From The Editor | October 28, 2021

Understanding Wi-Fi 6E — All The Basics You Need to Know

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By Abby Proch, former editor

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Each generation of technology brings with it an enhanced feature, an added benefit, or improved performance. And that's no different for Wi-Fi 6E. (And, soon enough, Wi-Fi 7.) Here, we explore the basics of Wi-Fi 6E and look ahead to what Wi-Fi 7 will bring. 

What is Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E is the latest generation of internet networking protocols. The name was given by the Wi-Fi Alliance, a network of companies that advocates for Wi-Fi adoption and evolution. It does not stand for “wireless fidelity” as some have suggested, but the “6” indicates it is the sixth generation of the technology. It also occupies only the 6GHz band but that also has no bearing on its name. The “E” means extended.

It is also known by its more technical name, 802.11 ax.

Launched as Wi-Fi 6 in 2019, this “E” iteration now occupies the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6GHz spectrum bands and offers a maximum linkrate of 600-9,608 Mbit/s.

What are the benefits of Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E’s top benefits are high throughput rate, lower latency, congestion-free network access, and increased power efficiency.

Because Wi-Fi 6E can transmit up to 9.6 Gbps, it offers much faster throughput (upload and download speeds). With quicker speeds comes lower latency, or lag time, and data is transmitted with fewer and shorter delays.

Wi-Fi 6E also provides lesser network interference because, in theory, data transmission is now spread among Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6E spectrum range.

Wi-Fi 6E achieves speeds closest to those offered by wired connections. 6E has achieved near-parity with wired connections whereby devices connect directly to routers or network switches with an ethernet cable.

Wi-Fi 6E also improves device battery life and cuts down on power consumption by implementing individual target wake times (TWT). For Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile devices, an extended standby or sleep mode of hours, days, even weeks, can yield power usage savings.

How fast is Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E offers maximum throughput of 9.6 Gbps. Wi-Fi 5 maxes out at 3.5 Gbps.

Testing environments, of course, typically elicits the best data transmission speeds, so it’s reasonable to expect varying data speeds depending on number and type of devices using a given network.

What are the applications of Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E supports faster and more seamless experiences in streaming high-quality, high-definition video such as 4K and 8K, enables communications-heavy or streaming online gaming, powers advancements in IoT, and allows all-wireless workplaces.

How is Wi-Fi 6E different from Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6E debuted three new features to help boost performance:

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) – It allows multiple users to transmit data simultaneously across sub-channels called resource units (RU). That means less congestion, and users encounter far less disturbances in transmission.

Overlapping Basic Service Sets (OBSS) – OBSS requires an access point (like a router) to claim a unique “color” to identify itself. If other traffic from a nearby network is on the same channel — but isn’t the same “color” as the home network — devices can disregard the activity and continue transmitting data as intended. Previously, devices had to “listen” for noise on a channel before transmitting. With OBSS, latency and reliability improve.

Beamforming – With beamforming, instead of a router transmitting data in a nonspecific way, it detects where the data request is coming from and then directs a more streamlined beam in that direction. By doing so, a router more effectively reaches its target.

While Wi-Fi 6E offers the same higher performance, lower latency, and faster data rates as Wi-Fi 6, it's different in that it operates within 6 GHz on the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, whereas Wi-Fi 6 operates in 5 GHz. The 6 GHz band provides more wider channel sizes and spectrum with less interference from Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5 devices.

6 GHz alleviates a Wi-Fi spectrum shortage by offering contiguous blocks of spectrum, to include 14 additional 80 MHz channels and seven additional 160 MHz channels, which are prime for high bandwidth uses like gaming, streaming HD video, and virtual reality (VR).

When was Wi-Fi 6E introduced?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ratified unlicensed use of the 6GHz radio frequency spectrum in the U.S. on April 23, 2020. Unlicensed use is permitted for low-power indoor devices on an additional 1.2GHz of the 6GHz band. Certification of products began as early as late 2018 and early 2019. IEEE, the standards body, however, did not published its final standards until May 19, 2021.

What is the next generation of Wi-Fi after 6E?

The next iteration of Wi-Fi is Wi-Fi7, or more technically, 802.11be. While the hallmark of Wi-Fi 6E is efficiency and quality, Wi-Fi 7 will likely focus on speed. It is also said to support 320MHz channels and be better suited to use non-contiguous blocks of spectrum. Yet, Wi-Fi 7 is still forecasted to surpass Wi-Fi 6E speeds with transmission speeds up to 48 Gbps on 320 MHz channels in 6GHz and on 160 MHz channels in 5 GHz.  

What are the projected benefits of Wi-Fi 7?

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi 7 is expected to bring physical and medium access control improvements that can support minimum throughput rates of 30 Gbps. If true, that’s more than three times faster than Wi-Fi 6E (in a test environment).

Increased speed, along with reduced latency, means Wi-Fi 7 will be excellent for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 4K and 8K video streaming, cloud computing, automotive, and gaming applications. The military, industrial, and first responder markets will likely reap the benefits for mission-critical operations.

As with previous generations, Wi-Fi 7 is expected to be backward compatible with devices certified for Wi-Fi 6E and earlier.

When can we expect Wi-Fi 7?

Wi-Fi 7 will likely pop up in 2024. By that time, 5G will likely be as ubiquitous as 4G/LTE is today.

Some experts believe commercial use will debut early, even before the IEEE certification benchmark that’s expected to be published in May 2024. The same early adoption occurred with Wi-Fi 6 when manufacturers made products to support the next generation of Wi-Fi before IEEE published its final standards regarding security and interoperability.