You may have seen the recent ads by Comcast Xfinity for their new Xfinity “Supersonic Wi-Fi” offering. Inquiring minds want to know: “What is “Supersonic Wi-Fi”?”. In reality, “Supersonic Wi-Fi” is really just Xfinity’s fastest (and highest price) internet tiers (Gigabit or Ultrafast plans) paired with a new Wi-Fi 6E router (which they are marketing as the “Supersonic Gateway” as part of their package Xfinity “Supersonic Bundle” deals). Wi-Fi 6E technology is the latest router tech to hit the consumer market. Being targeted by these ads got me interested in Wi-Fi 6E and wondering if the hype justifies the increased Wi-Fi 6E router costs.
This article will dig in to the technological capabilities and compare Wi-Fi 6E versus previous generation Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 technologies, in an effort to determine if a Wi-Fi 6E upgrade is worth the cost of the upgrade for your household. Additionally, I’ll highlight some of the best Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 5 routers and compatible modems that are currently for sale to help you upgrade your speeds at the best price for the Wi-Fi needs in your household.
Note for readers: Xfinity currently charges $15/month ($180/year) for a modem/router rental (and they periodically raise their modem rental fee, which is fairly standard for an internet service provider these days. A little known secret is that you can replace your Comcast Xfinity modem with your own in order to get rid of your Xfinity modem rental fee and lower your Comcast bill. This is a particularly effective bill lowering strategy for those who don’t enjoy negotiating with Xfinity. If you’re with another internet service provider that charges for a modem/router rental, you can also replace your ISP’s modem and router with your own to cut the fee – and they often pay for themselves very quickly within a year or 2.
Let’s start this off by doing a quick overview of Wi-Fi 5 technology and work our way up to Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E.
What is Wi-Fi 5?
Wi-Fi 5, also known as 802.11ac Wi-Fi, was adopted in 2014 and offered speed enhancement and additional device connectivity capabilities versus its predecessor, Wi-Fi 4, or 802.11n (which was adopted in 2008 and added the faster 5GHz band). Wi-Fi 5 can use both a 2.4GHz and a 5GHz band, with max real-world advertised router speeds typically around 500mbps for the 2.4GHz band, and 1300Mbps for the 5GHz band.
Wi-Fi 5 speeds can technically go up to 6900Mbps (6.9Gbps), but those speeds are rarely seen in real-world router use or available from internet service providers. Wi-Fi 5 also boosted the number of connections (devices) that a router can communicate with simultaneously from 2 in the previous generation to 4.
The Best Wi-Fi 5 Routers
If you are looking to buy a Wi-Fi 5 router, most will have “AC” in the model name. Here are my picks for the best Wi-Fi 5 routers for the price:
- TP-Link AC1750: up to 1750Mbps (1200Mbps on the 5GHz band + 600Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band)
- Netgear Nighthawk AC1750: up to 1750Mbps (1300Gbps on the 5GHz band + 450Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band)
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax Wi-Fi was adopted in 2019 and offered speed enhancement and additional device connectivity capabilities versus its predecessor, Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 both utilize a 2.4GHz and a 5GHz band, but real world advertised router speeds are typically around 575Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, and 2400Mbps on the 5GHz band (versus 500mbps for the 2.4GHz band, and 1300Mbps for the 5GHz band for Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi speeds can technically go up to 9608Mbps (9.6Gbps), versus 6900Mbps (6.9Gbps) with Wi-Fi 5, but those real world speed enhancements will vary rarely be seen.
More importantly, Wi-Fi 6 boosts the number of connections (devices) that a router can communicate with simultaneously up to 8, from 4 in Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6 also offers a stronger security standard (WPA3) versus WPA2 with Wi-Fi 5. It’s also been claimed that Wi-Fi 6 allows for better battery life than Wi-Fi 5, by offering more efficient router communications with devices.
The Best Wi-Fi 6 Routers
If you are looking to buy a Wi-Fi 6 router, most will have “AX” in the model name. Here are my picks for the best Wi-Fi 6 routers for the price:
- TP-Link AX3000: up to 3000Mbps (2402Mbps on the 5GHz band + 575Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band)
- TP-Link AX1800: up to 1800Mbps (1200Mbps on the 5 GHz band + 574Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band)
- Netgear Nighthawk AX1800: up to 1800Mbps (1200Mbps on the 5 GHz band + 574Mbps on 2.4 GHz band)
What is Wi-Fi 6E?
Wi-Fi 6E, which shares the 802.11ax Wi-Fi moniker with Wi-Fi 6, was adopted in 2020. Notably, Wi-Fi 6E opened up a 3rd radio frequency band (6GHz) for use, in addition to the previous 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Theoretically, the new band will reduce congestion and produce higher real-world speeds (at the expense of range, however, as the wider 6Hz band has a smaller range).
