Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6E: What’s the Difference?

Follow our comparative guide to Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E to determine which technology is best for your home.

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Last Updated: Nov 14, 2023
Wi-Fi 6E router powering a home network full of devices
With true gigabit speeds, it might be time for you to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E.
  • The major difference between Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E is that Wi-Fi 6E has the 6 GHz band, unlocking faster speeds with less interference.
  • Wi-Fi 6E utilizes more high-bandwidth channels, which allows it to operate more seamlessly in congested environments.
  • While Wi-Fi 6E does have numerous benefits, fewer devices support it, so it might not be relevant to your current equipment.

Wi-Fi standards are getting more confusing by the day. With the advent of Wi-Fi 6 and its recent extension, Wi-Fi 6E, understanding the landscape of wireless standards has never been more convoluted. For us, it’s almost beginning to feel like it’s a full-time job keeping track of all these standards, but hey, it’s what we do. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the nuances so you can decide whether Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E is the better Wi-Fi technology for your home’s needs.

Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6E: What You Need to Know

There’s only one real difference between Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E: 6E supports the 6 GHz band, while Wi-Fi 6 doesn’t. What does this mean for you? Well, the short answer is faster speeds and better reliability.

Basically, the 6 GHz band is uncharted territory as far as Wi-Fi goes. There’s far less interference than the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz bands, making it ideal for getting the most out of your connection. This scenario is especially true for speeds above 1 Gbps — 6 GHz is the gold standard for achieving gigabit speeds in the real world. 

The Practical Advantages (and Disadvantages) of Wi-Fi 6E

Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E means your network can handle more devices with better performance and less interference. Wi-Fi 6E could provide a noticeable improvement in network quality and speed for households with many connected devices, or those in densely populated areas.

However, it’s not all good news, as Wi-Fi 6E could be incompatible with your current devices, and its signal doesn’t reach as far as 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. So, you may need Wi-Fi extenders or a mesh Wi-Fi router system to get the most out of Wi-Fi 6E technology.

Wi-Fi 6E pros

  • Allows for real-world gigabit Wi-Fi speeds
  • Less interference from common household items

Wi-Fi 6E cons

  • Every device you have has to support it to get the performance gain
  • Shorter signal distance for the fastest speeds

Understanding Wi-Fi 6 (Wi-Fi 6E Has All of This Too)

Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the sixth generation of Wi-Fi and represents a significant leap forward in wireless technology. It builds on the strengths of its predecessors while introducing new technologies to improve network efficiency. Here are all the features of Wi-Fi 6, as well as Wi-Fi 6E:

  • Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA): Enhances network efficiency by allowing multiple users with varying bandwidth needs to be served simultaneously
  • Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO): Allows for the transfer of more data at once and enables an access point to handle a more significant number of concurrent sessions
  • 1024 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (1024-QAM): Increases throughput for emerging applications, such as 4K/8K video streaming
  • Target Wake Time (TWT): Improves device battery life by scheduling wake times, reducing the time they need to keep their antennas active

The Introduction of Wi-Fi 6E

As mentioned above, Wi-Fi 6E extends the capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 by adding support for the 6 GHz band. This additional spectrum is the most significant enhancement, as it provides more airspace beyond the crowded 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, meaning more bandwidth, less interference, and faster speeds. Here’s what Wi-Fi 6E brings to the Wi-Fi table:

  • Additional spectrum: The 6 GHz band provides up to 1,200 MHz of additional spectrum for Wi-Fi use, which translates to more high-bandwidth channels.
  • Less congestion: The 6 GHz band is not used by legacy Wi-Fi, resulting in lower interference and a cleaner signal.
  • Improved performance: With more channels and less interference, Wi-Fi 6E is ideal for high-demand uses like high-definition streaming and gaming.

Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6E: Device Compatibility and Availability

The biggest downside of Wi-Fi 6E is that fewer devices support the new standard, though this situation will change over time.
The biggest downside of Wi-Fi 6E is that fewer devices support the new standard, though this situation will change over time.

