Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink are two of the most cutting-edge solutions for home internet connectivity. These recent releases are set to transform the speed and quality of internet access but are different in the role they play and the technology they use to get your devices online.
If you’re considering Starlink or Wi-Fi 6E for your home or business internet, this concise guide explains the major differences between Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink to help you evaluate which one will meet your needs.
What is Wi-Fi 6E?
Wi-Fi 6E is an extended (E) version of Wi-Fi 6 (802.11 ax), which is the latest Wi-Fi standard. The Wi-Fi Alliance developed and released Wi-Fi 6E as a high-efficiency wireless networking solution that can provide extensive coverage and quality of service in environments where Wi-Fi coverage had typically been a challenge. The Wi-Fi Alliance also designed its enhanced performance to support Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity.
Wi-Fi 6E offers a unique level of speed and connectivity because it can transfer data wirelessly over the 6GHz frequency band. The FCC only made this frequency band available for Wi-Fi in April 2020. Using the 6GHz frequency band massively increases the bandwidth and performance of this new version of Wi-Fi.
A Closer Look at the 6 GHz Frequency Band
Wi-Fi6E can transfer data from the internet at speeds that exceed 10 Gbps. This is because of the high transmission speeds and massive bandwidth the 6 GHz frequency band provides.
The 6 GHz frequency band is 1,200 MHz wide and can provide up to 59 20-MHz frequency channels for data transfer compared to just 14 channels at 2.4 GHz. The 6 GHz channels are also much less congested and interference-free, further boosting speeds.
However, 6GHz radio frequency waves have a 5-centimeter wavelength. Obstructions like walls readily absorb this shorter wavelength. This limits the coverage at 6 GHz to a single room for an extremely short distance, but high-speed connections for the devices within it.
What is Starlink?
Starlink is a satellite-based telecommunications service. It is owned and operated by Space X, Elon Musk’s satellite and spacecraft manufacturing company. Starlink is both an internet service provider (ISP) and mobile communications operator that currently serves 40 countries, with scope for global coverage.
A constellation of over 3,000 small satellites that circle the Earth in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) provides Starlink’s internet connectivity. The number of satellites and their proximity to the Earth means that they can provide high-speed broadband internet connectivity, which competitor satellite-ISPs cannot match.
Space X manufactures the Starlink satellites at its development facility in Redmond, Washington. Space X also launches satellites into space. Each satellite has been designed to have reduced brightness, avoid collisions and deorbit safely if required. Space X monitors and controls the constellation at all times.
Space X developed Starlink from the LEO satellite technology that first emerged in the defense sector in the 1980s. In the 1990s, satellite internet emerged, but consumer adoption was limited.
In the 2000s, Space X made several acquisitions relating to satellite telecommunications. They actively developed Starlink between 2014 and 2020 at a cost of $10 billion, registering the network with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The first satellites for the network launched in 2019, with the release of the satellite broadband internet to the public later that year.
Starlink Satellite Internet Features and Cost
Starlink offers broadband satellite internet, with speeds exceeding 90 and 97 Mbps. Unlike conventional satellite ISPs, its internet connectivity is low latency and capable of supporting streaming, video calls, and gaming.
Starlink customers access the internet using a simple hardware kit that includes a base antenna, router, and smartphone app. Because data is transferred via orbiting satellites, Starlink can provide internet access anywhere in the world. People who live in remote locations, or live on the road can use Starlink to stay connected.
Starlink subscriptions start at $110 per month, with an upfront hardware fee of $599. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee for new customers who try the service.
What’s the Difference Between Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink?
The main difference between Starlink and Wi-Fi 6E is that Starlink is an internet service provider, while Wi-Fi 6E is a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) protocol. This means that Starlink can connect you to the internet, but Wi-Fi 6E cannot. Wi-Fi can transfer data wirelessly between devices and an internet access point, but it does not directly connect devices that use the network to the internet.
This is extremely important as many people assume that Wi-Fi provides internet connectivity. In fact, Starlink uses a Wi-Fi 6 router to transfer data between devices and its satellite internet within a home or business. With Starlink, the router transfers data to the antenna which connects to the satellite constellation.
Wi-Fi 6E vs. Starlink: A Side-by-Side Comparison
|What is it?||Satellite internet service provider (ISP)||Wireless Local Area Networking Technology (WLAN)|
|Primary Use||Broadband internet access||Broadband internet access|
|Influential Developers||Elon Musk|
Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL)
|The Wi-Fi Alliance|
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
|Frequency Bands Used||Ku- and Ka-||2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, 6 GHz|
|Max Uplink Speed||Up to 40 Mbps|
|Max Downlink Speed||Up to 350 Mbps||Up to 10 Gbps|
|Latency||20 – 40 ms||80 ns|
|Additional Fees||$460 equipment costs||Wi-Fi 6E router cost ($300+)|
|Equipment Provided||Base station |
Similarities and Differences
- Starlink and Wi-Fi 6E are both wireless networking technologies and use a radiofrequency signal to exchange data.
