Will Wi-Fi 6E be a game changer?
On January 3rd, 2020, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new terminology “Wi-Fi 6E” to distinguish Wi-Fi 6 devices that will be extended to operate in the 6 GHz spectrum. The Wi-Fi Alliance made this announcement ahead of any official ruling on the release of the spectrum.
Wi-Fi 6 and the previous generation Wi-Fi standards has been operating within the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. The growing number of Wi-Fi devices over the years is causing heavy data traffic, congesting these frequency bands. This situation causes the current available spectrum to run out of capacity for future needs.
Foreseeing capacity shortage, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed the release of 6 GHz frequency band for unlicensed use including Wi-Fi. However, the band will only be available once it passes regulatory approvals. Though it is unclear on when the approval will be finalized, FCC and its board members are positive that the band will be approved by end of 2020.
Wi-Fi 6 is designed to totally change the way Wi-Fi works. In previous standards, the communication between access points and devices happens concurrently, one device at a time. With Wi-Fi 6, access points can transmit to multiple devices simultaneously using the inbuilt Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) feature. This and many other capabilities give Wi-Fi 6 a huge advantage compared to the previous standards. However, operating within the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band along with its predecessors with a mix of high-speed and slow-speed standards in the same spectrum, inhibits Wi-Fi 6 ability to unleash its full potential.
Once the 6 GHz spectrum is made available, Wi-Fi 6 will be operating with more channels that are 160 MHz wide allowing simultaneous transmissions among devices at the highest possible speed. Most importantly, the 6 GHz spectrum is exclusive for Wi-Fi 6 devices; no legacy standards (802.11a/b/g, Wi-Fi 4 & 5) will be able to operate in this channel.
At this point of time, we see strong adoption of Wi-Fi 6 standard in latest smartphone releases (e.g. Samsung Galaxy series & iPhone 11 series), routers and gaming laptops. Since its launch, Wi-Fi 6 has been adopted by retailers, enterprises and carriers quicker than its predecessors. Within the first 3 quarters of 2019, a total of 53.2 million units of Wi-Fi 6 enabled smartphones were shipped across the globe.
One of the biggest potentials of Wi-Fi 6 is to provide carriers and public network operators with more capabilities to support connectivity in public venues such as shopping malls, stadiums and transportation hubs. With the new spectrum availability, carriers and network operators will be able to take advantage of Wi-Fi 6E capabilities to provide greater network performance in public venues.
Foreseeing the potential of Wi-Fi 6E, Broadcom and Celeno announced the release of Wi-Fi 6E chipsets that will be available for sampling. Some of the initial use cases for Wi-Fi 6E chipsets could include home gateways, set-top boxes, gaming laptops and VR/AR devices.