6E Wi-Fi routers have arrived and we’re not ready for them

The Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 is one of the first 6E Wi-Fi routers you can buy.

Chris Monroe / CNET

The sixth generation of Wi-Fi – 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6 – is a well established standard at this stage. Better to manage dense and congested networks with many client devices and with support for faster top speeds, Wi-Fi 6 is already present in most the latest smartphones and laptops, not to mention the bumper harvest of Wi-Fi 6 routers promising to bring the upgrade home.

Just when you think you got your head wrapped around it all, something called Wi-Fi 6E comes along. This is not a new version of the Wi-Fi protocol like Wi-Fi 6, but rather a special designation for Wi-Fi 6 devices equipped to stream. the newly opened 6 GHz band, which routers could not do before.


The Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000 is a $ 550 Wi-Fi 6E gaming router that promises “total domination.”


Mostly empty, except for emergency broadcasts, this 6 GHz band is more than twice as wide as the 5 GHz band below, with enough bandwidth for up to seven non-overlapping 160 MHz channels. Simply put, if the 2.4 GHz band is a one-lane country highway, and the 5 GHz band is a three-lane highway, imagine the 6 GHz band as a bright new seven-lane highway, and only devices 6E have access to the ramp. .

It’s an intriguing pitch – and now, in 2021, we’re starting to see routers supporting the standard. hit the market. I wanted to know what kind of impact they would have, so I got my hands on the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000, which looks like a cyborg spider sent from the future to kill Spider-Man, and the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500, which we have affectionately started to call “the BatRouter” for reasons that I hope are obvious. These are two of the very first 6E Wi-Fi routers released this year, and I’ve been busy putting them through a speed test after a speed test after a speed test. Here’s everything I’ve learned so far – including, that there is very little reason for anyone to splurge on any of these things yet.

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Wait, aren’t they good?

I did not say that. Rather, they are powerful and capable routers that are equipped to bring everything online – old devices, new devices, devices that don’t yet exist – at the fastest possible speeds. In fact, each offers maximum speeds of up to 4800 Mbps – 4.8 gigabits per second – on its 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands (Asus says the GT-AXE11000’s 6 GHz band is even higher, barely exceeding 5 concerts).

At $ 550 for Asus and $ 600 for Netgear, both are currently out of stock on Amazon and a bit hard to find, but they each promise the latest features and high-end network performance (as well as “total dominance.” from Asus, in typical gaming router parlance which I choose to read as a direct threat to Tom holland).

What is the problem then? It is this 6 GHz band. There are very few devices currently equipped to take advantage of it at this point – and even if you have one, you probably won’t see significantly better performance than you would see on the 5 GHz band at all times. soon. In fact, you could argue that the 5 GHz band would actually be preferable for most, if not all of your regular network traffic.

You do not believe me? Well i have graphics so nah.

Ry Crist / CNET

Let’s start with Netgear. On the left, you have the average download speeds on each of the three router bands at five locations in my house, arranged from closest to the router to farthest from it. My house is a 1,300 square foot square shotgun style house, and my AT&T fiber plan allows me to reach top speeds of up to 300 Mbps. To measure the speeds, I used a Samsung galaxy s21, which supports 6E and can connect on the 6 GHz band.

The yellow bars representing my speeds on the router’s 6 GHz band show that it was able to push my connection past the maximum, with mid to short and mid range speeds as high as 375 Mbps. It’s great, but the green bars representing my 5 GHz speeds were equally impressive. Speeds on both bands drop into the dead zone which is my back bathroom, and 6GHz did a bit better here, but that’s about the only advantage I’ve been able to find – and that is. fool’s gold when it comes to benefits.

Why? Move your eyes to the graph on the right. These are my average Download speeds of the same test batch. The green 5 GHz speeds held up pretty well when I stepped away from the router – but look how those yellow 6 GHz download speeds immediately start to drop. This is because the 6 GHz band offers less range than the 5 GHz band. My house is too small and the capped speeds too low to notice it with downloads, but it’s clear as day with downloads, and the fault would only get bigger in a bigger space with a faster connection.

