Hardware

What is Wi-Fi 6E? Do you need it?

Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6E router
Wi-Fi 6E is fast but very expensive

You might have only just wrapped your head around the concept of Wi-Fi 6. Now here comes Wi-Fi 6E, another Wi-Fi standard to deal with. Find out what this new standard is all about and whether you really need it here.

What is Wi-Fi 6E?

The big difference that Wi-Fi 6E makes is that it opens up another band, namely 6GHz.

Most Wi-Fi routers on sale today beam signals out over two bands: the highly congested 2.4GHz band, and the less traffic-heavy 5GHz band. Wi-Fi 6 brings 6GHz into play.

6GHz brings two key advantages. First, it can handle up to seven simultaneous and maxed-out connections, better meeting the needs of a modern home and office. In short, you’ll have much greater bandwidth for moving data around your network.

Second, it will be almost entirely congestion free. The 2.4GHz band is swamped, particularly in heavily built-up areas where multiple networks co-exist, and the 5GHz band is rapidly heading the same way.

The first Wi-Fi 6E devices are only just appearing on the market, at the time of writing in October 2021, which means you’re not going to suffer from interference from neighbour’s devices.

In theory, that should deliver a much more solid Wi-Fi connection at higher speeds. However, remember that you’ll also need devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets to include Wi-Fi 6E chips to take full advantage of those speeds, and right now there are precisely none of those on the market. Expect to see such devices in 2022.

Should you buy a Wi-Fi 6E router?

At the moment, that would be a costly investment. The Netgear Orbi Quad-band Mesh WiFi 6E System that was released earlier this week costs a staggering £1,499. That’s a top-end mesh router system, and cheaper devices will appear on the market soon, but you’re going to be paying a premium for Wi-Fi 6E for quite a while.

Unless you have a very high speed broadband connection or you’re moving lots of data around your home/office network (backing up 4K video to a NAS, for example) then you’ll probably be fine with a standard Wi-Fi 6 router for the time being. The Honor Router 3 is a perfectly decent Wi-Fi 6 router that costs less than £70, for instance.

The time will come when Wi-Fi 6E is found in routers that don’t cost more than an Apple MacBook. Unless you’ve got a desperate need for the fastest possible Wi-Fi speeds and the money to burn, I’d wait for prices to drop.

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About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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