Wi-Fi 6E, explained: what is 6 GHz Wi-Fi?

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In a few months, there will be a lot more Wi-Fi to go around. The Federal Communications Commission voted today to open a spectrum in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use – the same regulatory green light that allows your router to broadcast in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. This means that there are now more open waves – much more – which routers can use to broadcast Wi-Fi signals. Once the new spectrum is officially opened to businesses later this year, this should translate into faster and more reliable connections from the next generation of appliances.

This is the biggest addition to the spectrum since the FCC pioneered Wi-Fi in 1989, so it’s a huge deal. The new spectrum basically quadruples the amount of space available for routers and other devices, which means much more bandwidth and much less interference for any device that can take advantage of it.

“This is the most monumental Wi-Fi spectrum decision in its history in the past 20 years,” Kevin Robinson, marketing manager for the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry-backed group that oversees the implementation of Wi-Fi, said before the vote.

The devices are expected to start supporting 6 GHz Wi-Fi by the end of 2020, so its implementation is not far off. When it arrives, expect to see it under the “Wi-Fi 6E” brand.

Here’s what we know so far what to expect.

How will it fix my bad Wi-Fi?

If you’ve ever had trouble connecting to your Wi-Fi network, chances are the spectrum is congestion. Whenever you have too many devices trying to connect to the same frequency band, some devices will start to fall. So if you see a long list of nearby Wi-Fi networks in your area, this may explain why your connection becomes slower and less reliable. There are simply too many competing signals for your computer to pass.

6 GHz Wi-Fi can go a long way toward solving this problem. It not only offers a new waveband for routers to use, but a spacious band that doesn’t require overlapping signals like on some current Wi-Fi channels. The new spectrum has enough space for up to seven Wi-Fi streams of maximum capacity to all be broadcast simultaneously and do not interfere with each other – all without using one of the previously available spectra.

To be a little more precise, the FCC opens 1,200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band. Over the past two decades, Wi-Fi has operated with around 400 MHz of spectrum, and all available channels have had to be divided into this limited space. Channels in the 6 GHz band should be 160 MHz in size each. Only two channels of this size could enter the currently available airspace.

What is 6 GHz Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi works by broadcasting on waves that are open to everyone. Today, it operates on two bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Now we add a third band, 6 GHz.

The numbers make the difference (2.4 GHz travels farther, but 6 GHz provides data faster), but what really matters is not the specific frequencies used, but the size of an available waveband . And that’s why the 6 GHz frequency is particularly interesting: this new band quadruples the total space available for traditional Wi-Fi.

On an immediate level, this means that if you are the first person in your building to get a 6 GHz router, you are going to live big in terms of connectivity, because no one will be competing with you. But even after 6 GHz routers become more common in several years, the hope is that the more spacious spectrum will allow the signals to stay faster and stronger than the ones we use today. “We will not be in the same position as we are today in five years,” said Robinson.

Will it make Wi-Fi faster? Kind of

Technically, 6 GHz Wi-Fi has the same theoretical top speed as 5 GHz Wi-Fi: 9.6 Gbit / s, the maximum offered by Wi-Fi standard 6, the current version of Wi-Fi.

You still won’t get that speed in real life, but the new waves should help increase your speed. Indeed, the limited spectrum available at 5 GHz means that Wi-Fi signals are often not as important as they could be. At 6 GHz, it is assumed that the routers will broadcast at the current maximum allowable channel size, which means a faster connection.

Wi-Fi connections to smartphones could reach 1 to 2 Gbps on these new networks, said Robinson. These are the types of speeds expected from 5G millimeter wave, which so far has very limited availability. Of course, your speeds will still be limited by what your home Internet service provider offers, but it’s a huge potential leap forward.

When can I expect Wi-Fi 6 devices in stores?

The first wave of devices using 6 GHz Wi-Fi is expected in the last quarter of 2020, according to Robinson. But the rollout should really start in early 2021 when the Wi-Fi Alliance begins to offer a certification program for Wi-Fi 6E devices.

The manufacturers are preparing for this moment. Already, chipmaker Broadcom has announced a Wi-Fi 6E mobile chip. Qualcomm has said it is ready to support 6 GHz Wi-Fi in next generation wireless products. And Intel has said it will have chips ready for January 2021.

Two large router companies, Linksys and Netgear, have reported that they are on board. And Apple previously said that the FCC approval “paves the way for the next generation of Wi-Fi networks.”

