ASUS Announces ZenWiFi ET8: A WiFi 6E Mesh Networking System
The WiFi 6E Mesh Era Begins
ASUS has announced their latest mesh networking system, with the ZenWiFi ET8 offering a whole-home WiFi 6E experience. This may look innocent enough on the outside, but within those smooth white enclosures lurk more antennas and 160 MHz channels than you can shake a stick at.
Quoting the ASUS press release:
- Tomorrow’s mesh WiFi, today!: Twin-router WiFi 6E mesh system delivers speeds of up to 6600 Mbps, with seamless coverage across the entire home
- Powerful 6 GHz connectivity: New 6 GHz band with 7 extra 160 MHz channels delivers ultrafast, reliable backhaul connection and maximum network capacity
- Always secure, everywhere: ASUS Instant Guard protects any public WiFi connection; ASUS AiProtection Pro secures all connected devices
- Easy to set up, easy to manage: Simple 3-step setup via the ASUS Router app; choice of multiple SSIDs or single-SSID network naming
ASUS ZenWiFi ET8 is the mesh networking solution to today’s device-dense households, bandwidth-hungry content and over-congested frequency bands. ZenWiFi ET8 incorporates Broadcom WiFi 6E technology, featuring a new 6 GHz frequency band with up to seven extra 160 MHz channels that massively increases device capacity and reduces network latency. As the 6GHz band is exclusive to WiFi 6E devices, it’s ideal for an interference-free backhaul connection, and users also have the choice of using wired Ethernet for backhaul. This flexibility, along with easy setup and management, makes ZenWiFi ET8 the system of choice for discerning users looking for state-of-the-art whole-home WiFi.
I had to read the above paragraph again, and yes, it does say “up to seven extra 160 MHz channels”. Well then. Looking at the tech specs (available at this link) we find that there are 6x internal antennas, with transmit/receive capabilities of 2.4 GHz 2×2, 5 GHz 2×2, and 6 GHz 4×4. If you have the equipment to take advantage of it, this last option can provide a WiFi 6E connection of up to a ludicrous 4804 Mbps.
Rear ports include 1x 2.5GbE LAN/WAN, 3x 1GbE LAN, and 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1
As to price and availability, the ASUS ZenWiFi ET8 will be available here in the US for $529.99 beginning next month (July). For more details you can check out the ASUS product page, and full specs are available using this handy shortcut.
The specs are a bit unbalanced, the 5GHz radio should have been made 4 stream instead of the 6GHz radio. many people will have far more 5GHz devices than 6GHz supporting devices. And even in the case of 6GHz, it’s performance benefits largely require you to be in the same room as the AP, otherwise speeds fall below that of the 5GHz band. This is largely due to the insanely low transmit power restrictions the FCC imposed. If the FCC ends up lifting the limits a few years down the line, then these APs will likely not get a firmware update to support the new limit.
How many 5GHz 4×4 adapters exist?
Nevermind, ASUS has one of their own – the PCE-AC88.
In the case of 4X4 WiFi radios, the purpose is more of improved aggregate throughput. For example, if you have a bunch of WiFi clients on the 5GHz band, a 4 stream WiFi radio can service more clients at the same time, especially with MU-MIMO. On the other hand, if your 5GHz radio on the AP, is a simple 2 stream radio, then a client such as the Intel AX210, will immediately use both streams, thus even with all of the other technologies you will experience poor scaling with additional clients.
For example, with a 4 stream 802.11ax radio, a single Intel AX210 will hit 1.8-1.9Gbps real world throughput over its 2 stream radio. If you run a second system with its own AX210, while both clients will not each hit 1.8-1.9 Gbps, both will be able to still stay over 1.5Gbps. On a 2 stream radios the moment you have 2, 2 stream clients try to simultaneously download, even with MU-MIMO, your aggregate throughput can end up dropping to the 1.2Gbps range. Overall, the goal of the extra streams is to allow more devices to perform quickly at the same time.
Beyond that, so far, there are no 4 stream 802.11ax client WiFi adapters, thus the only way to properly get a 4 stream connection, is to take another 4 WiFi router with a 4 stream radio and have it form a wireless bridge to another 4 stream 802.11ax AP.
This is ultimately why I feel the product would be better off with a 4 stream 5GHz radio, and a 2 stream 6GHz radio. Given the time it is entering the market, most people may only have 1 or 2 6GHz capable devices, and in those situations, There is also the good possibility that they will not both be in the same room as the AP at the same time,
On paper, the 6GHz band should perform better due to the significantly lower noise floor (even here in NYC, where there are well over 200 APs in range, the 6GHz band is clean. But due to the annoying FCC limitations, the 6GHz band is really only good if you are in the same room. once in another room, it begins to perform slower than the 5GHz band, thus a tri-band client such as the Intel AX210 automatically hops down to the 5GHz band.
One other aspect contributing to my reasoning, is that when the FCC loosens some restrictions, many older WiFi routers will magically be forgotten by the company, and never get updates to increase transmit power. When the FCC decides to stop being mean, and allow a full watt transmit power like they do on the 5GHz band (instead of the 250mW for the AP and 127mw for the client), 6 GHz may have much wider adoption where a 4 stream radio will truly shine, but then likely what will happen is all of the older devices will have been forgotten and not get the firmware update needed, thus the 6GHz band will still be a poor performer when not in the same room.