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WiFi Gets Its Biggest Upgrade in Decades

The WiFi 6 revolution is here — for real this time.

Netgear’s $5999 Nighthawk RAXE500 is one of the fi rst routers built around WiFi 6E.

Actually, the biggest upgrade to WiFi tech in decades is called “WiFi 6E,” and it promises to vastly improve the way our router/gateway communicates to the myriad connected devices in your home, including the smart TV, box, stick, dongle, laptop or tablet you stream video on.

Last week, the WiFi Alliance, the industry trade group that oversees the evolution of WiFi, began certification of WiFi 6E. You’ve probably already heard of WiFi 6, but the "E" (for "extended') is new. Introduced in 2019, the sixth iteration of the 802.11 WiFi standard dramatically improved the way routers and gateways handled multiple devices at once.

Using 802.11 ax WiFi, these devices tap into OFDMA (orthagonal frequency division multiple access), a modulation scheme similar to what is used in DOCSIS and LTE that helps routers and gateways increase the efficiency of how channels are split.

Also Read: Netgear Debuts Pricey WiFi 6E Router | TCL: Google TV-Powered Smart TVs on the Way

Last year, regulators in the United States and the United Kingdom approved use of the 6-GHz band for home WiFi use, allowing WiFi 6 another 1,200 MHz of midband unlicensed spectrum all to itself. 

This massive haul of new frequency is where the “extended” comes in for WiFi 6E, offering huge benefits in places such as multi-family dwellings, in which users have traditionally bumped into one another in terms of WiFi frequency usage. 

At last week’s virtual CES 2021, numerous technology vendors pitched WiFi 6E gateways and routers, as well as devices like compatible smartphones and laptop computers. 

These devices are backward compatible with traditional WiFi routers and gateways that rely on old-fangled 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz spectrum. But paired with those that do enable Wi-Fi 6E, they’ll deliver far lower latency, while maximizing those pricey 1-Gigabit per second internet subscriptions to boot.

As of now, Roku, Amazon, Apple, Google and other streaming hardware makers have yet to integrate WiFi 6E into their players, sticks and dongles. But it’s a good bet that the technology will proliferate beyond the major WiFi components (routers and computers) to peripheral devices by CES 2022.