Should I buy a 6 or 6E Wi-Fi router? (2023 update network guide)

Reader Basil asked, “Should I buy a 6 or 6E Wi-Fi router?” It is an excellent question, but the answer is equally simple. Don’t wait for Wi-Fi 6E.

We wrote about Wi-Fi 6E AX 6Ghz now approved in Australia. What does that mean for you? (network guide) so we won’t repeat all of that. Suffice it to say that there are a few things about it that you need to know.

Wi-Fi 6E

  • Is backwards compatible with all earlier Wi-Fi standards. It adds a new 6GHz band to the 2.4 and 5GHZ dual-band Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 5 AC and earlier routers.
  • Only works with Wi-Fi 6E compatible clients like the Samsung S22/23 Ultra, Galaxy Fold 4 and Google Pixel 7. It will be some time before it has widespread use. In other words, this band is exclusively for their use.
  • Its 6GHz band has a shorter range. Our initial testing puts it at 5-7 metres (maximum) and 5Ghz at 10-15 metres (maximum). For Wi-Fi 6E devices to gain any advantage, they must be closer to the router.

So, unless you see a lot of Wi-Fi 6E clients in your future, the answer is that Wi-Fi 6 is the massive upgrade you need from earlier Wi-Fi 4 and 5, and we urge you to invest in Wi-Fi 6.

Why is Wi-Fi 6 a quantum leap over Wi-Fi 5?

Wi-Fi 5 AC and earlier is half-duplex – imagine a one-lane bridge where traffic has to stop until the oncoming traffic is cleared.

Wi-Fi 6 is full-duplex – a two-lane bridge carries twice as much traffic with no fear of collision. It is fair to say that a Wi-Fi 6 AX2600 router gives similar real-world speeds to a Wi-Fi 5 AC5200 router. Most router makers claim a 4X improvement in capacity and a 40% increase in throughput over Wi-Fi 5 AC.

It also has a few new features

  • 1024-QAM means that it carries 10-bits of data compared to Wi-Fi 5 256-QAM – that is a 25% improvement in data throughput
  • Wide channel width. It can aggregate 20, 40, 80m and 160Mhz channels to give at least twice as fast data transfer
  • More streams. Most routers will have at least two antennae per band (MU-MIMO) for separate transmit and receive. Some tri-band routers have 12-streams (4 antennas per band)
  • OFDM divides the data into subcarriers, providing much more stability and allowing more data to be transmitted within the same space. A long OFDM symbol also increases range so your Wi-Fi signal can reach further, especially outdoors.
  • Target Wake Time is more about how devices wake up to send or receive data – the router does not have to worry about inactive devices
  • BSS colouring. As Wi-Fi gets more popular, the air-waves get more crowded. You can usually see your neighbour’s SSID. This reduces interference from other Wi-Fi routers
  • Mesh works better over dual and tri-band Wi-Fi 6 routers (full-duplex)

Unique benefits of Wi-Fi 6E

  • Gigabit Wi-Fi speeds (but your NBN is probably a maximum of 100/20Mbps)
  • Ability to stream 8K video on the 6E band

Wi-Fi 6E mesh is a little more complex

Mesh is simply about seamless roaming (same SSID) around your home. You place a satellite 5-10m from the router to extend Wi-Fi signals a further 10m. Most true mesh allows Ethernet cable backhaul meaning that you are not restricted to the Wi-Fi backhaul distance limitations.

With Wi-Fi 6, the better AX11000 mesh routers and satellites use a Tri-band setup – 2.4Ghz (up to 600Mbps), 5GHz-1 (up to 4800Mbps) and 5GHz-2 (up to 4800Mbps). If you use Wi-Fi backhaul from the satellites, it uses the 5GHz-2 channel.

The cheaper AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh is dual-band and shares the 5GHz-1 channel. Still OK because of the full-duplex nature but not for heavy traffic.

With Wi-Fi 6E, the better AX11000 mesh routers and satellites are also Tri-band, but instead of a 5GHz-2 channel, they have a 6GHz channel (up to 4800Mbps).  If you use Wi-Fi backhaul from the satellites, it uses the 5GHz-1 channel that can take away valuable bandwidth from 5GHz devices.

Enter Netgear’s Orbi AXE11000 Wi-Fi Mesh System (RBKE963B). It is the first Quad-band. 2.4GHZ (1200), 5GHz-1 (2400), 5GHz-2 (2400) and 6GHz (4800) . It uses the 5GHz-2 as backhaul.

If you use Ethernet cables to backhaul Satellites to the router, regardless of dual-or-tri-band, you have full speeds on all channels.

 If this sounds a little academic, the simple version is that regular users will benefit from Tri-Band AX5400 or AX11000. Light users will be OK with dual-band.

CyberShack’s view – 6 or 6E Wi-Fi router? 6 is all you need

You will pay more as an early adopter. Wi-Fi 6 clients are now ubiquitous, and there are very few 6E. By the time 6E is omnipresent, we will have Wi-Fi 7 or even 8.

If you have a Wi-Fi 5  AC or earlier router, you will get significant coverage and speed benefits from upgrading to Wi-Fi 6. There is no compelling reason to upgrade to 6E if you have a Wi-Fi 6 router.

I would spend more on an excellent Wi-Fi 6 Tri-band mesh setup, but hey, don’t let me stop the march of progress.

The best Wi-Fi 6 Mesh we have seen this year is TP-Link Deco PX-50 Mesh/Powerline Wi-Fi 6 AX3000 – the perfect 10. Why? Instead of using Wi-FI or Ethernet backhaul, it can use Ethernet over Power, which makes it the easiest to install in any home.

More reading here

Crappy NBN FTTN Modem – here are a few better ones (guide)

Seamless whole-of-home Wi-Fi now easy with Wi-Fi 6 (2023 update guide)

Fix Wi-Fi blackspots fast and often at no cost (guide)

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