Sponsored Wi-Fi 6E – the Wi-Fi Alliance’s extension of the 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) standard to use the 6 GHz band – is a timely and significant step toward enabling congestion-free and reliable connectivity. It will also serve as an immense impetus for wireless innovation in the connected home through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Growing momentum in the release of the 6 GHz spectrum globally for unlicensed use, including Wi-Fi, has opened up 1.2 GHz of bandwidth capacity. Today, 600 MHz of unrestricted spectrum in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands is allotted to Wi-Fi. But demand for Wi-Fi is rising exponentially and it is expected to carry 51 percent of all IP traffic by 2022.
Wi-Fi 6E-enabled consumer devices will come onto the market in 2021. To support 6 GHz, home gateways and routers will have to be replaced with tri-band devices supporting 2.4, 5 and 6 GHz. Over the next three years, the operating features of Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) will also be finalised.
In today’s homes, Wi-Fi is an essential utility connecting many devices, including laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, security cameras, smart assistants and even doorbells. The growing number of connected devices in the age of Internet of Things (IoT) has led to congestion in both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. And as access network speeds increase, Wi-Fi performance around the home must keep up. More so as the pandemic turns rooms in the home into work and school spaces.
The persistent global COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of employees into remote working arrangements. And this trend is likely to continue even in a post-pandemic world. Already, government agencies and enterprises around the world have been pursuing remote and telework opportunities going forward and taking a longer view by focusing on employee productivity and effective remote work policies.
A global ServiceNow survey found that executives believe that better use of technology to improve efficiency is the greatest benefit to their teams. In the US, one key priority for government agencies is to ensure that their workforce have secure and efficient remote network connectivity.
To this end, Wi-Fi 6 technology’s reliability and performance is ideally suited to support remote healthcare applications such as virtual doctor visits, telemedicine and ageing in place, as well as platforms delivering Internet of Things, security, smart assistant, e-learning, over-the-top video streaming and low latency services on an on-demand basis from the cloud.
Wi-Fi 6 features new technologies to optimize spectrum efficiency, including orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), MU-MIMO, Long OFDM signal, 1024-Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (1024-QAM), and Target Wake Time (TWT). For example, TWT allows devices to deterministically negotiate when and how often they wake up to send or receive data; 1024-QAM and Long Signal OFDM is aimed at making outdoor Wi-Fi more reliable and dependable.
The Wi-Fi 6 standard in any band allows scheduling of traffic to specific devices. OFDMA, a multi-user version of OFDM, allows multiple users with varying bandwidth needs to be served simultaneously by dividing up the spectrum and allocating it to different users.
The ability to deliver deterministic, low-latency and highly reliable quality of service works even better in the 6 GHz band where the availability of 1,200 MHz of contiguous spectrum enables channel bonding of multiple 20 MHz channels into wider 80 MHz (14 new channels), and even 160 MHz (7 new channels).
This alleviates congestion challenges to better support more connected devices and device types in high-density environments such as multi-dwelling units (MDUs).
“Wi-Fi 6E allows the immediate use of promised efficiencies from Wi-Fi 6, providing a spectrum platform for the next phase of lower latency and deterministic Wi-Fi services,” says Charles Cheevers, CTO of Home Network Solutions at CommScope. “We see these expanded capabilities seeding a new generation of high-speed laptops and tablets, applications around Wi-Fi 6E wireless mesh and high-quality video distribution in 8K and VR, and new, time-sensitive services.”
Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E also deliver speeds to complement the multi-gigabit speeds of the latest fiber and DOCSIS 3.1 networks, performing at Ethernet-like 1-2.5 GbE speeds and beyond. Wi-Fi 6E can support more wired replacement applications like wireless point-to-point and indoor mesh backbone links. The introduction of OFDMA, which subdivides the channel and then groups subcarriers into resource units, also enables Wi-Fi 6E to provide "pseudo-wire" type functions.
Wi-Fi 6E rising
Wi-Fi 6E technology is perfectly aligned with DOCSIS 4.0, which enables symmetrical multi-gigabit broadband speeds over hybrid fiber coax networks; XGS-PON, an updated standard for Passive Optical Networks that supports 10 Gbps symmetrical data transfer; and 10 GbE technology that requires robust wireless links.
However, Wi-Fi 6E only supports 6 GHz-capable devices to operate at intended maximum efficiency. Legacy Wi-Fi devices will be limited to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Separating the traffic ensures the required speed for latency-sensitive applications such as financial trading, gaming, and real-time imaging as well as bandwidth-hungry ones such as virtual reality and augmented reality.
Hence, the merits of Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax justifies an upgrade to the technology as soon as possible. A Wi-Fi 6 access point (AP) can serve new Wi-Fi 6 devices as well as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) devices.
As consumer electronic clients churn to Wi-Fi 6E solutions, emerging use cases will be manifested in bookend applications that leverage the advantages of the 6 GHz frequency. For example, it is about deploying the AP and the accompanying Wi-Fi 6E smart media device/ set-top box to maximise the 66 Gbps of wireless capacity in the home.
The first Wi-Fi 6E devices will be consumer access points and smartphones. “As consumers make their own choices on emerging Wi-Fi 6E-enabled devices, there are “bookend” applications, i.e. where both devices at the end of a Wi-Fi connection are provided that will allow service providers to differentiate their connected home offerings with improved Wi-Fi performance and higher quality of service for single-family units and MDUs,” Mr. Cheevers adds.
In MDUs, the 6 GHz spectrum allows almost a clean channel approach to each apartment by enabling multi-gigabit Wi-Fi connections reliably and deterministically. For example, with the chance to use seven 160MHz or 14 80MHz channels, each individual in an apartment gets a personal channel.
Similarly, in the regular single family unit, Wi-Fi 6E with up to 320MHz of channel capacity will enable a multi-gigabit backbone that can backhaul each individual room to its own “in-room” AP, providing a separate clean 160 MHz Wi-Fi 6E channel at up to 4 Gbps in each room.
Other applications include a Wi-Fi 6E-based mesh solution offering backhaul capacity to directly attach 6E clients as they emerge gradually and high-speed wireless network-attached storage to drive fast backups.
Overall, the connected home will be increasingly dependent on Wi-Fi 6E-enabled low latency, relief for 5 GHz congestion, pseudo-wire applications, high-bandwidth applications and low-power Wi-Fi applications. Meanwhile, use cases solving issues such as MDU 5 GHz congestion run concurrently with Wi-Fi 6 gateway and access-point deployments for consumers not quite ready to take advantage of Wi-Fi 6E.
Sponsored by CommScope