WiFi 6 vs WiFi 6E – The One Huge Difference

The latest generation of Wi-Fi is here.
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It’s actually been around for a little bit recently, which is
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Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E by extension.
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Now the technical term is actually 802.11ax, but I guess they figured the
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number system works a little bit better.
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So the previous one, 802.11ac
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is there for Wi-Fi 5, but the latest one is 6.
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Now the other one, Wi-Fi 6E, you might not have heard of.
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It’s still part of Wi-Fi 6, but has one important additional
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feature which is actually huge.
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So what I’ll do is first explain what that big difference is.
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And then also how Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are both way better than Wi-Fi ac or Wi-Fi 5,
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the previous one.
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And of course, I’ll try to break down the really technical stuff and
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explain it as simply as possible.
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So you don’t have to be some kind of expert.
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And now let’s continue.
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So what is the deal with Wi-Fi 6 and 6E?
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Well for context, I do want to point out they both do have the same
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features and improvements over Wi-Fi 5.
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I’ll go over what all those are afterwards, and they include all
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of these things, but it’s important to know that 6 and 6E do have
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basically the same functionality.
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However, the difference comes in the frequency spectrums.
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So while Wi-Fi 6 supports the same 2.4 and 5 GHz bands as previous Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi
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6E will actually support an additional third 6 GHz band that was just recently
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opened up by the FCC and registered for unlicensed use, meaning Wi-Fi can use it.
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And other countries are also opening up part of the 6 GHz
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band, all for use in Wi-Fi.
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And this might not sound like a big deal, “oh we already have dual
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bands, why do we need three bands?”
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But it actually is a huge deal and I’ll explain why.
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Practically speaking though, what does this mean?
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How is it any better?
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Well, the biggest benefit is going to be in spectrally noisy areas.
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And what I mean by that is areas that have a lot of Wi-Fi signals bouncing
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around a lot of access points and routers.
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For example offices, apartment buildings, public venues, stuff where a lot
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of people are going to be on their phones and all connecting to similar
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Wi-Fi hotspots.
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With this new spectrum, it’s going to allow a whole bunch
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more space for Wi-Fi channels.
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So different access points don’t have to be competing over it, and it’s
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going to have way less interference.
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You see when you set up a router, you have to choose, or have it auto
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choose, a single channel it’s going to operate on and then all your
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devices are going to be connecting
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on that single channel.
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And the channel is basically a certain range of the full 2.4, 5, or 6 GHz range.
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You only choose a small part of it.
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The fewer the channels, then the more those are going to have
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to be shared by nearby access points such as your neighbors.
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If you have more than three neighbors, like an apartment complex nearby,
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then there is going to be some overlap, and you’re going to have to
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both be potentially using the same channel, it’s going to
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cause a lot of interference.
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And the current 2.4 GHz, especially, but also 5 GHz range, both have some
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shortcomings that 6 GHz will solve.
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Consider 2.4 GHz, for example.
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The most common one, ironically.
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Did you know that there are literally only three non-overlapping channels on 2.4 GHz?
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And it’s used by a whole bunch of other stuff,
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not just Wi-Fi.
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It’s used by Bluetooth, baby monitors, car alarm sensors and stuff, even
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garage door openers, microwave’s when you run them, and not to mention a
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whole bunch of different smart home protocols like ZigBee and stuff.
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I mean, it’s a mess.
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Now the 5 GHz spectrum should theoretically have fixed this.
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I mean, it’s got the entire 5 GHz to work with, so that’s way more
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than the basically 100 MHz of 2.4.
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So why is 6 GHz so much better, even though 5 GHz is basically the same amount
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of frequency, and we have that now?
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Well, in reality, the actual really usable amount of the 5 GHz spectrum
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is not as big as you might think.
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Now it is significantly bigger than 2.4 GHz.
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For example, where 2.4 only has three non-overlapping, 20 MHz wide channels.
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5 GHz has 25 channels.
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Except not really.
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You see 16 of those 25, 5 GHz channels are what are called DFS
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channels: Dynamic Frequency Selection.
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These are channels that happen to share the same frequency used by radar from
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airports, weather radar, stuff like that.
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And there’s actually a law in the United States and elsewhere that basically says
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because radar was used before and they don’t want Wi-Fi interfering with it,
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even though Wi-Fi can technically use these channels, all Wi-Fi devices and
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routers have to have technology built in to be able to detect radar signals.
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And if it does, it has to shut off the Wi-Fi, which means if you live near
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an airport or near a weather radar station that’s sweeping by all the time,
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then those DFS channels are probably going to be completely useless to you.
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And also because of these restrictions, a lot of consumer grade routers don’t
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even allow you to select these channels.
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Because if people didn’t know about this and they started using those channels,
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and then their Wi-Fi kept randomly cutting out, then they would probably blame the
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router for having crappy connectivity when it’s just following the law.
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So they don’t even let you connect to those.
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So really you have a very limited number of those 5 GHz channels that
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don’t have this restriction in there.
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So really you only end up with nine truly free Wi-Fi channels, which is still better
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than 2.4, but with five GHz ac Wi-Fi.
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There’s actually a technology that a lot of routers use, or are able to use, where
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it combines different multiple channels.
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So you can have 40 MHz channels made of two 20 MHz channels or even 80 or 160 MHz
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wide channels, combining a whole bunch.
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And usually, an ac router is going to try and by default do about 40 MHz wide.
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And considering the DFS channels, that means there are only about
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four 40 MHz wide usable channels
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if you’re going to do that.
