WiFi 6e has been one of the big talking points of this year’s CES. For the uninitiated, Wifi 6e marks a change in wireless networking that we’ve only seen once before: the use of a whole new band — 6GHz on top of 5GHz and the old faithful (but ridiculously congested) 2.4GHz.
If you’re thinking “I thought we had that already”, don’t be fooled — Wifi 6 has been around for a while now, and although it uses the same technology, only Wifi 6e actually utilises the new band. It’s worth noting that many countries have yet to license this part of the spectrum, though the WiFi Alliance, which recently launched a Wifi 6e certification program, says the USA, UK, Europe, Chile, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates have already opened 6GHz, with many other countries in the process of clearing it for use.
It’s also worth remembering that although Wifi 6e/6GHz has more than twice the throughput of 5GHz, ‘the star that burns twice as bright burns half as long’ — or to put it simply — signals can’t travel as far, so you’re more likely to need mesh nodes in a larger home or business. Oh — and one more thing — if your devices aren’t WiFi 6e enabled, having a WiFi 6e router won’t make a massive difference to you, yet — but it will futureproof your network for years to come.
With all that squared away, here are the WiFi 6e routers that have been announced this week during CES 2021. Where possible we’ve included pricing and availability, but this technology is so bleeding edge, in many cases that info won’t be available yet.
As you’d expect from a company that concentrates its efforts on networking, Netgear has wasted no time in getting in on the WiFi 6e action. Its first offering is the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 with its “Mandalorian spaceship” aesthetic. It offers a quad-core 1.8GHz processor, 5x gigabit ports, 2x USB 3.0 ports, and a bold promise of up to 10.8Gbps transfer speeds on supported devices. In total it can offer 12 streams — four on each of the three bandwidths, and the option of Netgear Armor cybersecurity developed alongside BitDefender. There’s no set date for this one beyond ‘Spring 2021’, but the pricing has been set at a not-unsubstantial $599.
There’s no news of any WiFi 6e mesh products in the popular Netgear Orbi range, but we’d expect they won’t be too far away.
TP-Link is going all-in on WiFi 6e with routers in both its Deco mesh and stalwart Archer ranges. Starting with the Deco range, TP-Link is boasting speeds up to 7800Mbps from its Deco X96 whole-home system, which also offers a stronger backhaul which improves coverage, speed, and range. As with all the new devices, TP-Link is offering its newly launched HomeShield service, joining the trend for IoT-focused whole-network security products. The Deco X76 Plus isn’t quite as speedy, offering 5400Mbps speeds, but that ‘Plus’ refers to its onboard smart home hub, which supports a range of products from TP-Link and third parties, as well as supporting Zigbee. As pointed out by The Verge, though, you can’t actually connect your WiFi 6E gadgets over 6GHz to either of these Deco mesh routers since they use 6GHz to communicate with each other and not client devices.
If you do want to connect your WiFi 6E device over 6GHz WiFi, then you’ll be interested in TP-Link’s upcoming non-mesh routers in the Archer range. The flagship Archer range introduces the Archer AX96, which offers the higher 7800 Mbps throughput, and supports the TP-Link OneMesh protocol. But the big-router-on-campus is the Archer AX206 which offers wifi speeds up to 10Gbps, flanked by some of the most impressive ethernet options we’ve ever seen — a 10Gbps WAN/LAN SFP+ port and a second 10Gbps WAN/LAN port. TP-Link says its combination of OFDMA and UL/DL MU-MIMO eradicates latency and allows more devices to coexist comfortably on the home network.
TP-Link is being even more cagey on pricing and availability, simply stating that they’ll be available during 2021. We’ll keep you updated.
Linksys has launched the AXE8400 at CES, a whole-home mesh system powered by the Qualcomm Networking Pro 1210 platform. It’s fully compatible with previous products in the range, though you won’t feel the benefit if you’re connected to a non-6e node. Linksys says the AXE8400 can comfortably allow more than 65 devices sharing the same bandwidth, plus the base unit offers 4x gigabit ethernet ports, and a USB 3.0 connector too. Each node is capable of covering up to 3000 square feet, though we’d venture that will drop quite significantly in real-world situations. TP-Link is committing to Spring/Summer 2021 for a US launch, with the rest of the world to follow later in the year. Pricing is set at $449.99 for a single node, $849.99 for 2, or $1199.99 for 3.
Despite being last on this list, ASUS stakes a claim to being the first to release a WiFi 6e router in the form of the ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000. Developed in association with Skyworks, it supports speeds up to 11Gbps (the fastest on the list). It offers near-identical specs to the GT-AX11000 announced last year, but it adds access to the 6GHz spectrum. There’s a 1.8GHz quad-core processor with 4 gigabit LAN ports, a gigabit WAN port, and a 2.5Gbps multi-gig LAN/WAN port. Unlike the others, the GT-AXE11000 will be available at the end of January for $549.99, making it the only device on our list already on pre-order.
Where are the rest?
There’s a couple of notable omissions from this list. Although D-Link announced several new models at CES, they all top out at dual-band WiFi 6. We may see WiFi 6e devices from them later in the year, but this is one company that has decided not to play its hand yet. Equally, Ubiquiti has made no mention of WiFi 6e yet, though we’d expect that, too, is only a matter of time. Finally, although Xiaomi has announced a WiFi 6e router, we’ve not included it here as it doesn’t use the full benefits of WiFi 6e and is currently only available in China, (where 6GHz isn’t carved out for WiFi 6E yet anyway, weirdly).
As you can see, with so many specifications and release dates missing, WiFi 6e is still very much in its infancy. With very few devices actually capable of using the 6GHz frequency as of yet and a definite sense of “early adopter pricing” in operation, these products are not going to be of maximum benefit to most users right now. Though if you’re looking for an upgrade once they hit retail, they’re still worth considering to futureproof your network.