If working from home has you cursing your home wifi network, here’s some good news: The FCC recently approved a new wifi connection standard, Wifi 6E, which lets wireless routers access the 6GHz band. What does that mean for you? Faster, more stable wifi connections”once the first Wifi 6E products launch in late 2020.
Of course, this raises a lot of questions: Just how much of an improvement will Wifi 6E actually be over Wifi 6? What will you need to upgrade? Will your current devices be made suddenly obsolete?
Put on your wireless-signal-blocking tinfoil hats, and let’s dig in.
What kind upgrade is Wifi 6E really?
We won’t truly know how much of an upgrade Wifi 6E is going to be until the first 6E devices are in our homes, but the technology is promising.
Routers on the current standard, Wifi 6, use either the 2.4Ghz or 5GHz bands, while the new 6E routers will be able to use the 6GHz band, which is largely free of noise at this point. Experts seem to think there’s plenty of 6GHz to go around and that tapping into the band will lead to faster, clearer connections between your wifi devices.
We certainly hope that ends up being the case”after all, a lot of what’s being said about 6E has also been said about 5G. Unfortunately, mobile 5G’s touted benefits have been 5G counterparts.
Will you need to upgrade your gear to use Wifi 6E?
Oh yes. Much like how mobile 5G connections require 5G-compatible phones, you’ll need new hardware to access 6GHz. This includes a Wifi 6E router, plus PCs, smartphones and other devices that can communicate with it on the 6GHz band.
The first Wifi 6E products are expected to launch late in 2020. Once you have a fully wifi 6E-compatible setup you should theoretically be able to see the benefits right away (though there are ways to tune-up your wireless network in the meantime).
Should you upgrade to the first Wifi 6E router that hits the market?
No. Let’s be honest, even in a pretty good home-networking setup, you’re probably using decent wireless-ac gear (wifi 5) at best. And you probably aren’t even maxing out that connection speed with everything you own”nor are all of your devices tapping into your home network’s fastest speeds because they are ill-equipped to run as fast as your network can go.
You can buy Wifi 6 routers right now; they are expensive and likely overkill for your needs. Wireless 6e routers will be similarly expensive (if not more so), and very few (if any) of your devices will be able to connect to them over 6GHz. Those that do probably won’t even be able to tap into their fastest speeds”if we’re talking about handheld devices, especially”since doing so would eat up a lot more battery life, to minimal effect (for most people).
In other words, don’t rush to be an early adopter of Wifi 6e. You’ll find a bigger benefit by improving your home networking setup the old-fashioned way: by wiring up an additional access point or two. Once a bunch of devices you own support Wifi 6e (and who knows when that will be), you can consider upgrading your router and access points. By then, the prices for doing so will hopefully have decreased to reasonable levels.
The best early use of Wifi 6e connectivity will come from wireless mesh gear, as dumping a dedicated backhaul on the 6GHz band is a great way to get solid, uninterrupted connections between your access points. They can then spit out separate, speedy wifi networks on the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands, serving all the data-hungry devices you want to connect up. However, you will undoubtedly pay a premium for these kinds of mesh setups once they arrive.
Will your old devices become obsolete?
No. All your current devices should continue to work for a long time no matter what kinds of connections they support. It’s expected that upcoming routers will be compatible with both Wifi 6 and Wifi 6E, as well as all the slower standards going back to wireless-n. There’s no reason to think they won’t support all the devices you currently own.