Wi-Fi 6 Vs Wi-Fi 6E – What’s the difference?

Wi-Fi or what some people refer to as (Wireless Fidelity) is a family of wireless network protocols that are based on the IEEE 802.11 standards designed and developed by IEEE engineers and later adopted by the Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit organization that holds the Wi-Fi trademark under which most Wi-Fi enabled products are sold. It’s the underlying technology used for wireless local area networking of devices and internet access. It allows computers and other devices to communicate to each other over a wireless network.

The different versions of the Wi-Fi standards differ between the radio wavebands they operate on, the maximum data rates they can support and other features. Previously, different versions of Wi-Fi have been using the name of the IEEE standard that it supports and trust me these figures were hard to remember but in 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance standardized generational numbering so that an equipment can indicate that it supports Wi-Fi 5 (if it supports 802.11ac) or Wi-Fi 6 (if it supports 802.11ax).

The Table below shows all the Wi-Fi generations we have as of January 2020…

Generation/IEEE Standard Maximum Link Rate Adopted Frequency
802.11 1 to 2 Mbit/s 1997 2.4 GHz
802.11b 1 to 11 Mbit/s 1999 2.4 GHz
802.11a 6 to 54 Mbit/s 1999 5 GHz
802.11g 6 to 54 Mbit/s 2003 2.4 GHz
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) 72 to 600 Mbit/s 2008 2.4/5 GHz
Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)

433 to 6933 Mbit/s

2014 5 GHz
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) 600 to 9608 Mbit/s 2019 2.4/5 GHz
Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax) 600 to 9608 Mbit/s 2019 6 GHz

Wi-Fi Generations…


So what is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the newest version of 802.11wireless standard that we commonly call Wi-Fi. The last generation of Wi-Fi was Generation 5 (802.11AC) but the new Generation 6 (802.11AX) is the newest and fastest version of Wi-Fi also called Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6 is better because it’s designed to send data to multiple places at once in a way that is a lot more efficient than before making routers good at multitasking.

Wi-Fi devices translate radio waves into chunks of binary code using a trick called Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) and Wi-Fi 6 routers are a lot better at it than before. Older Wi-Fi 5 routers are capable of 256 QAM which allows them to send 8 digits of binary code with each transmission whereas Wi-Fi 6 raises that to 1024 QAM which means that Wi-Fi 6 routers are capable of sending 10 digits of binary at a time. This might sound like a small change, but it’s a big part of the reason why Wi-Fi 6 can move data around at speeds that are 30% faster than Wi-Fi 5. So in a nutshell, with Wi-Fi 6 you get faster top speeds and better multi-tasking.

Lets talk about Wi-Fi 6E and how it differs from Wi-Fi 6;

For starters, the “E” in Wi-Fi 6E stands for “Expanded” and until now, Wi-Fi devices can only operate in a 2.4 GHz (120 mm UHF) and 5GHz (60mm SHF ISM) Wi-Fi spectrum bands but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote changed that and opened up the 6GHz band. So the Wi-Fi 6E devices are the only ones that are capable of operating in all three bands and not just the first two.

In case you are wondering how 2.4 GHz differs from 5GHz, read our post here…

2.4 GHz Vs. 5 GHz Wi-Fi Frequency Bands – What’s the difference?

The new 6GHz band is the biggest of all and it operates like a major express way with room for lots and lots of traffic all at once and that’s what you get with Wi-Fi 6E. With a Wi-Fi 6 router and Wi-Fi 6 devices on your network, your home or office with the fastest possible version of Wi-Fi and your older generations of Wi-Fi devices will still be able to connect just like always because Wi-Fi 6 is totally back-ward compatible with previous versions of Wi-Fi.

At this point of Wi-Fi 6, we’ve got lots of devices to choose from, with the latest iPhones, Samsung galaxy devices and others, but if you are waiting for Wi-Fi 6E, you might not be able to see the first routers that support it till the end of 2020 with more devices coming later in 2021.



Tum Kurtzman
Author: Tum Kurtzman

Computer Engineer, Ugandan Life Hacker, Tech Blogger, YouTuber, Founder & Lead Engineer at SONALABS.ORG... Tum completed his BSc. in Computer Engineering from Makerere University and you can reach him via e-mail at tum@sonalabs.org.

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