Qualcomm logo during CES 2018Source: Android Central

Qualcomm loves the mid-cycle refresh. We've seen it done several times, starting with the Snapdragon 821, but recently Qualcomm has slapped a "plus" onto its flagship SoC (System on Chip) and has touted better performance and better gaming.

That's technically true because when you can deliver 10 or 15% higher CPU speeds — the new Snapdragon 865+ is the first chip to cross the 3GHz speed barrier — and an equal amount of GPU performance, applications will benefit. They just don't benefit enough to see any real-world gains for most of what we do on a smartphone.

But the Snapdragon 865+ has one more trick up its sleeve, and it's a pretty big deal: Wi-Fi 6E support.

What is Wi-FI 6E?

Wi Fi 6e Certified PhoneSource: Nick Sutrich/Android Central

To put it simply, Wi-Fi 6E is Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax for the nerdy types out there) that uses the newly unregulated 1,200MHz of bandwidth over the 6GHz band. That explains a lot if you're into networking, but it's more than computer nerd speak.

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You already know how frequency affects Wi-Fi performance, even if you don't know that you knew. That's because we've been using the 2.4GHz band and the 5GHz bands for Wi-Fi for a while now.

Try to stream a 4K video over a 2.4GHz connection to see the difference bandwidth makes.

2.4GHz Wi-Fi is slow; it's not just your imagination. But it does travel further and has better penetration through things like walls and has less interference from things like electrical wires of copper plumbing pipes. Meanwhile, 5GHz Wi-Fi is much faster but it lacks the distance and penetration of 2.4GHz.

This is why you see things like smart lights or smart plugs using 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. Those devices do not need high speeds and sticking with the slower 2.4GHz bands makes the hardware cheaper while freeing up space over 5GHz for things like your phone or computer.

Wi-Fi 6E blows its predecessors out of the water when it comes to bandwidth. While Wi-Fi 6E is not any faster than Wi-Fi 6, it is much more reliable. That's because it uses 1,200MHz of bandwidth (room for signals to travel beside each other) compared to the 400MHz of previous generations of Wi-Fi over the 5GHz band.

It's more than numbers; Wi-Fi 6E will bring real improvement that's easy to see.

All this means something, even if it looks like a bunch of numbers. Wi-Fi 6E has more channels and those channels are "bigger" (160MHz versus 40MHz). That means each channel can support more users, and with more channels available Wi-Fi congestion won't be as big of a problem as it is now.

What's this mean for me?

Pixel 4 XL showing the Android 10 Wi-Fi settings pageSource: Joe Maring / Android Central

Like almost everything tech-related, it means nothing until you have the equipment to use it. The good news is that you can have it very soon.

A Wi-FI 6E phone needs a Wi-Fi 6E router to be any better.

Wi-Fi 6E requires the equipment at both ends — meaning your router and your phone, or laptop, or PlayStation — need to support it for it to work. Everything is backward compatible so a phone with a Wi-Fi 6E enabled Snapdragon 865+ chip will work with even the oldest Wi-Fi router, but to see the performance gains you need a new router.

Normally, this is where I would say you should temper your expectations and wait it out until you actually need a new router. But not this time. For many of us, the new Wi-Fi 6E standard is worth buying into early.

When Wi-Fi signals overlap, and they do quite often if you live somewhere like an apartment, your speed drops because of the congestion, You also see Wi-Fi dropping out or even difficulties in connecting. This is exactly what Wi-Fi 6E fixes and because of the higher amount of bandwidth per channel, even when your neighbors all have a Wi-Fi 6E router you will still see much better and consistent Wi-Fi.

If you have neighbors, you need Wi-Fi 6E.

If you live way out in the suburbs and don't see more than a handful of other routers when you try to connect to yours you probably can wait. But if you see that long list of all your neighbors when you try to connect, Wi-Fi 6E is for you.

You will soon be able to buy a "gaming" phone like the ASUS ROG 3 with a Snapdragon 865+ chip that supports Wi-Fi 6E and it's a safe bet that Qualcomm's 2021 lineup will include it, too. Routers that support the standard will also be available soon and that's all you need. Wi-Fi 6E is definitely worth getting into early.

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