There is technically not a max speed increase from Wi-Fi 6 to Wi-Fi 6E, though real-world speeds will likely be higher if there are 8+ simultaneous high-speed connections to a router device (only likely in larger number households). Wi-Fi 6E also boasts 21 total channels in various frequencies (vs. 11 for Wi-Fi 5 and 12 for Wi-Fi 6). In theory, this will reduce interference with your neighbors.
The Best Wi-Fi 6E Routers
If you are looking to buy a Wi-Fi 6E router, most will have “AXE” in the model name. Here are my picks for the best Wi-Fi 6 routers for the price:
- TP-Link AXE5400: up to 5400Mbps (2402 Mbps on the 6GHz, 2402Mbps on the 5GHz band, 574 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band)
- Asus RT-AXE7800: up to 5400Mbps (2402 Mbps on the 6GHz, 4804Mbps on the 5GHz band, 574 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band)
- Amazon eero Pro: up to 1300Mbps
Wi-Fi 6E vs. Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 5 Comparison Chart
In the simplest terms, here’s a comparison chart breakdown of the technological differences between Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6, and Wi-Fi 6E:
|Router Technology:||Year Adopted:||Max Speed:||Simultaneously Connected Devices:||Number of Channels||Radio Frequency Bands:|
|Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)||2014||433 to 6933Mbps||4||11||2.4 GHz, 5 GHz|
|Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)||2019||600 to 9608Mbps||8||12||2.4 GHz, 5 GHz|
|Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax)||2020||600 to 9608Mbps||8+, varies by router||21||2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, 6GHz|
Is Wi-Fi 6E Worth the Upgrade Cost?
According to speedtest.net, the median broadband internet speed in the U.S. is 167Mbps. While that number has been increasing rapidly in recent years, you can see by the table above that there is still a lot of room for internet service provider capabilities to catch up to modern router technology, from a speed standpoint. Some of that could be the cost of higher tier ISP plans – 500Mbps+ speeds can get fairly pricey.
Are the highest speeds truly necessary? Netflix recommends a minimum internet speed of 15Mbps to stream in Ultra 4K quality. Online gamers, those who upload and download large data files, and households that stream multiple high bit rate applications at the same time will want faster speeds than that, but are 1Gbps+ speeds truly necessary? Probably not. From a speed standpoint, you can see where upgrading from a Wi-Fi 6 to a Wi-Fi 6E router probably doesn’t make the most sense.
Where newer router technologies could be worth the upgrade cost is in their ability to handle more high-speed connections at the same time. Most households are rapidly increasing the number of devices that are connected to routers at any given moment. Deloitte found that the average number of connected devices in a given household is up to 22 – and that will only rise in future years. While only a handful of those devices may actually require a high-speed connection simultaneously, you can quickly see where larger families may need more than the 4 simultaneous high-speed connections that a Wi-Fi 5 router can comfortably handle or even the 8 that a Wi-Fi 6 router can handle.
It’s a little ambiguous exactly how many devices can simultaneously connect to Wi-Fi 6 routers. I’ve seen the number advertised as 60, 75, and even 200 devices for various Wi-Fi 6E routers. Whatever the number is, it is notably higher than Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 devices, but you’ll have to determine if it is worth paying the premium that Wi-Fi 6E routers are currently charging in order to meet your current (or future) needs.
So, the promise of Wi-Fi 6E and future router technology is primarily the ability to comfortably handle more high speed connections and reduce latency. But, given the current price and the limited choice of Wi-Fi 6E routers at the moment, it’s probably not worth upgrading from a Wi-Fi 6 router (see recommendations above) to a Wi-Fi 6E router, in all but the most connected households (e.g. 6+ connected individuals). If you’re looking to buy a new router at the moment, a Wi-Fi 6 router is probably in the sweet spot of technology and price. That will likely change in 2023 as more Wi-Fi 6E models hit the market and prices come down.
If Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, Make Sure that your Modem Can Handle Higher Router Speeds
There is no point in upgrading your router to a higher speed technology (e.g. 1200Mbps) if you have an outdated modem with slow max speeds (e.g. 150Mbps). Upgrading your modem may give you even better results. Here are a few of the top-selling modems on the market at the moment, to pair with your router:
- Motorola MB8611: up to 2330Mbps (DOCSIS 3.1)
- Netgear CM2000: up to 2330Mbps (DOCSIS 3.1)
- Arris S33: up to 2330Mbps (DOCSIS 3.1)
If you’re looking for a modem with VOIP (e.g. Xfinity Voice) capabilities, check out the following:
- Netgear CM2050v: up to 2330Mbps (DOCSIS 3.1)
- Arris T25: up to 949Mbps (DOCSIS 3.1)