6GHz (6E) Wi-Fi: What It Is & How It Works

Wi-Fi 6E offers less wireless clutter and greater speeds

For years, Wi-Fi devices have transmitted data on either the 2.5GHz or 5GHz frequency band. With the introduction of the 802.11ax standard (also called Wi-Fi 6), devices can now use a third band: 6GHz.

Similar to how 5GHz and 2.5GHz devices conform to a particular 802.11 wireless standard and use a specific name (e.g., Wi-Fi 5 operates on the 5GHz band), 6GHz devices have their own name, called Wi-Fi 6E, to differentiate them from other devices.

Wi-Fi 6E-capable routers and phones became commercially available in January 2021, but the rollout is gradual, and the hardware update comes at a hefty cost. For example, Netgear's Nighthawk RAXE500 was released with a $599 price tag. The first Wi-Fi 6E smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, started at $499.

6GHz Wi-Fi text on green and white background

6GHz Wi-Fi vs 5GHz & 2.5GHz

Put simply, higher frequencies are available as you move up the radio spectrum (the larger the GHz number). This translates to more bandwidth, which means faster speeds.

Here are the frequency ranges we're dealing with when we compare 6GHz with 5GHz and 2.5GHz:

  • 6GHz: 1,200MHz frequency range
  • 5GHz: 500MHz frequency range
  • 2.5GHz: 70MHz frequency range

Since 6GHz has a higher frequency range than 5GHz and 2.5GHz, there's more bandwidth available. However, as frequency increases, signal range decreases.

A great analogy is a garden hose. If you've ever used your finger to control how the water was coming out, you know it can spray much further as you shrink the space available for the water to come out. Think of these frequency ranges as how much of the water flow remains open as you run your finger over it.

  • 6GHz is the biggest of the three. Assuming you don't block the hose opening at all, this is how you get the most water out of it at any given time. The flow/bandwidth is at its max, but it doesn't go far.
  • 5GHz has a smaller opening. Your finger is only partially covering the hose, so the water squirts a little further, but there's less available throughout all points of the stream (less bandwidth).
  • 2.5GHz has the smallest range of the three, so while the water will shoot out of the hose the furthest due to your finger covering nearly the whole opening, much less water is available over the total spray area (i.e., bandwidth capacity is at its lowest).

Another thing that impacts connection reliability and speed is interference. With more wireless “space” to transmit through, there’s bound to be fewer nearby devices that are using up the same frequency band, so your devices can use Wi-Fi with less "competition" than you'd get when connected on lower bands.

Latency is improved in Wi-Fi 6E as well. In fact, it's cut in half when compared to Wi-Fi 5. This is extremely important for applications that rely on real time data, from video conferencing to gameplay.

This is all to say that when you move from 2.5/5GHz up to 6GHz, your phone, tablet, laptop, etc., can transmit data faster and hold their connections better.

How to Get 6GHz Wi-Fi

To get the benefits of Wi-Fi 6E, you need a router that supports 6GHz and a device that does the same. You’ll know if a device is 6GHz-compatible if it has a “Wi-Fi 6E” label.

If you do get a Wi-Fi 6E phone or laptop, but don't yet have a router that supports the new standard, you'll still be able to use it just fine, but you won't have access to all those 6GHz benefits.

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