- Both technologies are recent releases (between 2019 and 2020).
- Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink provide high-speed, low-latency connectivity for end-user devices.
- Both Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink and LTE offer high bandwidth for data exchange.
- Both technologies are used for streaming, gaming, and videoconferencing.
- Starlink is a satellite-based telecommunications technology, while Wi-Fi 6E is a wireless LAN protocol (802.11ax).
- Wi-Fi 6E cannot provide internet connectivity by itself. It needs to be connected to an access point that exchanges data with the world wide web.
- Wi-Fi 6E requires a router and compatible devices that can use the 6 GHz frequency band.
- Wi-Fi 6E does not require a subscription.
- Wi-Fi 6E is designed to provide coverage within a single building.
- Starlink uses a Wi-Fi 5 router to distribute its internet connectivity within the home or business of a subscriber.
- A Wi-Fi 6E router can be connected to Starlink or another ISP to provide internet connectivity.
- Starlink transfers data over the Ka and Ku frequency bands.
- Wi-Fi 6E uses the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz frequency bands.
- Wi-Fi 6E can only support 8 simultaneous device connections.
- Starlink can support between 200 and 8000 simultaneous device connections.
What Makes Wi-Fi 6E Different?
Wi-Fi 6E differs from an ISP because it simply routes the internet connectivity from an ISP wirelessly throughout a building so that devices can connect and use the internet. ISPs like Starlink deliver internet connectivity to a fixed location (access point) and Wi-Fi distributes that connectivity so that multiple devices can connect to its local area network.
However, the quality of connectivity that Wi-Fi 6E can provide is competitive. It offers high-speed, low-latency, and interference-free connectivity on the 6 GHz frequency band. This is because few devices are currently using this portion of the radio spectrum. This means that end-user devices can access the internet at the fastest available speeds, limited by the maximum speed offered by an ISP.
The congestion-free connectivity of Wi-Fi 6E is ideal for applications that need to exchange data quickly, like monitoring IoT devices. Its massive bandwidth is also ideal for high-throughput data transfer like gaming or medical imaging.
Wi-Fi 6E is also specifically encrypted with Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) and the Wi-Fi Enhanced Open certification support. This enhanced security protocol is based on the Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE) specification and robustly secures all data that is exchanged on the network.
Is Starlink Better Than Wi-Fi 6E?
Starlink is much more than a local area network. It is an ISP that provides its subscribers with turnkey internet connectivity that includes a Wi-Fi 6 router to distribute the internet connectivity throughout a property.
Using advanced satellite-based technology, Starlink provides high-speed, high-bandwidth, and low-latency connectivity that provides the internet access necessary for all the devices and applications that Wi-Fi 6E supports.
Starlink also has the mobility that Wi-Fi lacks. It is available in 40 countries and can be accessed by mobile devices, much like a cellular network. Wi-Fi 6E uses a router, but Starlink requires a base that includes a phased array antenna that can track the open sky for the strongest internet signal.
The speed of Starlink’s satellite internet is slower than the speeds that Wi-Fi 6E can theoretically achieve, primarily because of the large distance the satellite signal has to travel through the Earth’s atmosphere. Weather and other conditions may affect the speed and quality of Starlink’s connectivity.
Wi-Fi 6E vs. Starlink: 6 Must-Know Facts
- Starlink has over 250,000 subscribers and annual revenue of $300 million.
- SpaceX manufactures and launches the satellites that make up the Starlink constellation.
- Starlink satellite internet is available for marine and aviation applications.
- The coverage of Wi-Fi 6E at 6 GHz is limited because walls and other obstructions easily absorb the 6GHz signal.
- Wi-Fi 6E is only compatible with enabled and certified routers and devices that can use the license-free frequency band.
- Wi-Fi 6E uses quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) to boost its speed.
Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink are two of the most advanced telecommunications technologies available to the consumer. But, it’s important to know that, while both solutions deliver wireless internet connectivity to devices, Wi-Fi 6E and Starlink are not the same.
Starlink is an ISP, while Wi-Fi 6E relies on an ISP to provide internet access. So, if you need a new home internet solution, Starlink is the better choice (and it comes with Wi-Fi 6 as a bonus).
The image featured at the top of this post is ©iStock.com/NicoElNino.