What's New for Routers in 2022
Get ready for models that offer the benefits of WiFi 6E, easy-to-move antennas, and more-highly-optimized gaming experiences
By now, just about everyone knows the value of a fast and stable WiFi connection.
Without one, it’s almost impossible to do many of the things that have made the pandemic bearable, including effortlessly Zooming with colleagues to keeping tabs on homework assignments and watching the latest Netflix series with friends using an app like Teleparty.
Adoption of WiFi 6E
The WiFi 6 standard was unveiled in late 2019, but routers that support the technology didn’t really start hitting the market until late 2020. We’re now seeing a similar rollout with WiFi 6E, announced in the spring of 2020, so be prepared to hear that term when shopping for a router.
WiFi 6E, if you need a refresher, lets routers tap into the less-crowded 6GHz band, which enables speeds of up to 2 gigabits per second. By comparison, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands of WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 deliver up to 600 and 1,300 megabits per second, respectively.
Earlier this month, Asus, Netgear, TP-Link, and broadband provider Comcast, announced a full slate of soon-to-be-released WiFi 6E routers, ranging from fairly straightforward single-unit options like the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE300 to mesh models like the TP-Link Deco Wi-Fi 6E AXE11000. This, like all mesh routers, is designed to bathe your whole home in uniform WiFi coverage via multiple units (two in this case) placed strategically around the house.
We’ve even seen manufacturers announce WiFi 6E range extenders, which may be useful in situations where you really only need to extend WiFi coverage to one pesky spot in your home.
Only wireless devices designed to connect to a 6GHz network can take full advantage of a WiFi 6E router, however, so if you’re the type of person who hangs on to, say, an iPhone or laptop until it’s just about ready for the big recycler in the sky, this leap forward may not mean a whole lot to you just yet, but it’s good to know it’s on the way.
We don’t yet know the price of the TP-Link Archer AXE200 Omni, but we can tell you that it has one of the year’s most striking new features. The single-unit WiFi 6E router—due for release in the second half of 2022—lets you rotate its antennas in search of a stronger WiFi signal with the push of a button. Well, technically an app.
According to TP-Link, the router offers two options, both of which can be activated by the Omni mobile app used for device management. The first points the antennas in one of six preset configurations (horizontal, vertical, front, back, left, and right). The second can detect the location of a device such as your smartphone or laptop and beam the WiFi signal directly toward it. The company claims that, full bore and with the antennas optimally oriented, the router can support speeds of up to 11 gigabits per second.
How well the feature performs in the real world remains to be seen, but the underlying theory lines up with our routine advice on how to optimize your home WiFi network by steering clear of WiFi signal obstructions like walls, refrigerators, and fish tanks.
Better Signals for Gaming
Netgear’s Orbi app, used to manage the company’s line of mesh routers, will soon unveil a $50-a-year feature called Game Booster that claims to improve gaming performance by, for example, suggesting which multiplayer server is likely to offer the smoothest experience. It also lets you quickly allocate more of your router’s bandwidth to gaming than to, say, streaming, to help ensure that your nightly Fortnite exploits aren’t interrupted by someone else in your home watching Netflix.
Game Booster gives you the ability to block ads before they reach a wireless device, too, Netgear says.
Ad blockers have existed for several years now, typically as a browser extension on a laptop or desktop or via a dedicated mobile app, but they typically don’t work if, say, you’re watching YouTube on a smart TV app or watching Facebook Watch videos on your iPhone. There are hardware-based DIY solutions for those sorts of ads, most notably the Raspberry Pi-based Pi Hole, but they require a level of dedication and expertise beyond the scope of the average consumer.
The Big Picture
Of course, all of the above builds on other router developments unveiled in recent years, particularly the advance of the WiFi 6 standard and mesh technology.
WiFi 6 routers generally outperform their WiFi 5 counterparts, largely because they’re better able to handle the rapidly expanding arsenal of wireless devices in the average home. (Note that we refer to WiFi 6 in our ratings by its more technical term, 802.11ax.)
And we’ve been extolling the benefits of mesh routers for a while now, particularly for those who live in larger homes, where a single unit isn’t powerful enough to blanket the full layout in WiFi coverage. While the prices for mesh-router systems used to be prohibitively high (the original Eero cost $500), you can now purchase well-rated models, such as the Netgear Orbi AC1200 and TP-Link Whole Home, for less than $200.