Apple Explains How WiFi 6E Works On The New iPad Pro

When I told you that you should not buy the new iPad Pro, which is view that I still stand by for the record, one of the things that I mentioned was this when I looked at the spec sheet and found 6GHz missing from the WiFi section:

This is something that I have to admit that I find puzzling because the way Apple defines WiFi 6E, it seems that they are using both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands to improve bandwidth and increase range based on your distance from the router. Likely because those bands have better ranger than 6GHz. But my understanding of WiFi 6E is that there is no WiFi 6E without the 6GHz band. This article on WiFi 6E from Cisco seems to support my understanding of how WiFi 6E works. And I cannot find this dual band use case. Though if there is one, I would love it if someone can point me towards it. In any case if you accept that there is no 6E without the 6GHz band, what is Apple doing here? I admit that I am pretty perplexed by this because I cannot see them making this sort of mistake by saying that the iPad Pro has something that isn’t technically possible. I guess we’ll have to wait until someone gets their hands on one and lights it up on a WiFi 6E router and tells the world what happens next.

Well, Apple has released a support document to clear this up. Or at least try to.

For best performance with Apple devices, the Wi-Fi router providing the network should use a single network name across all of its wireless bands: the 2.4GHz band, the 5GHz band, and the Wi-Fi 6E network’s 6GHz band.

If the router isn’t using the same name for all bands, your device identifies the network as having limited compatibility. It then finds the name of the corresponding 5GHz network and asks whether you want to join it for better compatibility. 

  • If you select OK, your device joins the 5GHz network without the benefits of Wi-Fi 6E.
  • If you select Not Now, your device continues to use the Wi-Fi 6E network, but your overall experience with some activities over the network might not be as expected.

Well, let’s think about this for a second. There is a reason why companies or individuals break up their network by band and give each band a separate name, and that reason is compatibility. For example, I have an ASUS ZenWiFi XT8 router that has three separate networks:

  • A 2.4 GHz that has a couple of HomeKit devices as well as a printer on it.
  • A 5 GHz network that has the majority of my gear including MacBooks, iPhones, A Roku TV, and a PC among other things.
  • There’s a second 5 GHz band that acts as a wireless backhaul for the two nodes of the XT8 router.

I did this because when I had a single network name for the first two bands, some of my gear either wouldn’t connect at all. For example, some of my HomeKit gear would fall into that category. Or if they did, the faster gear would sometimes connect on the slower band. Which of course is a #Fail.

Also, I for one also want more details on what “overall experience with some activities over the network might not be as expected.” with separate bands means. I’m very curious what Apple means by that, and why it doesn’t apply to have separate 2.4ghz and 5ghz on routers that don’t support 6E.

It gets better though. There’s also this tidbit:

If you administer the network, you can make that change in the webpage or app used to administer the router. Edit the names for each band so that they’re all the same.

Based on what I said earlier, having Apple tell you to change your network to make their iPad Pro work with WiFi 6E doesn’t change the fact that nobody is going to change a network that works perfectly fine for their needs. Or put another way, this is not going to happen in most cases.

I think that what this document makes clear is that Apple is doing something different when it comes to WiFi 6E. And that’s likely not going to be a good thing for the few people who have WiFi 6E in the home or office. And I suspect that we’ll start hearing about it shortly as new iPad Pros should be in the wild today. And once people start posting experiences that aren’t exactly positive, Apple will have to respond to that in more detail than this.

UPDATE: I had a reader of this blog reach out to me on Twitter to say that he had problems with his iPad Pro on WiFi 6E:

I’m going to be keeping an eye on this closely as this could be the start of people complaining about WiFi 6E on their iPad Pros.

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