Another Google-associated device just hit the FCC. At a glance, this looks like it could be the upcoming refresh of the 2019 Nest Wifi, and details included in the report indicate that it will support Wi-Fi 6E.
We’ve known that a refreshed version of the Nest Wifi was planned since at least April when details first started to appear in teardowns. More recently, a source tipped off 9to5Google back in June about some hardware details, indicating that satellite “point” units will have identical hardware to the base station. At the time, Wi-Fi 6 support was a given, but it wasn’t clear if the slightly newer Wi-Fi 6E would make the cut. Google includes that technology on its Pixel 6 series phones, so it would have been a little unusual if it wasn’t available on a Google-made router, but our concerns have been eased, and the FCC details published today indicate that the device should support Wi-Fi 6E and the new 6GHz frequencies that supports.
One of the really great things about Wi-Fi 6E, and why I’m particularly excited to hear this, is the fact that mesh networks can actually benefit from 6E even if you don’t have any devices that can use it. That’s because mesh Wi-Fi systems have to interconnect to do their thing, and most people choose to use wireless backhaul — that means that their satellite nodes connect to the “router” hub using the same sets of frequencies that devices have to use. Given how congested the existing 2.4 and 5GHz bands are in many dense environments, this means not only do connected devices have to “shout” over your neighbors to be heard, but they also have to deal with the fact that your home network itself will sometimes be in the way.
Enter: Wi-Fi 6E. The new technology uses the same Wi-Fi 6 features but unlocks a new set of 6GHz frequencies living just above the existing 5GHz we’ve been using for ages, and almost nothing is using these 6GHz frequencies right now. That means even if you don’t have a phone or computer that can connect to these new frequencies, if your mesh system supports Wi-Fi 6E, it may be able to use the new 6GHz bands for its backhaul, freeing up precious 2.4 and 5GHz spectrum for older devices. In short, even if you don’t think you need Wi-Fi 6E, it can do your mesh network a world of good.
The one drawback is that (generally speaking) the higher the frequency, the shorter the range. Many customers are already familiar with their 5GHz network signal not extending quite as far as their 2.4GHz signal. In my testing, 6GHz performs a bit worse than that, so positioning will play a factor on Wi-Fi 6E network performance.
There’s no absolute guarantee that the upcoming Nest Wifi refresh will support 6E, but the documents published by the FCC so far are pretty strong proof. The new device, given the unimaginative model name/number G6ZUC, has antennas that support the required 6GHz frequencies, as well as 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi and support for Google’s 2.4GHz Thread standard for smart home hardware.
Two tables (among other evidence) that indicate 6GHz support.
Curiously, 6GHz performance didn’t actually come up in the test reports filed with the FCC, but those documents may not be available yet.
There’s no telling yet what this new device will look like or if it will have any particularly interesting software features — that sort of stuff isn’t included in FCC testing reports. Based on prior leaks, we do know that Google was planning to make hardware identical between satellite/”point” units and the primary/hub. If that pans out, it can make the setup process a lot easier since you won’t have to worry about which unit goes where.
More importantly, it could also mean that if the “router” hub can manage wired devices with dedicated Ethernet ports, you may be able to connect wired devices to the satellite points as well since they’ll have the same ports. That omission on the last generation of hardware was a major pain point for some customers.
On the prior Nest Wifi, the router/hub (left) and satellite “point” (right) didn’t have the same hardware or the same ports.
Some of us may already be looking further ahead to Wi-Fi 7, but a Nest Wifi with Wi-Fi 6E support is definitely some good news. Since it’s already at the FCC, I don’t imagine we’ll have a lot longer to wait for a formal announcement — maybe an October Made By Google event?