Wi-Fi 6E refers to extending Wi-Fi 6 into the 6 GHz band
Wi-Fi 6 trials, performed by companies like Cisco, Boingo and the Wireless Broadband Alliance, demonstrated that, even when used in challenging environments that demand a ton of connected devices—crowded sporting events, highly-trafficked airports and large industrial parks—Wi-Fi 6 succeeded in providing faster speeds, improved security and more reliable connectivity.
And right on the heels of the transition to Wi-Fi 6, comes the next big thing in wireless technology: Wi-Fi 6E. While Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, offers faster speeds and improved capacity thanks to features like OFDMA and multi-user MIMO, Wi-Fi 6E refers to the ability for Wi-Fi to leverage the 6 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi operation, and according to Extreme Networks’ CTO Eric Broockman, it’s going to be a big deal.
“Wi-Fi 6E will be extremely significant,” Broockman told RCR Wireless News. He explained that, at this point, the natural reaction of most consumers is that 6E is just another buzzword and won’t truly offer noticeable results. “But the reality is that Wi-Fi 6E is the real deal,” he countered, “and it will have a significant impact on both enterprises and consumers.”
According to him, Wi-Fi 6E is akin to driving an electric supercar on a brand new, traffic free, multi-lane “super-highway.
“Everything will just work much better, and much faster,” he stated.
Broockman offered a more detailed look at the highway analogy: “Today, Wi-Fi is like a three-lane highway that has large trucks limited to 55mph, a clog of old model-Ts that can’t go over 35mph, electric bicycles limited to 15mph, and a newer wave of high-speed electric vehicles that can go up to 120mph.”
While the highway works, he explained, drivers are limited to the speeds of the legacy vehicles on the road, despite the newer vehicles’ ability to go much faster. “By contrast,” he continued, “the new 6GHz spectrum is like opening up a new seven-lane highway that only allows high-speed electric cars with awesome acceleration and top speeds of 250Mph, and come standard with automated variable cruise control that efficiently can pack cars tightly across the 7 lanes should there be lots of traffic.”
The result, he concluded, is a significant improvement in user experience around density, reliability and throughput.
Despite the fact that Wi-Fi 6E is still pending final FCC , as well as other international regulatory agencies, approval, Broockman revealed that early sample chips supporting 6GHz operation are already emerging. In fact, just recently, Broadcom became the first vendor to announce availability of a full suite of 6 GHz Wi-Fi chips.
“Regulatory timing caveats aside, I would anticipate indoor non-AFC (Automated Frequency Control) solutions to be in select client devices in 2021, and enterprise access points in the market shortly after the appearance of clients,” he said.
He also added that it is still so early in the Wi-Fi 6E evolution, few enterprise users are even aware that the technology is in the works. “But this will change rapidly as the first devices ship in the first half of 2021,” Broockman reasoned. “Higher education is always an early adopter of new Wi-Fi technology due to the nature of their highly demanding customers. Similarly, I anticipate that as outdoor AFC rules come into place, high-density outdoor venues will also be early adopters, like parks, smart cities, stadiums, railway stations and shopping malls.”
Smartphones, tablets, laptops and, perhaps most exciting, VR/AR devices, are the ideal devices for Wi-Fi 6E. In addition, because 6E won’t have to compete with inefficient legacy Wi-Fi devices in the home, the new technology is expected to be a great for indoor mesh connectivity, as well as delivering more reliable video streaming and home security connections.
The MU-MIMO capabilities of 802.11ax combined with 6GHz will create a number of use cases both in the home and in the enterprise space.
“The ability to support many channels in the air at high throughput opens up new compelling AR/VR applications for use in K-12, higher education, gaming, and more,” said Broockman. “I suspect the top use cases probably haven’t even been conceived of yet.”