I haven’t even owned my Wi-Fi 6 router for a full year yet and already there is a (slightly) newer wireless standard that is inching into the marketplace. That would be Wi-Fi 6E and, well, that’s the way it goes—technology never sits still. In this case, Intel is standing ready with its AX210, the first Wi-Fi 6E adapter.
This is not a proper launch (no press release, no big announcement), and there might not be one until early next year. In the meantime, a marketplace seller on Newegg is selling and shipping the adapter from China (via Tom’s Hardware) for $33. Intel has also apparently registered its Wi-Fi 6E adapter with the Eurasian Economic Commission, a popular landing spot for products that are getting ready to launch.
So, what is Wi-Fi 6E? It is sort of an extension of Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), as it supports the same features and technologies, including OFDMA, which is what makes it so great for crowded networks. But in addition to serving up connectivity over the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, Wi-Fi 6E adds a 6GHz band.
“6GHz addresses Wi-Fi spectrum shortage by providing contiguous spectrum blocks to accommodate 14 additional 80MHz channels and 7 additional 160MHz channels which are needed for high-bandwidth applications that require faster data throughput such as high-definition video streaming and virtual reality. Wi-Fi 6E devices will leverage wider channels and additional capacity to deliver greater network performance and support more Wi-Fi users at once, even in very dense and congested environments,” the Wi-Fi Alliance stated in January.
Incidentally, both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E have a theoretical maximum throughput of 9.6Gbps across multiple channels, so the latter is not inherently faster. But the advantage of Wi-Fi 6E is the added spectrum. By jettisoning some connections to the 6GHz band, the result is a less crowded network, which in turn could lead to faster speeds for your devices. It’s sort of like adding another lane on the highway, to help with rush hour traffic.
The very big caveat to this is the consumer hardware. As of this moment, there is not a single laptop, smartphone, or other device that supports Wi-Fi 6E. That is where Intel’s new adapter comes into play, as it can be installed in a laptop to support the latest wireless standard.
However, you also need a Wi-Fi 6E router in order to use the 6GHz band. I’m only aware of one existing model at the moment—the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE 11000, introduced in September. That one will set you back around $423 on Amazon.
Even then, it’s of little benefit right now, because Wi-Fi 6E devices simply do not exist. Your Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) will still connect to it just fine, but the advantage of the 6GHz band will go unused for the time being.
This is the same caveat that applies to Wi-Fi 6—to take full advantage of the standard, you need a Wi-Fi 6 router and several Wi-Fi 6 devices, which are starting to become more common. So if you just purchased a Wi-Fi 6 router, don’t feel like you made a huge mistake. It will take some time for Wi-Fi 6E to make a dent in the marketplace, by which time you might be ready for a new router anyway.