The advent of Wi-Fi has been a global success story. Today it is the world’s most used wireless communications technology, thanks to its many features, high performance, ease of use, and cost-efficiency. It complements private 5G wireless networks, enabling an array of high throughput, low latency applications—from virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) to 4k video.
Cisco has championed Wi-Fi since its early development more than two decades ago. Now we’re introducing important enterprise Wi-Fi 6 and 6E innovations and working closely with customers, partners, and device manufacturers to ensure that Cisco wireless gear provides unparalleled and flawless performance on the greatly expanded 6 MHz bands.
In response to the various requirements of our customers, we are also making wireless network management available on physical, virtual, on-premises, and cloud-managed options from Cisco and Cisco Meraki.
The Value and Proliferation of Wi-Fi
According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry consortium, the economic value of Wi-Fi around the world is estimated to be $3.3 trillion currently, growing to $4.9 trillion in 2025. It has been cited as a game-changer in education, healthcare, and other industries and has helped to bridge the digital divide in rural and isolated geographies.
With the April 2020 announcement of Wi-Fi 6E by the Federal Communications Commission (FTC), 1200 MHz of spectrum was added to Wi-Fi 6, more than doubling the 583 MHz of spectrum available in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. While Wi-Fi 6 delivers three times the speed of Wi-Fi 5, the Wi-Fi 6E enhancement (IEEE 802.11ax standard) provides even faster, Gigabit speeds, plus an array of other important benefits derived from the huge increase in unlicensed spectrum.
A January IDC study estimated that 2.3 billion Wi-Fi 6 products and 350 million Wi-Fi 6E products will enter the market by the end of 2022.
Most countries in the world have already adopted or are considering adoption of the 6 GHz spectrum to enable Wi-Fi 6E (Figure 1). Countries mostly located in North America and South America have adopted (dark green) or are considering adopting (light green) spectrum between 5.925 MHz to 7.125 MHz. Russia, Argentina, Egypt, and a few other countries are considering adoption (purple) of spectrum between 5.925 MHz to 6.425 MHz. Greenland and other countries in Western Europe have adopted (black) spectrum between 5.925 MHz to 6.425 MHz and Australia has both adopted (black with white lines) 5.925 to 6.425 MHz and is considering 6.425 MHz to 7.125 MHz.
Benefits of Wi-Fi 6E
The addition of the 6 GHz band, with 1200 MHz of unlicensed spectrum, allows businesses to use more non-overlapping channels without degrading wireless performance. Since Wi-Fi 6E devices don’t share spectrum with earlier generation Wi-Fi devices and use highly efficient Wi-Fi 6 radios, they are not slowed down by older devices that operate at lower data rates. Instead, Wi-Fi 6E devices can operate in their own fast lane.
Another benefit of Wi-Fi 6E’s increased spectrum―especially in dense IT and Internet of Things (IoT) environments―is higher capacity. Contiguous blocks of spectrum have no gaps in frequency from beginning to end. Wider channels (quadruple the number available with Wi-Fi 6) lower signal interference. High throughput, concurrent data transmission, and less than 1 millisecond of latency have led to demand for Wi-Fi 6E solutions to support a seamless experience within smart buildings and for hybrid workers at home or in the office. Enterprise companies are deploying Wi-Fi 6E to support data-intensive applications that require high throughput and low latency, like 4k video, various forms of extended reality (XR), and big data analytics.
Here are Cisco innovations for both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E that mitigate interference, enhance network performance, and help optimize and reduce power consumption.
Cisco CleanAir™ Pro
Using silicon-level intelligence to create a spectrum-aware, self-healing, and self-optimizing wireless network, Cisco ClearAir technology mitigates the impact of wireless interference in all Wi-Fi bands, including 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Cisco CleanAir Pro extends the solution to the 6 GHz band used by Wi-Fi 6E.
Cisco CleanAir Pro provides a multi-radio architecture, an artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)-driven radio frequency (RF) scanning radio that decodes high efficiency (HE) frames, and ML-based interferer classification on the access point (AP) to automatically label device profiles and mitigate interference.
