The Wi-Fi 6 devices have been available for the better part of last year, but it was only in September 2019 when Wi-Fi Alliance started Wi-Fi 6 certification program. And just when consumers were starting to get familiar with Wi-Fi 6, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new Wi-Fi standard, the Wi-Fi 6E at CES 2020.
Going by the terminology, Wi-Fi 6E might appear to be an incremental update to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) before Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) is ready for deployment, but this is, in fact, a revolutionary change. Wi-Fi 6E is about opening up of 6GHz band for Wi-Fi, something Broadcom addresses as “ the most disruptive boon for Wi-Fi users in the last twenty years”.
Let’s discuss how these two standards differ from one another.
Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 6E: What’s the difference?
Unlike previous Wi-Fi standards, Wi-Fi 6 focused more on improving Wi-Fi stability in congested environments. While there are improvements in peak download or upload speed, the primary purpose is to provide a reliable internet connection to a larger number of connected devices in your home.
The number of connected devices has exponentially increased and IDC projects the number to increase to over 1.3 Billion in the next couple of years. This increase in the number of connected devices presents a challenge that Wi-Fi 6 tackled using techniques like 1024QAM and OFDMA.
Without going into technical detail, the idea is to enable more simultaneous connections, to use the available bands in a more efficient manner, and to reduce power consumption.
However, over congestion in 2GHz to 5GHz spectrum has resulted in a spectrum shortage for Wi-Fi 6 to realize its full potential. And this is a problem Wi-Fi 6E addresses.
Wi-Fi 6E essentially brings Wi-Fi 6 to 6GHz band. Or, devices capable of supporting Wi-Fi 6 in the 6GHz band will be labeled as Wi-Fi 6E devices.
Wi-Fi 6E means more 160MHz Super Highways
Even without the use of 160 MHz bands, Wi-Fi 6 shows up to 4x higher speeds in congested environments. But to realize the full potential of Wi-Fi 6 and to achieve gigabit speeds or for applications like streaming 8K, 160MHz superhighways are needed
As of today, two to three 160MHz channels are available to Wi-Fi 6 devices, but these are also shared with older generation devices that use subsets of the 160MHz band (20MHz, 40MHz, etc) and this slows-down the overall transmission via 160MHz band.
Apart from slower traffic, devices must also avoid Radars using the same frequency using Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS). In fact, most Wi-Fi 6 routers ship with the option to use 160MHz band disabled altogether.
Regulatory restrictions further do not allow mobile devices to use 160MHz band while they act as an access point. In simpler words, you mobile phone can’t use the 160MHz band while being a hotspot and connecting AR and VR peripherals.
To resolve these challenges, Wi-Fi Alliance has been asking regulators to free up the 6 GHz spectrum for unlicensed use. This will free up to 7 contiguous 160MHz channels which is needed to realize the full potential of not only Wi-Fi 6, but also future Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be), and 5G NR.
What are the potential applications of Wi-Fi 6E?
Wi-Fi 6E will bring significant improvements in throughput and remarkably improve Wi-Fi latency for close-range communications. This will make it fit for a number or demanding applications and use cases like:
- Mobile AR/ VR gaming
- Deliver efficient gigabit Wi-Fi in smart homes
- low latency Wi-Fi calling
- 4K and 8K streaming
- High-speed tethering
- Real-time gaming
- Connectivity in your car
- Indoor public venues
- Industrial IoT
- Wi-Fi 6E is also required for data offload from 5G Networks
When will we get Wi-Fi 6E devices in India?
Wi-Fi 6E is still up for regulatory scrutiny in the US and Europe. Once the standard gets regulatory approval, time to market won’t be much as upgrading from Wi-Fi 6 to Wi-Fi 6E doesn’t involve major changes for Wi-Fi vendors. At CES 2020, Broadcom even presented an SoC that would enable Wi-Fi 6E on next-gen routers. In India, Wi-Fi 6E deployment could take some time.