Smartphones are likely to be the first consumer devices to adopt Wi-Fi 6E, said Phil Solis, wireless analyst at IDC. The edge. Solis predicts that 316 million devices will ship with Wi-Fi 6E support in 2021. After smartphones, it expects tablets to follow, with adoption on TVs likely in 2022.

“Wi-Fi is a very important part of the phone, so high-end phones contain better quality Wi-Fi chips,” said Solis. “Smartphones are a key product that makes sense for 6E because people use their phones for just about everything.”

How do I know if a device supports Wi-Fi 6E?

Right now, when you go to buy a new phone or laptop, you can see the label “Wi-Fi 6” on the box. That’s great at the moment because it means your device supports the latest Wi-Fi standard, which provides more efficient wireless performance.

But “Wi-Fi 6” means your device is still on the same old spectrum, so from the end of this year, you’ll want to start looking for the label “Wi-Fi 6E”. This means “Wi-Fi 6 extended in the 6 GHz band”. This is the (relatively) user-friendly name you will see on phones, laptops, routers, and other gadgets that support 6 GHz Wi-Fi.

All 6E Wi-Fi devices must be compatible with each other and backward compatible with the router you already have at home. The important thing to know, however, is that you won’t see the benefits of 6 GHz until you buy a 6E Wi-Fi router. Chances are these are some of the first products to hit the market.

What is the trap?

There are plenty!

The bottom line is that … companies should actually follow! All the signs suggest that they will, but the Wi-Fi Alliance has already tried to direct companies to other forms of Wi-Fi – such as fast WiGig or low-powered HaLow – that have not all gone. (Robinson said this was not happening this time. “6 GHz will become an integral part of Wi-Fi 6 and future generations of Wi-Fi,” he said.)

And assuming everything works, you’ll still need to replace your devices to get it. Current gadgets are not configured to use 6 GHz networks (broadcasting is largely prohibited, after all), so you won’t see the benefits until you buy a new router and a new phone, laptop or other Wi-Fi. compatible device that can connect to it.

Wi-Fi 6E devices will still be backward compatible with all older Wi-Fi devices, but these gadgets will largely not benefit from the upgrade. They will always be blocked using the version of Wi-Fi on which they were delivered. At least as part of the Wi-Fi Alliance certification program, the 6 GHz network will be reserved for more efficient Wi-Fi 6 devices.

In addition, the airwaves are monitored country by country. The FCC opens 6 GHz in the United States, but Europeans still have to wait for individual countries and the European Commission to do the same for them. It could happen later this year, but it is not promised. This means that regulatory issues could delay the availability of this technology in some countries. Many gadgets are also shipped worldwide, which could also slow down uptake if major markets fall behind.

The 6 GHz spectrum also has some existing licensed users, and Wi-Fi will have to work around these issues. Indoors, this shouldn’t be a problem, as your walls should prevent interference. But outside, routers will need to use a system called “automated frequency control” to make sure they don’t interfere with existing 6 GHz users. This means less space to broadcast, which could degrade overall performance.

What does this have to do with 5G?

Nothing. But also – okay, it sounds like everything has to do with 5G right now, right?

Here’s the deal: Technically, the FCC hasn’t opened a new “Wi-Fi spectrum.” It has opened up a new “unlicensed” spectrum, which is pretty much what it looks like. This means that you don’t need a license to use it, so anyone can use it as long as they do it responsibly.

This means that other devices and technologies could use the 6 GHz band, potentially occupying the space that Wi-Fi wants to use. And yes, 5G is one of those things.

Cellular operators have used unlicensed spectrum in the past to increase the licensed spectrum that forms the core of their wireless networks. They did it with LTE as one of many technologies to speed up connections. At first glance, they may start again by letting 5G overlap on the newly erased spectrum with Wi-Fi 6.

Will this cause interference problems? Will 5G dominate all global connectivity and completely replace Wi-Fi? Probably not, but it is too early to tell. However, the two standards don’t necessarily conflict, so it’s not like being a winner or a loser here.

“There is so much spectrum in the 6 GHz band that there should be room for both,” said Solis. Cellular use of 6 GHz would be similar to using Wi-Fi, in factories or small cell sites, he said. “You will not see macrocells using 6 GHz. “

For now, the tech industry seems to be joining Wi-Fi at 6 GHz, which seems to be a good sign that Wi-Fi will be the main beneficiary – at least for the immediate future – of spectrum opening at 6 GHz.

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