I’ve been spending a few days testing Eero’s latest Pro 6E Wi-Fi system and I can tell you I see a significant speed increase over my existing Eero Pro 6 routers. Eero, which is owned by Amazon, has also released a system of mesh routers called Eero 6+ which is cheaper, but I didn’t review those, because I’m most interested in Wi-Fi 6E.
For consumers upgrading from a Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or earlier iteration, or if you’re a small office planning on an equipment refresh this year or next to computers or phones that will support Wi-Fi 6E, it makes sense to invest in the most advanced router that you can buy, and the Eero Pro 6E devices are pretty solid. They aren’t as expensive as some of the other 6E routers out on the market either at $499 (2-pack) or $699 (3-pack).
More on the Eero Pro 6E devices in a bit, but first let’s talk about how freaking awesome it is that we’re getting a whole new 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for Wi-Fi.
The biggest story in Wi-Fi has been half a decade in the making. In the midst of the pandemic, the FCC approved the use of the so-called 6 GHz spectrum band for unlicensed use, a decision that was contested and later found valid by the courts in 2021. The last time we got a new band of spectrum for Wi-Fi was in 2009 when the first routers that used available 5 GHz frequencies came out.
But in our tech-heavy world, we’re sending more and more data over Wi-Fi networks, which means that there’s an unending demand for more airwaves over which to send those bits. Unlike the spectrum used for cellular connectivity, where a company will pay for the rights to exclusively use the spectrum, unlicensed bands have been a harder sell. It’s difficult for the government to give up billions in potential revenue, and yet, Wi-Fi is one of the greatest success stories for unlicensed connectivity of our time.
Why am I giving you a history lesson before I dig into a product review? Because the launch of tri-band routers happening this year is a huge victory for technology, especially technology that is almost “free” for users. A prior guest on my podcast compared it to opening not just another lane on the information superhighway, but an entirely new highway.
But, for most consumers updating their routers in search of new, pristine megahertz is silly, because today there are few devices that use the 6 GHz spectrum. And to ride on that new highway both the device and the router have to support the new band. So with all of this backstory in place, let’s talk about Eero’s Pro 6E routers.
The new Eero Pro 6E routers are fast
I have dozens of devices in my home but only one of them — a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 phone — has a Wi-Fi 6E-capable radio. This means it’s the only device riding on that pristine 6 GHz highway. Technically, because the Eero mesh also has 6 GHz-capable radios, the connection between the different routers that are part of the Eero mesh also can backhaul data using the 6 GHz spectrum. However, in my tests, this only resulted in a roughly 20 Mbps capacity difference when speed testing my gigabit network between the Pro 6E routers and my older Eero 6 Pro routers.
However, when testing speeds on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 in my dining room about 30 feet from any of the Eero routers I did notice a difference. With the Pro 6E devices I saw speeds of 273 Mbps down and 341 Mbps up, whereas on the Pro 6 devices that don’t have the extra spectrum band, I saw speeds of 94 Mbps down and 104 Mbps up in the same location. That’s a roughly 3x improvement.
I also saw faster overall speeds on my Pixel 5 phone and my laptop even though neither has a 6 GHz-capable radio inside. My husband’s Dell laptop and iPhone 12 also saw about a 2x jump in speeds, although nothing in our home except our routers reaches anything close to gigabit speeds ever. However, I tend to distrust speeds and feeds as a measure of high-quality Wi-Fi in the home nowadays. Given how different the traffic can be on my network based on who’s home and what they might be doing, it’s hard to test Wi-Fi speeds in a pristine environment. And honestly, I don’t want to. This guy does a good job, though.
Eero helped launch the latest wave of routers for homes that have an array of features such as easy-to-manage guest networks, device management capabilities, as well as services such as add-on security and VPNs. Eero charges $9.99 a month for some of these security features.
Before Eero launched, most consumers took the Wi-Fi boxes provided by their ISP and just hoped it worked. Eero helped pioneer easier-to-use software and mesh systems, and the entire industry has adapted to this changed environment. Even ISPs have better Wi-Fi options today (although many charge exorbitant monthly fees to use them).
Does the smart home need Wi-Fi 6E?
As a smart-home aficionado when I’m evaluating a Wi-Fi system I’m looking for coverage. For example, can my distant devices get a speed or coverage boost with new gear? Because 6 GHz spectrum does a poor job traveling through walls and over longer distances, I didn’t expect to see much improvement for my far-flung devices. Do I notice lower latency between devices? That’s hard to track. My devices send data around at decent rates already. I didn’t notice any difference in performance or lower latency when asking Google or Alexa to turn a light bulb on and off.
I also don’t notice a change when I ask my digital assistant to implement a routine that might have multiple actions. One area where having a new spectrum superhighway may pay off is in the battery life of my Wi-Fi devices such as my Schlage Encode door lock. The thinking here is that if we remove some traffic from one band, it makes the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands less congested. This, in turn, reduces the number of packets the device has to transmit before it gets through, saving some small amount of power consumption. I obviously can’t tell that in a few days of testing, nor am I sure I’d notice in the real world.
