as this is only accessible to Wi-Fi 6E hardware. However, all Wi-Fi 6E routers maintain support for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, so clients using different standards can still connect.
Is it worth waiting for Wi-Fi 7?
The first Wi-Fi 7 routers and devices are expected to appear in 2023, promising connection speeds up to five times as fast as current technology along with lower latency. This could improve the quality and responsiveness of online communications, and open up new applications such as augmented reality.
However, the initial hardware is likely to be expensive, and Wi-Fi 6E is already fast enough for most current workflows. Upgrading won’t be a priority for many businesses: we’re likely to see a slow adoption over several years, rather than a big switch.
- Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are today’s fastest mainstream Wi-Fi standards.
- The two systems use the same core technologies, but Wi-Fi 6E can achieve higher speeds by using the less congested 6GHz radio band.
- Both standards are faster, more energy-efficient and more secure than Wi-Fi 5.
- Older Wi-Fi devices can connect to a Wi-Fi 6 or 6E router, although they won’t achieve the full speeds the network is capable of.
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