While Wi-Fi 6 devices have been available since 2019 and are becoming increasingly common, Wi-Fi 6E devices began hitting the market more recently. To take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6E, both your router and client devices (like smartphones and laptops) must support the 6 GHz band.

For Apple users, the company has a dedicated page for Apple devices that support Wi-Fi 6E. Many current Android devices also support the standard, such as the Galaxy S23 Ultra, Galaxy S23+, and Galaxy S23.

Understanding the Spectrum: A Comparative Analysis of Wi-Fi Bands

Historically, the 5 GHz band was lauded for its minimal congestion compared to the 2.4 GHz band, offering rapid data transmission despite its range and object penetration limitations. However, as this band has become the default choice for many, its advantages have diminished under the weight of overcrowded frequencies, leading to significant interference and reduced speeds.

Channel Dynamics: The Quest for Bandwidth

The 5 GHz band comprises 25 channels, each 20 MHz wide. These channels combine to form broader bands to enhance data flow, with an 80 MHz channel being a common choice for its balance of speed and availability. However, this has led to saturation, as multiple networks often compete for the same channel group, which regulatory limitations near radar-operated facilities can further constrain.

Radar Interference: Regulatory Constraints

Dedicated radar frequencies within the 5 GHz range pose an additional challenge. Certain national and international authorities prioritize channels 52 – 64 and 100 – 140 for radar use. While Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) permits shared access, it requires devices to yield to radar signals, resulting in potential disruptions and narrower channel availability.

The Advantages of 6 GHz

With the introduction of Wi-Fi 6E, the 6 GHz band has emerged as a superior alternative, boasting 59 additional 20 MHz channels free from radar interference. This expansion facilitates wider channels, including the coveted 160 MHz bandwidth, enabling substantially higher speeds and a more reliable connection, even in environments saturated with wireless signals.

Embracing the New Wireless Frontier

While the 5 GHz band is now akin to a congested thoroughfare, the 6 GHz spectrum offers a less-traveled path conducive to high-performance Wi-Fi. For users seeking speeds surpassing 1 Gbps, the 6 GHz band enabled by Wi-Fi 6E represents the next step in wireless connectivity, offering both capacity and freedom from interference.

Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6E: Technical Overview

Before we jump to deciding whether Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E is best for your household, let’s take a moment to reflect on what each technology brings to the table. We put Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E side by side below:

Feature Wi-Fi 6 Wi-Fi 6E
Frequency band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz
Channel width Up to 160 MHz Up to 160 MHz
Throughput High Even higher
Interference Lower than previous generations Minimal
Device compatibility Most modern devices Wi-Fi 6E-enabled devices only

Considerations for Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E

Before jumping to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E, consider your current equipment and online activities. If your current setup struggles with congestion and you already have (or plan to have) devices that support Wi-Fi 6E, you may want to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E. If you have simpler network needs and don’t plan on upgrading your devices any time soon, Wi-Fi 6 offers significant improvements over Wi-Fi 5 and could be a more cost-effective choice.

The Future of Wi-Fi

A couple sit on the floor while utilizing a holographic selection of apps.
Wi-Fi will continue to improve over time, bringing new technologies, devices, and functionalities. (Image: Shutterstock)

The introduction of Wi-Fi 6E sets the stage for what’s to come, with the 6 GHz band poised to play a significant role in the future of Wi-Fi. While not all countries have approved the use of the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi, its adoption is increasing, signaling a new global standard in the years to come.

Should you get Wi-Fi 6E? The choice boils down to your specific needs and the devices you use. While the standard offers the latest and greatest in terms of performance and capacity (outside of the incoming Wi-Fi 7), Wi-Fi 6 still represents a substantial upgrade over previous generations. As for us, we’re nerds, so of course, our routers are equipped with Wi-Fi 6E. For you, the choice will depend on your household, budget, devices, and necessities.