Wi-Fi 6E: Internet On 6 GHz

Illustration of the relative sizes of the 2.4, 5, and 6 GHz frequency bands, highlighting the UNII-5 part of the 6 GHz band that has been made available in Norway and the EU vs the full 6 GHz that is available in the US

Why was Wi-Fi 6E so long-awaited, why is everything taking so long, and what does it take to start testing the technology?

What Is Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E is wireless internet on the 6 GHz band, “new” frequencies that have not previously been available for wifi. This is a much needed extension; on the 2.4 GHz band, space has been tight for a long time, and even on the 5 GHz band, the increases in wifi usage and number of connected devices is getting noticeable.

Wi-Fi 6E is not the same as Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6 corresponds to the 802.11ax standard . This standard applies to the two established frequency bands for WiFi: 2.4 and 5 GHz.

Products labeled Wi-Fi 6 do not support 6 GHz. Products that support both 802.11ax and communication on the 6 GHz band can be certified as Wi-Fi 6E by the industry organization WiFi Alliance .

What Is The Point (And Problem?) With 6 GHz?

What we here briefly and simply call 6 GHz is actually a spectrum of 1200 MHz from 5.925 to 7.125.

In comparison:

  • The 2.4 GHz frequency band has a spectrum of 70 MHz
  • The 5 GHz band is 500 MHz.

So the point of expanding the frequencies available for wifi is the prospect of making it far less cramped for space / airtime. In today’s frequency bands, wifi networks compete both with each other and with other wireless standards, such as Bluetooth. There is also no room to increase the bandwidth to 80 or 160 MHz to increase throughput, because that would create massive noise for the surroundings.

Wi-Fi 6E thus brings with it long-awaited extra bandwidth and capacity for wireless communication. In the long term, we expect that access to new frequencies will provide massive improvements in the user experience for bandwidth-demanding applications.

The problem with expanding to 6 GHz has been that this part of the spectrum was not unused, but was reserved for licensed use.

How Much Of The 6 GHz Band Is Available?

Changes in the usage of frequencies must be approved by local and regional authorities, and more and more countries have opened up, either for the entire spectrum or for what is called “low 6 GHz” or U-NII-5, the lower 500 MHz.

  • In the EU and Norway, it is the lower 500 MHz that has been opened up.
  • Countries that have approved the entire 6 GHz spectrum for wifi and other unlicensed usage are in the minority, but include the USA and South Korea, among others.
  • The WiFi Alliance has an overview of the status worldwide.

Frequency usage in Norway is regulated by Fribruksforskriften (“the Free Use Regulation”), and the revised version that opens up for Wi-Fi 6E / low 6 GHz came into force on July 1, 2021. The regulatory body for such matters in Norway is The Norwegian Communications Authority (NKOM).

Why Is It Taking So Long?

The rollout of new standards always takes time, and the need to change laws worldwide has made the process extra time-consuming this time.

Both access points and clients with CE approval must be on the market before the technology can be put into serious use.

Our suppliers Zyxel and eero will both supply access points with Wi-Fi 6E to Norway, and access points and Wi-Fi clients with support for Wi-Fi 6E have slowly started to appear on the Norwegian market.

This is how you get started with testing Wi-Fi 6E

If you’re ready to test out the technology, what do you need and what problems might you encounter?

To communicate on the 6 GHz band, the first and most important requirement is that both the wireless access point and the wifi client support the new standard.

You therefore cannot test Wi-Fi 6E if you only have a client or only an access point that supports 6 GHz, and Wi-Fi 6E must be fully supported by both the hardware and the software.

The number of available clients is so far limited. Apple disappointed many by launching the iPhone 14 without support for Wi-Fi 6E, but there are several Android models from, among others, Asus and Samsung with 6E support, and more are on the way.

Use Wi-Fi 6E on a PC?

  • There are newer laptops from a number of manufacturers with built-in support for the standard, but you can also buy adapters that provide hardware support for Wi-Fi 6E (Intel’s AX210 is the most common)
  • You also need to have support in your operating system–at the time of writing, only Windows 11 supports Wi-Fi 6E out of the box, but Windows 10 can be upgraded to provide such support. Linux distributions must be upgraded to the latest version of the Linux kernel.

Also note that in order to have Wi-Fi 6E communication between nodes in a mesh network (backhaul communication), all mesh nodes must support the standard.

Possible Wi-Fi 6E Compatibility Issues

The rollout of Wi-Fi 6E in Norway can hardly be said to have begun, so we have limited information about concrete compatibility issues, but our testing so far indicates that:

  • Many problems are avoided by actively ensuring that all clients are fully system-updated at all times. For a PC, this may involve manually updating drivers.
  • Make sure that both access points and clients for Wi-Fi 6E are set to the correct region, so that they do not operate on different frequencies. Remember that available spectrum is different in, for example, South Korea and the USA.