The Wi-Fi Alliance developed a new branding system a couple of years ago for all the versions of Wi-Fi that have been introduced. Before this, Wi-Fi was typically recognized by numbers from the IEEE engineering standards group, such as 802.11n or 802.11ac. To make it easier to use different Wi-Fi equipment and determine the generation being used, the Alliance named products Wi-Fi 4, 5, and 6. (The first 802.11 standards were not numbered but can be inferred as 1, 2, and 3 due to being outdated.)
Wi-Fi 4, 5, and 6 represented generations of standards, each faster and more capable of covering areas of homes and offices with the highest speeds. The most recent updates focused on simultaneously delivering maximum bandwidth to multiple mobile devices, like iPhones.
The three Wi-Fi versions, 4, 5, and 6, were capable of transmitting signals in two frequency bands without needing licenses, unlike cellular networks. These bands, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, are commonly used in many countries, with the United States being a leader in opening up larger portions of these bands. As the standards for Wi-Fi improved, the majority of advancements were made in the 5GHz band, which is now able to support multi-gigabit-per-second speeds, a significant increase from the original 11 Mbps in the first Wi-Fi version.
What does Wi-Fi 6E mean?
Manufacturers of equipment aim to enhance the speed and versatility of Wi-Fi, and governing bodies in various nations (such as the US) have expanded the available frequencies for utilization, which could result in greater bandwidth and reduced interference. This development pertains specifically to the utilization of the 6GHz spectrum, and should not be confused with the unrelated technologies of Wi-Fi 6 and 6GHz.
The Wi-Fi Alliance decided to change their numbering system and introduce Wi-Fi 6E in order to differentiate between traditional Wi-Fi 6 that operates on 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and the new 6GHz devices. The letter “E” represents the inclusion of the 6GHz band. While I understand the intention, it can be confusing.
What is the significance of this in terms of performance?
Apple has been at the forefront of or on par with the development of various Wi-Fi generations, including the recent Wi-Fi 6E. The newest iPhone 15 and 15 Max are equipped with Wi-Fi 6, while the 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max have a slight advantage with Wi-Fi 6E. Most M-series Apple silicon Macs come with Wi-Fi 6 already integrated, and certain newer models have Wi-Fi 6E capabilities.
If you are currently using a Wi-Fi 5 network in your residence, it is unlikely that you need to upgrade unless:
You may experience areas with no reception, intermittent or troublesome connectivity issues.
There is a noticeable discrepancy in speed within various areas of your house, especially when streaming or transferring files.
Your devices are not achieving the expected data rate, even though you have gigabit internet service.
You have the ability to conduct casual evaluations of your internet speed and network functioning through the use of Speedtest. This program is available as a native app for iOS/iPadOS, macOS, and various other operating systems. While the speed of your internet connection may vary, running throughput tests in multiple locations can help identify any actual issues.
You may also refer to the previous article, “Evaluating Your Mac’s Internet Speed and Quality: Tools Included in macOS or Available for Installation,” for access to built-in or downloadable tools.
On a macOS system, you can easily view the current quality and speed of your Wi-Fi router connection by holding down the Option key and selecting the Wi-Fi menu. This will display raw interface details, including the “Tx Rate,” which represents the negotiated data rate between your Mac and the connected router. With a modern Mac and a high-speed Wi-Fi 5 network, the Tx Rate should typically be in the upper 100s of Mbps. For example, when testing on my Mac mini, which is located about 8 feet away from a Wi-Fi 6 router, I see a Tx Rate of 1,200 Mbps (or 1.2 Gbps). When close to a Wi-Fi 5 router, the Tx Rate will show as 866 Mbps.
If you fulfill any of the requirements mentioned and currently have a moderately-priced Wi-Fi 5 network setup, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 or 6E hardware will provide a performance boost. However, this improvement will primarily be noticeable in streaming media between devices on your network or when streaming or downloading files from the internet. In the least efficient areas of your home, you may experience a throughput increase of 20 to 200 percent.
In the majority of situations, your performance may be hindered more by your internet connection and the speed of internet servers rather than by a Wi-Fi 5 network.
This article from Mac 911 is addressing a question from a reader named Jeff at Macworld.
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