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  • Michael Pedrick

WI-FI 6E: EXPANDED CAPABILITIES

Updated: Nov 27, 2023


How is Wi-Fi 6E Different?


When the Wi-Fi 6 standard was first announced (otherwise known as IEEE 802.11ax), it was limited by law to a wireless spectrum that only included the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. While these frequencies offer some distinct advantages, they also have their own individual disadvantages. For instance, the 2.4GHz band has only three non-overlapping channels—and that bandwidth is shared by you, your family members, and your neighbors.


If you've ever had problems remaining connected to a colleague during a Zoom call or had Netflix pause for buffering, spectrum congestion on the 2.4 GHz band was probably the cause. When too many devices compete for bandwidth on the same wireless channel, some of those signals will inevitably be dropped.


Moreover, this problem isn't just a function of the number of individuals connected to your home's Wi-Fi network. Any other Wi-Fi network in range (such as the one broadcasting from your neighbor's wireless access point) is competing for bandwidth on the same limited number of channels.


In an attempt to address this problem, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously in April 2020 to open up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use. This policy change was a significant one, as it offered manufacturers significantly more bandwidth for enterprise network equipment to broadcast Wi-Fi signals.


The opening of the 6GHz band was the biggest spectrum addition to Wi-Fi since 1989. The leap from 5GHz to 6 GHz effectively quadruples the bandwidth available for wireless devices (14 additional 80MHz channels, and seven additional 160MHz channels), which translates to significantly less signal interference.


Although devices currently operating with Wi-Fi 6 are limited to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum, Wi-Fi 6E-compliant devices now have access to the these new 6 GHz frequencies.



Wi-Fi 6E Advantages


The most obvious reason that people will begin to migrate to Wi-Fi 6E has to do with speed. The 6GHz band allows for Internet speeds of greater than 1 Gbps. Additionally, the increased size of the spectrum results in lower latency (less than one millisecond) for online games, video calls, or virtual computing sessions – real time applications in which you need instantaneous response to keyboard commands, voices, or mouse clicks.


While these wireless speed gains will prove to be increasingly useful, the less emphasized but equally important advantage of Wi-Fi 6E relates to home network capacity. As a result of less spectrum congestion, multi-gigabit Wi-Fi capacity will soon enable homeowners to experience the kind of next-generation computing experiences deployed in the highest-end enterprise environments. This lack of wireless congestion will enable a wide range of simultaneous applications including virtual reality gaming, augmented reality business presentations and 8K television streaming.



Wi-Fi 6E: Everything Comes at a Price.


While there are a number of advantages to the new expanded spectrum, there is a significant disadvantage as well. If Wi-Fi 6E has an Achilles' heel, it's that the 6 GHz wireless spectrum uses shorter wavelengths than both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. These frequencies are ideal for fast data transfers, but have less range due to greater interference from physical obstructions like dense walls or floors structures. This means that in most applications, a greater number of wireless access points will have to be deployed to achieve the same overall coverage.


Compounding the range problem is the fact that Wi-Fi 6E is currently caught up in regulatory approvals that further limit its performance. In the United States, the 6 GHz spectrum continues to have some existing licensed users that are authorized to broadcast at full power. These include fixed satellite services and wireless mobile carriers. In order to minimize interference, the FCC has establish rules regarding power outputs for Wi-Fi devices operating on the 6GHz band. Insofar as practical applications are concerned, this means that 6 GHz wireless access points designed for indoor use are regarded as low-power devices, and as such, are not currently allowed to operate at power levels equivalent to devices operating on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.


This combination of inherent physical range limitations and statutory restrictions leaves the 6 GHz signal weaker than other bands, even when operating indoors. As a result, Wi-Fi 6E equipment is typically unable to propagate a signal as far as Wi-Fi 6 equipment on 5GHz or 2.4GHz. From an engineering standpoint, this limitation also means that a Wi-Fi 6E network is likely to be more expensive to deploy than its 5 GHz counterpart due to the higher cost of the components and the greater number of units required to cover the same size residence.



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