Putting the erosion of Net Neutrality rules and potential scandal from fraudulent comments filed during the 2017 Net Neutrality repeal process aside, the FCC and I are in agreement on this, fast-tracking Wi-Fi 6E to the market. The market that approves this first will be able to have a head start and enjoy a technological advantage once the global market catches up. What exactly is Wi-Fi 6E and why is it so important? First you should check out this refresher article on Wi-Fi 6 802.11AX.
More Spectrum = More Bandwidth
By far the biggest change with Wi-Fi 6E is the allocation of 1200MHz of spectrum in the 6GHz band. Having a new contiguous band available to Wi-Fi devices reduces the complexity vs. having some spectrum here and there and needing a more complex hardware solution to account for it. This makes Wi-Fi 6E an easy extension of Wi-Fi 6, reducing implementation costs while accelerating integration and adoption. It’s quite possible that Wi-Fi 6E will completely leapfrog Wi-Fi 6 for business use.
Less Interference in Crowded Spaces
If your office is anything like my office, when you do a search for Wi-Fi, hundreds of wireless SSIDs show up on the list. If you work for a networking equipment manufacture, it’s even worse, as you’ll have engineers and developers all testing their own equipment at their desks too. This wreaks absolute havoc on the airwaves, to the point that I try not to rely on the wireless unless I have to. Because of that, 20MHz wide channels on 2.4GHz and 40MHz wide channels on 5GHz are the best practices to keep interference down. Just for perspective, the 5GHz band can actually handle 1-2 160MHz wide channels, but that means you are most likely going to get interference with a nearby neighbor. With 1200MHz of more space, there will be a better opportunity of using wider channels without interference which increases the Wi-Fi performance for more intensive applications like VR, high quality video streaming, or just serving an increase in client density. I anticipate that 80MHz channels will be the new normal, which is 2x the bandwidth over 40MHz.
Increased Bandwidth at the Edge
With bandwidth being increased by the Wi-Fi Access Point, this is going to spur a growth in the edge of the network as well. As you can see above, aggregate Wi-Fi bandwidth will start to exceed Gigabit speeds, which means the Ethernet switch will need an upgrade. 10G has been around for a while now, but has been mostly used in the Datacenter. In the Business/Enterprise/Commercial network, 10G is typically only used in the core of the network, to create a high-speed backbone between other switches. Now you’ll start seeing 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps at the edge as the new normal while 10G can be reserved for top of the class 8 stream Access Points, but be prepared to pay up for that model. I suspect that 5Gbps will leapfrog 2.5Gbps as the costs are similar and 5Gbps is backwards compatible with 2.5Gbps devices.
When Will We Start Seeing Wi-Fi 6E?
The FCC is fast-tracking the approvals to allow the use of the 6GHz band and the industry expects Wi-Fi 6E Access Points by the end of the 2020. For everyday business and office use, I predict that we won’t see wide adoption until the end of 2021. Why the lag? Companies will have to plan their hardware refresh cycles so it’s not something that will immediately happen when the technology first releases. It will also take some time for Wi-Fi 6E client devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops and USB adapters to proliferate the market. Remember, the benefits of Wi-Fi 6/6E can only be realized when both the Access Point and the Wi-Fi client have it. Lastly, we still don’t know how the current pandemic with COVID-19 will shake out. This may put a delay in infrastructure budgets as companies try to save money and survive until a vaccine is available and we return to normal business. To stay up to date on Wi-Fi 6E, I highly recommend checking out the Wi-Fi Now Global news site at: https://wifinowglobal.com/.