With the arrival of Wi-Fi 6E upon us. Many are claiming it’s an explosive leap forward and the biggest advancement since Wi-Fi’s birth 20 odd years ago. That’s some serious hype. But this isn’t a big surprise, the build-up for previous standards was equally lauded. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that headlines were centred on the glorious potential of Wi-Fi 6. But as with all things in tech, that’s ancient history and Wi-Fi 6’s usurper, Wi-Fi 6E is here!

So, what exactly does 6E offer that 6 doesn’t? Is it up to the hype? And is 6E something you should be keeping your eye on? The answer is yes and no. At least not quite yet.

Just as Wi-Fi 6 offered significant efficiency features, higher throughput and improved security, so too does Wi-Fi 6E. But these features have been ramped up further with the newer standard.

But there is one important reason 6E will be as impressive as everyone is claiming. And it’s all about space on the spectrum.

On July 27, 2020 the FCC opened up a new band of spectrum for 6E taking Wi-Fi 6 capabilities to the 6 GHz band (up from the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands) to deliver an additional 1200 MHz of bandwidth for wireless devices. This effectively quadrupled the total space available for traditional Wi-Fi. That’s a luxurious amount of space for Wi-Fi to fill and it’s why everything will indeed be a lot more impressive with 6E.

With more capacity the 6 GHz solves many of WIFI’s connection and spectrum congestion issues. The wider channels will better support bandwidth-hungry apps, 4K streaming video, some IoT, and virtual reality. This move also reduces congestion and interference from wireless electronic devices, which may potentially help the industry make better use of the expanded channel width. Or to put it another way, the next generation of Wi-Fi 6E devices significantly bumps up the speed and reliability of connections – no matter how many connections it must concurrently handle.

Wi-Fi 6 versus Wi-Fi 6E

Manufacturers have been preparing for this day. But it’s Aruba who made it first out of the gate with the release of their first Wi-Fi 6E wireless access point - AP 635 – in late May[1]. Other vendors have since followed.

Just like all APs that will make up the 630 Series, AP 635 makes use of the 6 GHz band to deliver greater speeds, wider channels for multi-gigabit traffic, and less interference. Spec-wise it delivers 3.9 Gbps maximum aggregate data rates Tri-radio, 2x2:2 MIMO in all three bands (3.9 Gbps aggregate peak).

Before you rush for your purchase order though, there’s a few factors to consider.

AP 635 – first of the 600 series

Aruba has so far released just one AP of their future 600 fleet, with the remaining expected to hit the market in early 2022. If you can wait another year until the complete series is released, you will be better positioned to build a stronger 6E network leveraging a broader range of hardware – it’ll be a better-fit network if you do. If you are however due for a refresh, it may be the right time to deploy but keep in mind you won’t have as much choice for right-fitting the AP to specific spaces and use cases.

Step up or down?

MU-MIMO – ‘multi-user, multiple input, multiple output’ - first appeared in Wave 2 of the Wi-Fi 5 standard to combat the crowded battle for bandwidth in high-density Wi-Fi. By separating an AP's available bandwidth into multiple streams, MU-MIMO enables a single AP to communicate with multiple nodes at the same time. Essentially, this allows multiple users to simultaneously access and share the connection equally.

A MU-MIMO AP comes in different variations each indicating the number of nodes - or bandwidth streams - that the AP can create: 2x2, 3x3 or 4x4. AP-635 is MU-MIMO 2x2 while its predecessor AP 535 is MU-MIMO 4x4. This is actually a slight step down. The counter argument is that 6E and its new swathe of spectrum more than makes up for the missing nodes. So, does 6E’s generous spectrum make up for the drop down to MU-MIMO 2x2?  Only time will tell.

It’s also worth mentioning that APs are dual band only, meaning customers will need to decide which two spectrums their AP will run in. Yes, there are design solutions to make use of all three spectrums using AP- 635, but it’s a little early to get into this complexity given very few have had the opportunity to design for this spectrum load balance.

Wi-Fi 6E requires new devices

You can only use Wi-Fi 6E if you pair a Wi-Fi 6E-enabled device with a Wi-Fi 6E-enabled access point. So, even if you do deploy APs to support the new spectrum, you still need compatible devices.

Previous generations of wireless have seen a years-long lag before compatible devices have made it into the hands of users. While manufacturers are working hard to speed up time to market closing in on a six-month window, global silicon shortages may limit their ability to meet this target. This time around, we expect a delay of up to one and half years to see 6E in mobile devices. Then, for businesses, fleet refreshes are expensive and are often staggered over a few years. That equates to a three or four year window before you can take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6E.

When will Wi-Fi 6E hardware hit Australia?

The consulting process for ACMA’s proposal to open up the lower 500MHz of the 6GHz band closes in early December 2021. Based on this timeline, we expect authorised equipment to start rolling out in Australia during 2022. You can stay up-to-date here.

[1] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210525005243/en/Aruba-Introduces-Industry’s-First-Enterprise-Grade-Wi-Fi-6E-Solution

What’s the score?

We’re giving WI-FI 6E a Matrix Importance Score of 4 – Important: You definitely need to know about this – now.

But keep in mind, unless you are needing to refresh your APs right now, it is worth holding out for the full AP 600 series to hit the shelves in 2022. If you can’t wait at least we can help you plan and design with an eye on future requirements including increased scale and performance.

For those of you joining us for the first time, and to refresh the memory of returnees, a Matrix Importance Scale (MIS) is used to measure the level of importance of this technology for you:

1. Yawn: Don’t waste your time unless you’re bored

2. Interesting: Could be good to know just in case

3. Useful: Keep an eye on this, but nothing you need to do now

4. Important: You definitely need to know about this - now

5. Critical: What do you mean you haven’t started implementing this?