Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 6e: A Layman's View

  • 10 February 2023
  • 1 reply

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Note: Information in BOLD is copied from the Verge

Wi-Fi 6e is going to be the future of Wi-Fi…someday…but not right away. For Sonos it’s a non issue….for the most part. More on that later. 

If you’ve ever bought a Wi-Fi router, you may have had to sort through specs that read like complete gibberish — like “802.11ac” or “a/b/g/n.” But going forward, Wi-Fi is adopting version numbers so that it’ll be easier to tell whether the router or device you’re buying is on the latest version.

In the past, Wi-Fi versions were identified by a letter or a pair of letters that referred to a wireless standard. The current version is 802.11ac, but before that, we had 802.11n, 802.11g, 802.11a, and 802.11b. It was not comprehensible, so the Wi-Fi Alliance — the group that stewards the implementation of Wi-Fi — is changing it.

All of those convoluted codenames are being changed. So instead of the current Wi-Fi being called 802.11ac, it’s be called Wi-Fi 5 (because it’s the fifth version).

802.11ax, now goes by a simpler name: Wi-Fi 6 as it’s the sixth version. Therefore, if your device says it’s 802.11ac and/or 802.11ax compatible it can take advantage of the faster throughput offered in the Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 spectrums respectively.

All said you may be wondering what is the difference between Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e? Here’s my layman’s explanation. 

Wi-Fi 6 mainly helps relieve some of the bottlenecks experienced in the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands for routers hosting many clients. On top of that routers in other households are jockeying for space in those bands as well, ergo causing Wi-Fi interference.   

Wi-Fi 6e operates similar to Wi-Fi 6 but goes a step further in that it operates in the 6Ghz band. Thus extending the capabilities of a router to offer Wi-Fi 6e compatible devices (of which there are few at the moment) a band that is isolated from the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz congestion. Think 20 cars on a 20 lane highway (Wi-Fi 6e) versus the same 20 cars on a 5 lane highway (Wi-Fi 6). The amount of traffic that can be easily handled by a router has just been extended by placing Wi-Fi 6e devices in a separate environment (6Ghz band).  BTW, the “e” in Wi-Fi 6e stands for “extended”.

So how does all this Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 6e impact Sonos? Especially considering that Sonos primarily uses the 2.4Ghz (house wi-fi) or 2.4Ghz + SonosNet. Also considering that the 5Ghz is used primarily in home theater to allow the Arc, Beam2 and Ray to communicate quickly with Sonos surrounds and sub. The short answer is “Not a darn thing”. 

In this next section I speak from experience. IMO where Wi-Fi 6e causes a problem for Sonos is when the name (SSID) of the 6Ghz band is the same as that of the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. In most scenarios Sonos doesn’t have an issue locking on to 2.4Ghz band as opposed to the 5Ghz band during initial setup using house Wi-Fi (non-SonosNet) when both use the same SSID. 

I have an Asus Ai-Mesh using a ZenWiFi Pro ET12 as the main node and a ZenWiFi Pro ET12 and GT AXE11000 as satellites. Lesson learned…I had to give the 6Ghz band it’s own SSID while leaving the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands on the same SSID. Not only did Sonos get confused when using the same SSID for all bands but other devices as well such as cameras, Nest and Alexa devices.

Using house Wi-Fi was an experiment for me; but I learned a lot regarding introducing Wi-Fi 6e into my network. In the end I kept the SSID’s separate but opted to continue using Ethernet for the backhaul versus the 6Ghz band. If possible when using a mesh network Ethernet backhaul should be the preferred linking between the main node and satellites.

FYI, I do own a WiFi 6 capable device: 2022 iPad Pro 12.9 inch. 

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WiFi7 is now barking at the door.

Some of the WiFi6 advantages cannot be fully realized until all of the network clients are running WiFi6. Personally, I don’t see any immediate imperative to trash a perfectly functioning WiFi5 system and moving to WiFi6 or WiFi6e simply for bragging rights, however, if you are in a congested area and experiencing issues, go for the upgrade because the latest WiFi access points are much more capable — even while also supporting some remaining WiFi5 clients. 

Some, not so graceful, older WiFi5 access points will only run at low speed if any ancient WiFi4 clients are present. Here a WiFi upgrade is appropriate if the new access point is nimble enough to simultaneously support new and old at their full speeds.