Available on the Cisco DNA Center dashboard, Figure 2, Cisco CleanAir Pro correlates sources of interference across the network, supporting intelligent decisions and policies for faster troubleshooting and automatic avoidance of radio frequency interference (RFI). It makes it easy for network administrators to assess service disruptions and performance degradation, research resolutions, and act quickly to improve network performance.
Cisco AI Enhanced Radio Resource Management
Available on the Cisco Catalyst 9800 Series Wireless Controller, AI Enhanced Radio Resource Management (RRM) is an enhancement to Cisco’s existing RRM solution. Cisco RRM relies on a snapshot sample of the last 10 minutes of collected measurements between every AP and its neighbors in the RF group to optimize the network resources based on current conditions.
Cisco AI Enhanced RRM introduces ML and AI to optimize RRM parameters based on historical data, AP density, trends, and actual use, delivering an optimal foundation for the best Wi-Fi experience in a dynamic workplace. The solution provides actionable insights on how to unlock unused network capacity for each site that can be implemented by admins in minutes, reducing the manual labor required to maximize network value. Continuous evaluation of RRM performance allows network admins to evaluate the state of RRM in seconds and provides unprecedented visibility into RRM decisions and operations.
Managed via Cisco DNA Center as an on-premises appliance, Cisco AI Enhanced RRM collects RF telemetry from Cisco Catalyst APs and passes them to Cisco DNA Center and on to the Cisco AI Analytics Cloud, where the data is stored (Figure 3). The Cisco RRM algorithms analyze the data, pass configuration changes back to Cisco DNA Center, and then transmit them to the APs. Cisco AI Enhanced RRM validates current configuration parameters, recommends improvements, and lets operators know if density and load require additional APs.
Power Optimization in Cisco Catalyst Access Points
Cisco engineers have introduced features that make it possible to cut power consumption by Cisco Catalyst 9136 Access Points by up to two-thirds. These APs have built-in sensors that determine power consumption based on load management. Using Cisco’s Smart AP feature, the AP will change its power consumption to reflect the load it currently has. If there are a small number of clients using the Wi-Fi network, the AP automatically reduces the radio stream count, saving power and operational costs.
Additionally, a power savings mode called Target Wake Time lets admins determine pre-scheduled times to exchange data with the AP. This allows for energy savings for battery-operated devices of up to three or four times that of prior 802.11n and 802.11ax Wi-Fi solutions.
Device Ecosystem for Wi-Fi 6E
We have also built a partner ecosystem that promotes real-world interoperability testing and uniform FCC and IEEE standards adherence to make sure Cisco Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E solutions provide the best performance and user experience. Device partners include Apple, Intel, Samsung, and Siemens. Efforts include root cause analysis of device clients, device classification, coverage holes reporting, and interoperability of operating systems and drivers.
Wi-Fi 6E AP Management – Cisco and Cisco Meraki Options
Some of our customers want a cloud-managed networking experience while others want all management to be handled in-house and on-premises. With new Wi-Fi 6E innovations, Cisco engineers have provided solutions for both options and support for hybrid deployments.
The new Cisco Catalyst 9100 Series Wi-Fi 6E AP family can be managed on-premises using a Cisco Catalyst 9800 Series Wireless Controller and Cisco DNA Center. In a step toward cloud management of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E deployments, Cisco Meraki Cloud Management dashboard as a service (Figure 4) can now see usage metrics on Cisco Catalyst APs. The APs ship with either a Cisco DNA Center or Cisco Meraki persona and can be converted to either persona as desired.
IT decision-makers responsible for a corporate headquarters might prefer to handle the management of Cisco Catalyst 9100 series APs on-premises using Cisco wireless controllers and Cisco DNA Center. Retail chains might prefer the easy scalability and low-touch operation of cloud-managed APs using Cisco Meraki Cloud Management dashboard. Full management of Catalyst AP by Meraki Cloud Management dashboard is coming. Many other companies with wireless deployments will find it useful to mix and match on-premises and cloud management solutions to get the best of both worlds.
Wi-Fi 6E is here and Cisco is leading efforts to make deployment and management of services and user experience on this high throughput, high capacity, broad-spectrum network seamless. We’re doing that through our aggressive, ongoing development efforts and forging a robust partner ecosystem that is continually testing and validating Wi-Fi 6E infrastructure in real-world conditions.