Apple now offers Wi-Fi 6E in Macs; what does it do?

Apple first introduced support for Wi-Fi 6E in iPads late last year and this week rolled out the first Macs to support it. What difference will it make to professionals and why does it matter?

What is Wi-FI 6E?

Where it is permitted, Wi-Fi 6E uses the new to Wi-Fi 6GHz wireless band that makes for faster and more reliable Wi-Fi, though you do need a Wi-Fi router or access point that supports the standard.

That standard was ratified for public use in 2021, when Apple was originally expected to begin to deploy it in iPhones. This didn't happen, of course, and the first Apple devices to implement Wi-FI 6E were iPads.

The advantages of Wi-Fi 6E include:

When Apple introduced support for Wi-Fi 6E with the M2 iPad Pro in 2022, it said: "The new iPad Pro supports the fastest Wi-Fi connections with support for Wi-Fi 6E, so users who need fast connections can take their demanding workflows with them everywhere. Downloads are up to 2.4Gb/s, 2x faster than the previous generation."

Among many improvements, those who champion the 6E standard claim performance is up to four times better in congested environments - and it delivers better battery life. Wi-Fi 6E can utilize up to 14 additional 80MHz channels or seven additional superwide 160MHz channels in 6GHz for applications such as high-definition video streaming and virtual reality.

What this should mean is more consistent, faster Wi-Fi connections that remain stable even when large numbers of devices are using the same access point at once.

What advantages does it provide?

As Apple noted, higher bandwidth supports demanding professional workflows. Another big advantage: Wi-Fi 6E can support more Wi-Fi users simultaneously in densely congested environments. That's great for businesses, as it suggests much better wireless support in offices and other public working spaces.

It's also important to note that the standard implicitly provides more bandwidth and support for more devices, something essential for smart homes, offices, industries, and more. As the number of active connected devices proliferates, it's becoming increasingly important to provide vast quantities of bandwidth.

Enabling the next-generation enterprise

Wi-Fi 6E may enable new business opportunities. That's because the standard's bandwidth-friendly nature better supports important enterprise technologies, such as unified communications, cloud computing, or telepresence. It may also provide essential building blocks for emerging hybrid network services at the cutting edge, such as SASE (Secure Access Service Edge).

The Wi-Fi Alliance has published information concerning existing uses, including deployment at the University of Michigan. With tens of thousands of students, researchers, and faculty staff, the high bandwidth available to 6E there is becoming essential. The university uses it to handle all the standard things you'd expect Wi-Fi to address, but also to transfer huge data sets of analysis and research, manage thousands of simultaneous videoconferencing feeds, and support robots and automation.

With AI, automation, and data analysis all growing across many enterprises, this kind of bandwidth may become common in the coming years.

But what about Wi-Fi 7?

Yes, there is always a new standard on the horizon - in this case, Wi-Fi 7. Despite promising even better Wi-Fi performance, it's way too early to become enthralled to any Wi-Fi 7 hype as the upcoming standard hasn't been ratified yet.

When it does appear, it will offer advantages even in contrast to Wi-Fi 6E, particularly more bandwidth, better multi-channel support, and improved handling of network congestion.

While it is true that some manufacturers may soon launch products they say will support Wi-Fi 7 when it's finally ratified, history shows that some will be very expensive while others won't be able to fully exploit the finalized standard once it appears. Some Wi-Fi 7 smartphones may appear in 2024, but given most smartphones sold last year don't yet support Wi-Fi 6E, it's likely to be some time before this becomes commonplace - and we still need the routers to carry this traffic.

This is why we don't really anticipate 7 will reach tipping point for a few more years.

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi 6E faces regulatory barriers in some nations and not every country has released the 6GHz band it needs. At the same time, it's the standard most users will now move to adopt, in part because it solves the tricky problems of network congestion and helps you get a better connection wirelessly online.

It also promises to handle the high traffic volume of connected everything and increasingly digitized business.

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