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Wi-Fi 6E vs. Starlink: How Do They Compare?

Wi-Fi 6E vs. Starlink: A Deep Dive Comparison of Cutting-Edge Internet Technologies

If you‘re looking to upgrade your home or business internet in 2023, you‘ve likely come across two of the most buzzed-about solutions: Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink. Both herald a generational leap forward in speed, reliability, and performance. But while they share the same goal of delivering exceptional connectivity, Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink take very different approaches to get you online.

As someone fascinated by the rapid evolution of digital communications technology, I want to provide you with an in-depth look at exactly what these two solutions are, how they work, and the key differences between them. Whether you‘re a tech enthusiast or just want the best internet experience possible, understanding the ins and outs of Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink will help you make a more informed decision about the right fit for your needs. Let‘s jump in!

Breaking Down Wi-Fi 6E: The Latest Wireless Networking Standard

First, let‘s take a closer look at Wi-Fi 6E. The "E" here stands for "extended," as Wi-Fi 6E builds upon the foundation of Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) with an important new capability. While Wi-Fi 6 and earlier versions only operate on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands, Wi-Fi 6E adds the 6 GHz band into the mix.

This is a big deal because the 6 GHz band provides a huge swath of additional spectrum for Wi-Fi devices to utilize. We‘re talking about 1,200 MHz of newly-opened bandwidth, more than the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands combined. With up to 59 non-overlapping 20 MHz channels, the 6 GHz band is spacious and uncongested compared to the increasingly crowded lower bands.

The 6 GHz Difference

Access to the 6 GHz band allows Wi-Fi 6E to achieve unprecedented speeds and handle many more simultaneous device connections without bogging down. In laboratory testing, Wi-Fi 6E routers have reached data transfer rates exceeding 10 Gbps (gigabits per second). That‘s over 4 times faster than the top speeds of Wi-Fi 6 at 2.4 Gbps.

Before you get too excited, it‘s important to note that real-world speeds will be significantly lower and ultimately limited by the bandwidth provided by your internet service provider. A Wi-Fi 6E network still needs to connect to the internet through an ISP. The 10 Gbps refers to the local speed at which data can travel between your router and devices, not your actual internet speed.

Speaking of range, the higher frequency 6 GHz band comes with a tradeoff. While it enables blistering multi-gigabit speeds, the shorter 6 GHz wavelengths have more difficulty penetrating walls and obstacles compared to 2.4/5 GHz. As such, the range of Wi-Fi 6E routers is best suited for smaller spaces like apartments, offices, and single rooms rather than sprawling multi-level homes.

Wi-Fi 6E also boasts extremely low latency under 1 ms, which is great for applications like gaming, VR, and videoconferencing. It supports the latest Wi-Fi security protocol WPA3 and up to 8 simultaneous device connections. To take advantage of Wi-Fi 6E, you‘ll need a Wi-Fi 6E certified router and devices with Wi-Fi 6E compatible network adapters.

To sum up, Wi-Fi 6E is the most advanced version of the popular wireless networking standard most of us use at home and work every day. It leverages pristine 6 GHz spectrum to provide a dramatic boost in speed and performance, especially in dense environments with lots of connected devices. But Wi-Fi 6E itself does not supply an internet connection – that‘s where our next technology comes in.

Starlink: Satellite Internet on an Unprecedented Scale

In contrast to Wi-Fi 6E, Starlink is not a wireless networking protocol but rather an ambitious satellite internet service. Starlink was founded in 2015 by Elon Musk‘s SpaceX with the goal of delivering high-speed, low-latency broadband internet across the globe, including to rural and remote areas traditionally underserved by terrestrial ISPs.

To achieve this, Starlink has launched a massive "constellation" of over 3,500 small low earth orbit satellites (as of January 2023) that whiz around the planet at an altitude of about 340 miles. Thousands more satellites are planned in the coming years to expand coverage and capacity. This differs from traditional satellite internet that relies on a small number of large satellites in much higher geostationary orbits.

Starlink‘s satellites are 60 times closer to earth than geostationary satellites, which drastically reduces latency. The sheer number of satellites also allows Starlink to provide much faster speeds than previous generations of satellite internet, up to 350 Mbps download and 40 Mbps upload in ideal conditions based on preliminary data from beta testers.

How Starlink Delivers Internet From Space to Your Home

To connect to Starlink, customers need to install a ground-based antenna dish (nicknamed "Dishy McFlatface") that tracks and communicates with the satellites as they zip by overhead. The pizza box-sized dish automatically angles itself for the best signal and connects to a Wi-Fi 6 router to distribute the satellite internet throughout your home. Starlink also offers a convenient mobile app to help set up, monitor, and manage your connection.

Starlink service is currently available in over 40 countries with plans for near-global coverage, potentially in the next year or two. All you need is a clear view of the sky. This makes Starlink a viable solution for bringing fast internet to underserved rural locations, remote work sites, moving RVs, and even ships at sea.

Starlink promises to close the digital divide and connect the unconnected with speeds and latency comparable to urban cable/fiber. In testing, Starlink has demonstrated latency between 20-40 ms, fast enough for online gaming. The service is reasonably priced at $110/month, though it does require a one-time equipment fee of $599 for the satellite dish and router.

Like any developing technology, Starlink has room for improvement. Speeds can be inconsistent, especially during peak hours, and the connection may be interrupted by passing obstructions or severe weather. There are also questions about the impact of thousands of bright satellites on astronomical observation and space junk. But overall Starlink is delivering on its ambitious vision and pushing satellite internet to new heights.

The Verdict: Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink Serve Different Roles

As we‘ve seen, while both Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink are paving the way towards a faster, more connected future, they are quite distinct technologies. Wi-Fi 6E is a short-range wireless networking protocol for connecting devices within a building, while Starlink is a global satellite internet service for connecting that building (among others) to the world wide web.

Another key difference is Starlink includes both the internet connection and Wi-Fi router as an all-in-one package, whereas Wi-Fi 6E requires a separate internet source. In fact, you can use a Wi-Fi 6E router with Starlink to get the best of both worlds – lightning-fast wireless speeds around your home backed by robust satellite internet. Starlink‘s Wi-Fi 6 router is still a step behind Wi-Fi 6E but expect that to be upgraded in the future.

So which cutting-edge internet technology is right for you? If you live in an underserved area with limited broadband options, Starlink could be a game-changer to finally get modern, Netflix-ready internet speeds from a clear view of the sky. Those in urban areas with access to cable or fiber will find Starlink less compelling from a speed and price perspective.

As for Wi-Fi 6E, it‘s a more broadly useful upgrade for anyone looking to future-proof their home/office network and eliminate congestion/interference issues, especially for bandwidth-hungry, latency-sensitive applications like VR and 8K streaming. You‘ll just want to make sure your internet plan has the speeds to keep up, as Wi-Fi 6E will happily outpace a slow connection. Starlink and Wi-Fi 6E together would be an unbeatable combo.

Whichever path you choose, one thing is clear: we‘ve never seen a more exciting time of innovation and expanded access in the world of internet connectivity. As remote work, 4K video, cloud gaming, smart homes, and bandwidth demands continue to surge, technologies like Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink are rising to the challenge to provide ultra-fast, low-latency, globally-accessible internet for the next generation of devices and digital experiences. The future is here, and it‘s wirelessly wondrous.