Finally, Eero does everyone using multiple smart home hubs with Ethernet connections dirty by continuing to stick with only having two ports on its routers, so if you have multiple hubs, you will need a switch. For example, I have two 8-port switches in my home and I think I only have one port free at the moment. Pro tip, don’t forget to update your switches when you update your Wi-Fi. It won’t matter for things like lighting hubs, but it will for AV gear and maybe some smart home hubs.
One other note. Smart home nerds will undoubtedly like the fact that the Eero routers have a Thread-capable 802.15.4 radio inside that will act as a Thread border router in a home network. Later this year and next year, this will become relevant as we get Matter-capable devices that use the Thread standard. Additionally, because Eero is owned by Amazon, if your home is all in on Alexa, you’ll find that adding Amazon devices to your Eero network is a piece of cake, and controlling Eero’s Wi-Fi through Alexa can allow you to do some fun things.
Other options for Eero users
All of this means I’m clearly not in the intended audience for this particular device, or really any 6E router just yet. And this is fine. Nick Weaver, the CEO of Eero said that he views this year and next as a tipping point for Wi-Fi 6E devices, and expects a rapid roll-out of 6E-capable laptops and smartphones — things that people replace often. He also finally answered a question I’ve been wondering about since Eero’s launch in 2015, which is how long one can expect a router to last. Weaver puts that number at five years, or roughly two generations of technology. This feels about right for me as a self-professed nerd and bandwidth hog, but maybe not as true for folks who don’t have three people conducting virtual meetings and streaming video all day.
Additionally, if you’re not replacing devices or don’t have multi-gigabit connections, the latest gear is going to offer marginal advantages unless you have a gamer or want to stream content in 4K or even 8K. Eero is also tweaking its Wi-Fi router lineup with new pricing for the original Eero 6 devices, which will now sell in a three-pack for $199. If you’re on a budget and don’t have a connection that’s more than 500 Mbps then that’s a good option in the Eero family and puts those devices on par with pricing for other basic Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems.
I should also say I don’t test all of the Wi-Fi routers out there on a regular basis and have not tried the most recent crop of 6E routers out there. Many of them have much higher price tags, with Netgear Orbi coming in at about $1,500 for a two-pack and Linksys charging about $1,000. Both of those can provide much higher speeds if those are available to your home or office. Asus ZenFi ET8 does offer 6E capability at a similar price point and the ability to deliver faster speeds if you have a multi-gigabit connection. The Eero tops out at 2.3 Gbps, although it does offer 160 MHz-wide channels in the 6 GHz band, which not every 6E router can claim.
If you’re a gamer or someone who works with huge files and plans to upgrade to a 6E-capable computer or laptop and has an existing multi-gigabit connection that you actually use, then I’d look at the more expensive options that offer more performance at higher prices. But what Eero has done here is deliver a performant device at a reasonable cost for people who may have a gigabit connection but probably don’t really take advantage of it.
If you’re upgrading from a Wi-Fi 5 router and want to see what 6E is all about, this could be a good entry point that will deliver quality coverage for most internet users. If you’re like me and somewhat regret upgrading to the Wi-Fi 6 Pro devices from Eero (they didn’t provide the speed boost I was after) and plan to buy a Wi-Fi 6E capable device in the coming year, then I suppose you could upgrade. Personally, I’d wait until that 6E client device is in your hands and we see what other options come out in the coming months, and those are priced.
What about the Eero 6+?
I didn’t forget about the other news from Amazon, the Eero 6+ that will also support gigabit connections, support for 75 devices, and has the 160 MHz wide channels to really deliver a lot of data quickly. In fact, that wider channel width is really the only difference between the Eero 6+ and my existing Eero Pro 6 routers, which are also still available. The Eero 6+ devices will cost $239 for a 2-pack and $299 for a 3-pack.
I didn’t test this, but I’d probably choose this option over the Eero Pro 6 routers that I have, which cost $399 for a 2-pack and $599 for a 3-pack. The Pro 6 routers will still be available, but why spend the money when paying less gets you a smidge more.
Basically, after testing this gear and seeing the 2x to 3x performance improvement from the 6E routers on non-6E devices, I’m pretty hacked I spent so much on my existing Eero Pro 6 products, which I purchased because I was focused on supporting my gigabit connection. Oh well.
JD Roberts says
Great write up, thanks!
One point of curiousity: Can you specify which band your android phone/tablet connects to? This continues to be an issue for home automation devices that only use 2.4 ghz, of which there are many, since initial set up typically requires that the phone/tablet setting them up the first time be on the same band. (Once the home automation devices is set up, they no longer have to match.)
Many routers, though, will “optimize“ which band you use, always forcing an android phone to the available 5 GHz, making it really hard to set up the new device.
I know some routers will let you temporarily disable one of the bands, which solves this problem, I just don’t know if the new Eero does.
BTW, Xfinity is saying they expect a new router generation every three years from now on, for what that’s worth.