Over the last few years, we have seen significant leaps in Wi-Fi standards and protocols. Leaps that fundamentally improve user experience, the ability to handle much higher device density, and a broadening of use-cases where Wi-Fi previously couldn’t play. The first leap was from Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). The ability of Wi-Fi 6 to use OFDMA, the same technology that 5G is built upon, makes huge strides toward more deterministic scheduling by coordinating airtime amongst clients and reducing the collision domain. This means lower latency and improved speeds across Wi-Fi networks even when client densities are high, which is driven by the continued growth of smart devices, IoT, AR/VR and even robotics. Today, we’re seeing a rapid acceleration of Wi-Fi 6 deployments across the world.
We’re now amid another Wi-Fi evolution with Wi-Fi 6E. Wi-Fi 6E leverages the same protocols and standards in Wi-Fi 6 but takes us beyond the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands with 1200 additional MHz in the 6 GHz spectrum. Opening of the 6 GHz spectrum is happening around the world as more and more regulators and governments recognize the social and economic impact of simple and cost-effective wireless access. This means a bright future for Wi-Fi 6E, with huge investments in new products and solutions. Wi-Fi 6E will be utilized across all sectors enabling an accelerated global digitization that results in higher productivity, improved learning opportunities, more inclusive experiences, and accelerated business.
A new clean spectrum
It’s estimated that by 2023 we’ll have more M2M/IoT devices connecting to Wi-Fi than people. So far, growth for wireless IoT devices exceeds 20% CAGR, and we’re just getting started. This compared to 10% growth for the more typical user devices, like smart phones, laptops, tablets, etc.
Fundamentally, this means there are new challenges for next generation networks to handle high density efficiently. A key element to the efficiency of Wi-Fi is the availability of clean spectrum. That clean spectrum means that you’re less likely to contend with other users or networks when moving traffic.
With Wi-Fi 6E, wireless networks will be able to carry more traffic at faster speeds with lower latency. The 6 GHz spectrum is much cleaner with lots of elbow room and channels to support the growing number of devices and things. One big advantage to Wi-Fi 6E is that it requires a Wi-Fi 6 (or newer) stack, meaning you cannot run Wi-Fi 5 or older releases in the new 6GHz spectrum. This means all 6GHz Wi-Fi devices can be efficiently scheduled. But don’t count 2.4 and 5 GHz out. We’ll continue to need and use the entire unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum as each band has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Wi-Fi 6E addresses Higher densities reliably
Today, most users have multiple devices such as a laptop, tablet, phone, smart watch or health device. At the same time, our environments are becoming smarter and chock-full of devices to make us more productive. Add to this that our work environments are becoming denser and new hybrid work models and open-office environments are becoming more common. These environments provide a more flexible workplace designed for better collaboration and put a greater dependency on the wireless network.
Additionally, to increase productivity more services are going to the cloud. Since these cloud services are centralized, there is a new dependency on the network for high bandwidth and lower latency. In the not-so-distant future, we’ll see even more integrated experiences through augmented, mixed, and virtual reality, creating even higher demand for more bandwidth and even lower latency.
Other use cases for Wi-Fi 6E involve Industrial IoT, including healthcare. In these environments we see robots and autonomous vehicles, sensors, next gen XR devices, cameras, people and things, all clamoring for a slice of spectrum. This can introduce collisions and less than optimal conditions as these technologies often require ultra-low latency (1-15ms), virtually no-jitter, and very high-reliability.
Wi-Fi 6E addresses and solves the challenges in the above scenarios and many more. With the 6 GHz spectrum we get more bandwidth, less latency and maybe most important, clean air.
AFC delivering more power for expanded use cases
It’s important to note that 6GHz was not empty spectrum. Incumbents have been using the 6 GHz spectrum for microwave and satellite communications for some time. The FCC had to protect the incumbent users while also enabling Wi-Fi to ‘share’ the spectrum. Engineers set out to build a system for indoor use that uses low power and would not interfere with outdoor incumbent systems. This is known as Low-Power Indoor (LPI).
The good news is that LPI is expected to work at current AP density, so you won’t have to re-cable your building. However, there are many applications that would benefit from higher power, or technically, “standard” power. Currently there is a lot of work on a solution called AFC (Automated Frequency Coordination). This is a centralized database of current incumbent locations with details on what spectrum is being used and regularly updated as new towers or dishes are installed. To use standard power indoors or outdoors, the AP will have to first ask the AFC what is available at the AP’s location. This is a broader topic for a future blog, stay tuned…
The upgrade from Wi-Fi 5 to 6 was significant enough to get most people’s attention. We’re talking leaps and bounds over previous protocols from a stack capability standpoint. Wi-Fi 6E uses the same Wi-Fi 6 protocol set while also providing a leap in available spectrum. It enables Wi-Fi networks to accommodate higher densities with more channels, which translates to less collisions and a better user experience. And with WPA3 standards, we have better security.
Keep an eye out for more on Wi-Fi 6E on the Cisco social media channels. To learn the latest news on Wi-Fi 6E solutions check out our Wireless page. You’ll be treated to blogs and podcasts that will tackle the new technology in depth, plus a lot more news as soon as it becomes available.
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