Wi-Fi 6 hardware finally arrived on the market, and you will see more and more released in 2020. But people are already talking about something new: Wi-Fi 6E, which promises to reduce Wi-Fi bottlenecks even further.
Update: We originally wrote this article in January 2020. On April 23, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission chose to open the 6 GHz band for unauthorized use later this year, paving the way for Wi-Fi 6E in the US. Other countries haven’t made the same decision, so Wi-Fi 6E still faces regulatory obstacles in most of the world.
What Is Wi-Fi 6E?
Wi-Fi 6 and previous generations of Wi-Fi use 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio bands. “Wi-Fi 6E” devices are devices that are capable of operating on the 6 GHz band as well.
The 6 GHz spectrum must work with WiFi 6 over 5 GHz but offer additional channels that don’t overlap. As the Wi-Fi Alliance said, Wi-Fi 6E allows for “14 additional 80 MHz channels and 7 additional 160 MHz channels.” These channels will not overlap with each other, which will help reduce congestion, especially in areas where many networks operate.
All devices that communicate on the 6 GHz spectrum will also become Wi-Fi 6 devices. There will be no older devices using standards such as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). All devices on the 6 GHz channel will speak the same language and can use the new Wi-Fi 6 jam removal feature.
In other words, Wi-Fi 6E is Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) over 6 GHz.
Wi-Fi 6E Is Waiting on Regulatory Agencies Outside the USA
If 6 GHz is very useful, why isn’t the existing Wi-Fi standard using it? Yeah, they can’t. The regulatory body does not allow Wi-Fi to use the 6 GHz band, instead ordering it for other purposes.
Back in October 2018, the US Federal Communications Commission proposed offering a 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi and other “unlicensed” uses. That did not happen immediately, and Wi-Fi 6E began to take shape before regulatory approval. On April 23, 2020, the FCC chose to open the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi 6E and other uses later this year, so the Wi-Fi 6E device was removed for launch in the US.
The pre-CES 2020 Wi-Fi Alliance announcement of Wi-Fi 6E recognizes this, referring to 6 GHz as “an important part of the unlicensed spectrum that may soon be provided by regulators around the world.” Pay attention to the word “maybe” and not the word “will” – it’s up to government regulators, not industry.
When Will Wi-Fi 6E Hardware Be Available?
The Wi-Fi Alliance also said that “the 6E Wi-Fi device is expected to be available quickly following the 6 GHz regulatory approval.” With the FCC vote, we will see more products announced and scheduled to be released.
This industry already looks excited for regulators to allow Wi-Fi 6. During CES 2020, Broadcom announced several system-on-a-chip products that can be purchased by router manufacturers to create access points that support Wi-Fi 6E.
Intel announced that it will have a 6E WI-Fi chip available in January 2021, so it seems that Wi-Fi 6E will begin to appear in 2021 and become more common towards 2022 – at least in the US.
However, despite all the excitement and interest, there is still no official schedule when regulators around the world will make the spectrum available for unauthorized use. Wi-Fi 6E does not have a definite release date in most countries.
Wi-Fi Over 6 GHz Requires New Devices
Wi-Fi 6E devices will be compatible with Wi-Fi 6 and previous Wi-Fi standards. But, to take advantage of the new 6 GHz channel on Wi-Fi 6E, you only need to use a device that supports it. In other words, Allll will only use Wi-Fi 6E after you have paired a client device that supports Wi-Fi 6E (such as a laptop or smartphone) and an access point that has Wi-Fi 6E enabled.
For example, even if you have many Wi-Fi 6 devices and routers that support Wi-Fi 6E, none of your devices communicate via Wi-FI 6E. They will all use Wi-Fi 6 on 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz channels.
Don’t Wait For Wi-Fi 6E…
In technology, there is always something new on the horizon. For Wi-Fi now, it’s Wi-Fi 6E.
Some Wi-Fi 6 devices, such as routers, laptops, smartphones, have already been sold. Many more will be released throughout 2020. Wi-Fi 6 is not an extreme upgrade in terms of speed, but will lead to faster Wi-Fi along with less wireless jams and possibly even extending battery life for your device.
Meanwhile, Wi-Fi 6E isn’t here yet. There is no definite time limit for when regulations will be changed in most countries and manufacturers have not announced when products with Wi-Fi 6E will be available. Even after you can buy a device that supports Wi-Fi 6E, the main benefit will be to reduce congestion through additional wireless channels. That is a great long-term goal, but we don’t think it’s worth doing if you are thinking of upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 gear.
…But Don’t Rush to Buy Wi-Fi 6, Either
Of course, you don’t necessarily need to run out and buy a new Wi-Fi 6-enabled router today. Most of the devices you have likely don’t support Wi-Fi 6 yet.
For example, Apple’s iPhone 11 model does support Wi-Fi 6, but the old iPhone model doesn’t. Even Apple’s new MacBook Pro models released in late 2019 do not include Wi-Fi support 6. New advanced Samsung phones such as the Galaxy S10 have Wi-Fi 6 hardware, but most Android phones don’t. Only a handful of laptop PCs that support Wi-Fi 6. This is very early for Wi-Fi 6.
There is a good chance that, over the next few years, the new device that you buy will increasingly have Wi-Fi 6. But you might not get Wi-Fi 6E on that device – only Wi-Fi 6. It’s OK. Wi-Fi 6E sounds good, but it’s not here yet.
Note that the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi 6E is different from the 60 GHz band, which will be utilized by WiGig. 6 GHz Wi-Fi 6E will work together with 5 GHz Wi-Fi, while WiGig is ideal for faster data transfer speeds at shorter distances.