TP-Link's new router lineup at CES 2021 includes Wi-Fi 6E mesh and built-in Alexa
Expect to see lots of new TP-Link routers this year, including one with Alexa built in and several that can transmit on the ultrawide 6GHz band.
Ry CristSenior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
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10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
CES always brings at least a couple of interesting new routers -- and with newly certified Wi-Fi 6E devices capable of transmitting on the 6GHz band set to make their debut in 2021, we were bound to see a bumper crop at this year's virtual, online-only event. That's certainly the case with TP-Link, which kicked the week off by announcing a full lineup of new routers for 2021, including multiple Wi-Fi 6E options, as well as a new Wi-Fi 6 mesh router with built-in Alexa voice control functionality.
That Alexa router, the TP-Link Deco Voice X20, is one of several new additions to the Deco mesh lineup planned for 2021. With a speaker and microphone built into each range-extending satellite device, the system promises to extend Alexa's footprint in your home as it spreads a more reliable signal from room to room. That's the same pitch as for earlier Alexa-enabled mesh systems like Netgear Orbi Voice and it matches the Google Assistant-powered voice features of the Nest Wifi, too.
I wonder how much of a draw that is in 2021, with Alexa already pretty integrated into the homes of people who've bought into that ecosystem. Still, the addition of support for Wi-Fi 6, which nets faster top speeds and the latest Wi-Fi features -- and which the Nest Wifi and previous Alexa-enabled routers lack -- might be just what some people have been waiting for. I also appreciate the colorful, red-bodied design, though some might prefer something less conspicuous and better at blending in with home decor.
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Later in the year, TP-Link plans to release a number of new networking devices that support Wi-Fi 6E, a new designation for Wi-Fi 6 devices equipped to transmit on the 6GHz band, which the FCC opened for unlicensed use last year in a unanimous vote. Among them are two mesh routers: an AX7800 system called the TP-Link Deco X96 that the company teased last year and an AX5400 system called the Deco X76 Plus that includes a built-in smart home hub for connecting with things like Zigbee smart lights and smart locks.
Like the Deco Voice Alexa router, the X96 and X76 Plus feature HomeShield parental controls and threat scans -- and they use TP-Link's AI-Driven Mesh feature to tailor Wi-Fi performance to your specific home environment while storing all of the data needed to do so locally, a nice privacy touch. Prices aren't locked down for any of them yet, but with tri-band designs in the X96 and X76 Plus capable of sending signals on the 2.4GHz, 5GHz or 6GHz bands, those two will likely run on the expensive side, positioning them as upgrade picks for early adopters of Wi-Fi 6E. I'll be eager to put them both to the test and to see if that 6GHz connection between the router and its satellites makes enough of a difference to justify buying in. Expect to see them up for sale by the third quarter of this year.
For those who would prefer a single router over a mesh system with multiple devices, TP-Link plans to release the Archer AX96 in Q3, too. Like the Deco X96, it's a tri-band AX7800 router with a separate 6GHz band, but it'll be sold as a traditional stand-alone router, albeit one that supports DIY mesh configurations with compatible TP-Link products.
Meanwhile, TP-Link saved its biggest claims for the Archer AX206, the newest in its line of extravagant-looking gaming routers. With the full feature set of Wi-Fi 6 -- and with 6E added into the mix thanks to a dedicated 6GHz band -- the spacey-looking router promises "unstoppable" transmissions and TP-Link adds that it "eradicates" latency, too. Most notable are the wired connections in the back -- they support incoming speeds of up to 10Gbps, or 10 times faster than most gigabit internet plans.
That makes the AX206 one of the most future-proofed routers I've seen to date; I just wish that TP-Link had done more to distinguish it from the last few generations of Archer gaming routers, which share the same eye-catching build in black and red.
If you aren't planning on spending more for Wi-Fi 6E in 2021, you'll be happy to know that TP-Link has a number of new, regular Wi-Fi 6 options on the way, too. This month will mark the launch of the Deco X90, an AX6600 mesh router with a tri-band design featuring a 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands, one of which you'll use as a dedicated backhaul between the router and its satellite devices. That one will sell in a two-pack with the router and one satellite for an asking price of $550.
All of the new routers announced at CES 2021 -- including next-gen Wi-Fi 6E
Meanwhile, the Archer AX90, a stand-alone tri-band router with Wi-Fi 6 and the same specs as the Deco X90, is also set to arrive this month after initially being pitched for release at the end of 2020. That one will cost $330.
Later, in April, TP-Link will release the less expensive Deco X68, an AX3600 mesh system with Wi-Fi 6 and a dual-band design that doesn't have a second 5GHz band. That brings the cost down to $270, same as the current cost of the TP-Link Deco X20, an AX1800 mesh system that launched last year. Look for that one to get a price cut when the X68 gets here.
All of it adds up to another busy year on the router beat. We'll be sure to test everything out as it arrives and let you know which of the new routers we like best, and how they stack up with the competition.
Watch this: CES 2021: What to expect as the show goes all-digital