When Apple released its iPhone 11 lineup last year, it became one of the first smartphones to pack in ultrafast Wi-Fi 6 technology, putting it ahead of the curve of Wi-Fi standards, a year before the first models arrived to support new 5G cellular standards.
However, it looks like Apple isn’t resting on its laurels here, with a new report from Barclays analysts Blayne Curtis, Thomas O’Malley, and Tim Long revealing that next year’s “iPhone 13” lineup could feature support for the even better “Wi-Fi 6E” standard.
Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the successor to the much more common 802.11ac standard (which has been similarly reduced “Wi-Fi 5”). While most people don’t yet have home routers that support this newest Wi-Fi technology, much like 5G on the cellular side, Wi-Fi 6 opens the door to a whole lot of new possibilities, including multi-gigabit download speeds over Wi-Fi, as well as low latency that offers much more responsive connections, and even lower power usage — a huge boon for mobile devices like the iPhone.
Wi-Fi 6 also handles congested networks far better, which is important in an era when everything in your home from your laptop and smart TV to your toaster and your bathroom scale wants to get online.
Apple has since added Wi-Fi 6 technology to almost all of its current device lineup — the 2020 iPhone SE, the 2020 iPad Pro models, and the fourth-generation iPad Air, the iPhone 12 and its new M1 Mac models — but now it looks like it’s getting ready to take it to the next level.
What Is Wi-Fi 6E?
For years, Wi-Fi has run on two different frequency ranges: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The early 802.11b/g standards that were common to almost all consumer Wi-Fi devices ten or more years ago ran exclusively on 2.4GHz, while the later 802.11n standard (now called “Wi-Fi 4”) optionally expanded this into the 5GHz band, heralding the era of “dual-band” Wi-Fi — routers and devices that could use either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequencies, as appropriate. The current mainstream 802.11ac standard, on the other hand, uses the 5GHz band exclusively.
When it comes to wireless frequencies, the rule of thumb is that lower frequencies offer better ranges at lower speeds. This is the same for cellular technology, which is why T-Mobile’s 600MHz 5G network is considerably slower than Verizon’s ultra-fast mmWave 5G, which runs up in the ultra-high 30GHz range, yet T-Mobile’s network offers magnitude of greater coverage than Verizon’s mmWave transceivers are able to provide.
However, in the case of 2.4GHz Wi-Fi there’s another wrinkle thrown into the mix, which is the fact that many other devices also either use or generate interference on the 2.4GHz band. Cordless phones, garage door openers, and even microwave ovens can all slow down your Wi-Fi network if you’re limited to 2.4GHz frequencies.
On the other hand, while the 5GHz band is far less congested, and faster, the tradeoff is that you get less range because it doesn’t penetrate solid objects like the walls in your home nearly as easily. Since Wi-Fi 5 runs exclusively on the 5GHz band, that means that you’ll be dropping down to slower speeds as you move farther away from your router, forcing your connections down to Wi-Fi 4 technology.
Wi-Fi 6 attempts to solve this by using both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands simultaneously, offering the best possible performance over both. This means that even when your devices drop down to the 2.4GHz frequencies because you’ve moved farther away, you can still take advantage of all of the other features of Wi-Fi 6, such as lower latency and increased power efficiency.
As the name suggested, Wi-Fi 6E is an enhancement to Wi-Fi 6, rather than an entirely new standard, but what it does is add in support for a whole new 6GHz frequency band. This provides additional channels and even faster bandwidth, while sacrificing some range. However, the popularity of 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 devices — which are pretty much universal at this point — means that the 5GHz frequencies have started to get almost as crowded as the 2.4GHz ones. In other words, Wi-Fi 5 has fallen victim to one of the same problems it was trying to solve.
Why This is Important
Since 6GHz offers even more bandwidth than 5GHz, plus a whole new range of pristine and untouched spectrum that’s recently been allocated by the FCC, the end result will be even faster and more reliable Wi-Fi connections. In short, you won’t have to worry about interference from your neighbours slowing down your Wi-Fi with their older routers, since all of your traffic will be up in a completely different range of frequencies.
The end result is potential speeds of up to 9.6Gbps on the 6GHz band, although of course Wi-Fi 6E devices will be backward-compatible with Wi-Fi 6, where they can still potentially offer speeds of up to 4.8Gbps on the 5GHz band and 1.2Gbps on the 2.4GHz band.
To be clear, just as is the case with Wi-Fi 6, you’ll need to be using a router to support this technology, and in fact the Wi-Fi 6E standard has yet to actually be ratified, although this likely won’t stop Apple from adopting the technology based on the current draft specification — the iPhone 11 shipped with Wi-Fi 6 the very same month that the Wi-Fi Alliance announced its Wi-Fi 6 Certification program.
In fact, technically speaking, even Wi-Fi 6 has yet to be officially ratified — although in reality both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E are just different “flavours” of the same “802.11ax” standard, so they’ll likely be ratified together, and at this point it’s expected to get the final seal of approval next February, which would allow plenty of time for the “iPhone 13” to incorporate the faster 6GHz version.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that Apple is one of the key members of the Wi-Fi Alliance, and with its rush to add Wi-Fi 6 to the iPhone 11 last year, it makes a lot of sense that it would also be one of the first to adopt Wi-Fi 6E.