Ry Crist / CNET

Then again, maybe it’s just a Netgear thing? Nope. See the corresponding graphics for Asus. Pretty much the same exact results, although the 6 GHz band and especially the 5 GHz band achieve significantly faster download speeds in that back bathroom dead zone.

Anyway, with either router running my network, if you gave me this Galaxy S21 – which, again, is one of the only 6E Wi-Fi client devices on the market. right now – and you asked me to make a video call while roaming my house, I would use the 5GHz network, not 6GHz. This isn’t great considering that the 6 GHz band replaces one of the 5 GHz bands on each of these tri-band routers and in doing so, drives up the price.

What about latency?

Good question. Latency measures the time it takes, in milliseconds, for your connection to reach its destination and return with all the data you need to email, stream a movie, or do anything else in it. line, and it is indeed supposed to improve on the 6 GHz band.

“Less traffic on the 6 GHz band gives you lower latency for your AR / VR games and other intensive Wi-Fi applications,” Netgear writes in its datasheet for the RAXE500 (PDF).

To understand what Netgear is saying here, think of your 6E Wi-Fi phone like an Olympic swimmer. With no previous generation devices interfering with your connection, the 6 GHz band is like a private gym pool – it’s the perfect environment for swimming laps and setting records. The 2.4 and 5 GHz bands are more like a crowded public swimming pool filled with urinating children and deformed adults lazing around in inner tubes. You can do laps in it, of course, but there will be too much interference to score personal bests on your butterfly stroke.

Both routers kept the latency at just under 20ms during all of my testing. This is a very good result – but the 6 GHz band did not perform significantly better than 2.4 or 5 GHz in either case.

Ry Crist / CNET

That’s the tone, anyway (more or less). In my own testing, I saw slight differences in latency from band to band, but I would emphasize slightly. With Asus, my overall average latency across all speed tests, each pinging the same server on the other side of Kentucky, was 18.8ms on the 2.4GHz band, 18.5ms ms on the 5 GHz band and 18.3 ms on the 6 GHz band. With Netgear, these figures came out at 19.4 msec on 2.4 GHz, 19.1 msec on 5 GHz and 19.2 msec on 6 GHz. In other words, for your average and regular web traffic, you probably won’t notice any latency differences from band to band.

Granted, that could change with more bandwidth-intensive web use or with a server more distant than the one I’m testing with. I am using this server nearby during my speed tests in order to keep the latency variable to a minimum, so I will have to run a whole new set using remote servers to get a better idea of ​​what 6 GHz is capable of doing. . Stay tuned for more on this front.

Where does that leave 6E Wi-Fi?

The bottom line here is that it’s still very early for 6E Wi-Fi – and too early for almost everyone to feel the urgent need to upgrade to a 6E router just yet. I’ll know more once I’m able to test more 6E routers (and once I’m able to complete testing both of these, including max speed testing in our lab), but I have hard to imagine the 6GHz band acting as a game changer for anyone’s home network at all times. And remember, the absolute fastest home internet connection you can hope to have right now in the lead at 2 concerts – less than half of what routers like these say the 6 GHz band is capable of.

This is not to say that there are no advantages to Wi-Fi 6E. The wiggle room for additional traffic channels via the extra bandwidth of the band – the multi-lane freeway analogy – should absolutely allow 6E devices to make the most of what Wi-Fi 6 is capable of, especially on congested networks with many devices otherwise need to share a lane. A 6 GHz connection can be fatal near a stadium or an airport, for example. But it just makes me want a 6E Wi-Fi phone, not a 6E Wi-Fi router.

The other thing I’m looking at this year are Tri-band mesh routers supporting Wi-Fi 6E. With several devices using high-end hardware, these will undoubtedly be some of the more expensive routers on the market once they get here, but they will be able to use that 6 GHz band to move traffic around the mesh without interference. , which could make your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz connections a bit faster, if implemented correctly.

Time – and plenty of speed tests to come – will tell, but for now, if you’re anxious to run out and upgrade your router to a router that supports Wi-Fi 6E, I think you’ll want to maybe hold your horses, or at least temper your expectations.

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