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It’s not required, but it will get you the higher speeds.
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If you are in a very, very crowded environment, then you will probably have
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to only use 20 MHz wide, even on 5 GHz.
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And then if you wanted to use a 80 MHz wide channel, there’s only two of those.
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And with the 160 MHz, then both of them are either completely engulfed or
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partially engulfed by those DFS channels,
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so you might not even want to use those.
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But again, 5 GHz is still way better than 2.4 in pretty
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much every way, except range.
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It’s faster, there’s more channels.
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But since those non DFS channels, which are limited, are pretty much the
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standard ones, then it might not cut it going forward to be future-proof.
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That’s where 6 GHz comes in.
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And the 6 GHz full spectrum is actually from 5.925 to 7.125 GHz.
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That’s actually 1200 MHz, a little bit more than a full GHz.
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And that means it supports a whopping fifty-nine 20 MHz channels.
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And then those can be divided into twenty-nine 40 MHz,
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fourteen 80 MHz or seven 160 MHz.
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However, there are some caveats.
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For example, in the United States, the FCC did regulate which parts of that full
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spectrum can be used outside with standard or higher power Wi-Fi access points.
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And which can be used in lower power indoor use.
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Now the good news is that for indoor use consumer uses, you
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can use any of the channels.
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All of them are allowed.
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It’s just that on outside routers, which might be used on venues and
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stuff, then those are restricted and only 41 out of the 59 are usable there.
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But still you don’t have to worry about that restriction unless you’re running
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a business or something like that.
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And it’s still a whole bunch, 41 it’s still a lot.
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The other major caveat, which is the most unfortunate, is that if you’re outside the
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United States and Canada and some other countries, most of Europe, for example, is
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not adopting yet the full 6 GHz spectrum.
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They have only adopted an unlicensed use of 5925-6425 MHz range,
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which is half of what the United States and Canada have done.
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That means that those of you who are in Europe or elsewhere on this
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map where it’s labeled, are only going to have twenty-four new 20
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MHz channels supported worldwide.
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Now I’m really hoping, and it does seem like this is the case for now,
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that Wi-Fi chip manufacturers are just going to by default add in the
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capability for all of these chips to support the full 6E / 6 GHz spectrum.
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And not just limit it because it’s limited halfway in Europe, but they should
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definitely at least add the capability to have the full thing and maybe enable it
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by software later in case Europe does end up adopting the full 6 GHz spectrum, which
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there has been some pressure to do that.
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Though they haven’t really talked about it yet.
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But anyway, the basic huge benefit of 6 GHz is that you’re going to have
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way more space and able to not only have more channels, if you need less
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interference, but you can also have way bigger channels that are going to
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have a lot more bandwidth, especially if you’re not in such a crowded area.
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But what’s also cool is with this many channels, say you’re an outdoor
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concert venue where there’s thousands of people all on their phone.
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And you, as the venue set up person, you could set up 40
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different Wi-Fi access points, basically right next to each other.
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And each of them could have their very own individual channel.
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So even though they all connect to the same network, as people use
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their devices to connect to the same Wi-Fi network, it’ll show up as one
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as a mesh network, but their phone will automatically connect to one
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with the least interference.
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It’ll be able to balance across 40 different things and just to have way
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less interference for all those people.
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If that makes sense.
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Now, there are only a handful of Wi-Fi, 6E devices so far.
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I believe for in terms of routers, asus, Linksys and Netgear have a few.
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And as for devices, I believe the Galaxy S21 Ultra has it.
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And I believe the upcoming iPhone is supposed to be rumored to have it.
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So it’s coming along, just you know, it’s going to take a little while and
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you will have to upgrade your router to be able to use that, by the way.
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Now I did say I’d go over some of the big ways that Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are both
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way better than Wi-Fi 5, more than just having this extra new frequency.
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First of all, it’s a lot faster potentially.
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So you can have up to 3.5 *Gigabits* per Wi-Fi stream, spatial stream
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they’re called, and you can have four of these (up to), depending
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on how high-end the device is.
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And therefore theoretically, one Wi-Fi router could have a
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throughput of like 14 Gigabits per second, which is kind of insane.
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The other big technological feature of Wi-Fi 6 is something called OFDMA.
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This basically allows the router to split one channel into many subunits
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and broadcast to several devices at once, for like every broadcast “pulse”,
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I guess you could say for every “time unit”, it can then do multiple devices.
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Whereas right now, they only send data on the whole channel to one device.
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Now, technically if the router supports something called MU-MIMO, which is
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multi-user multi-input multi-output, then it can technically talk to
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multiple devices simultaneously, but this OFDMA will be another
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way and be combined with that.
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So it’ll just be way more efficient and connect to a whole
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bunch of different stuff at once.
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And then there are several more technical improvements, all designed to
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increase the efficiency of Wi-Fi 6 in particularly high density environments.
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That was really the main goal when they were creating Wi-Fi 6, is to just be
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used when there’s a lot of density.
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Because we’re kind of experiencing that right now,
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and just Wi-Fi devices becoming more ubiquitous.
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Internet of things, lot more devices are going to be crowding
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our waves, we need more space.
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If you do want a much more full explanation of all the little
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technical details and improvements Wi-Fi 6 does have, I did make a video
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about that a couple of years ago.
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So I went into detail there you can click on, I’ll pop it out.
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So yea, all that stuff though is for both 6 and 6E, it’s just with
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6E you get that extra bandwidth.
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And I think that pretty much covers it.

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