Blog Mobility

Wi-Fi 6E – A New Beginning for Wi-Fi

David Coleman Director, Wireless Networking at the Office of the CTO Published 25 Jun 2021

This is the second in a series of continuing blogs about Wi-Fi 6E and the new spectrum bonanza in the 6 GHz frequency band.

In early 2020, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously to make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use in the United States. To put this in perspective, the new 6 GHz spectrum available for Wi-Fi is more than double the usable channels of the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels combined. So effectively it triples the available unlicensed spectrum available for Wi-Fi. This, my friends, is a big deal.

Just look at all the new Wi-Fi channels in 6 GHz, as shown in Figure 1. That is a boatload of channels! In the United States, there will be as many as fifty-nine new 20 MHz channels available across four U-NII bands. Additionally, there is the potential to use twenty-nine 40 MHz channels. Even more surprising is that the fourteen new 80 MHz channels in the 6 GHz band are expected to be used extensively in the enterprise. Expect a future blog just about 6 GHz channel-planning for enterprise Wi-Fi deployments.

6 GHz for Wi-Fi - a spectrum bonanza

Figure 1 – 6 GHz for Wi-Fi – a spectrum bonanza

The other good news is that the international regulatory organizations for spectrum management communicate with one another. And as shown in Figure 2, many other world regions are also making all or portions of the 6 GHz frequency band available for Wi-Fi. As of this writing, almost 40 countries have also approved new regulations for the unlicensed use of 6 GHz. The Wi-Fi Alliance maintains a web page with a current list of countries enabling Wi-Fi in the 6 GHz band: https://www.wi-fi.org/countries-enabling-wi-fi-6e.

 6 GHz Wi-Fi through the world 

Figure 2 – 6 GHz Wi-Fi through the world

As shown in Figure 3, Wi-Fi is already ingrained in our society, with an estimated global economic impact of $3.3 trillion dollars in 2021. Yet, the potential of 1,200 MHz of new frequency space for Wi-Fi communications is mind-boggling. Opening the 6 GHz frequency for Wi-Fi communication is expected to bring $154 billion in economic value to the United States by 2025.

Wi-Fi by the numbers in 2021

Figure 3 – Wi-Fi by the numbers in 2021

The Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying 802.11ax technology in August 2019, with a new certification called Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6. In late 2020, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced Wi-Fi 6E as an “extension” for certifying the 802.11ax features and capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 to the 6 GHz band. Wi-Fi 6E is the industry name that identifies Wi-Fi devices that operate in 6 GHz. As shown in Figure 4, Wi-Fi 6E extends all the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 technology benefits into the 6 GHz frequency band.

 All the cool 802.11ax technology now in 6 GHz

Figure 4 – All the cool 802.11ax technology now in 6 GHz

The table below shows a quick comparison of all the generations of Wi-Fi. Obviously, Wi-Fi 6E is the first generation to offer Wi-Fi capabilities in the 6 GHz frequency band.  A key difference of using the 6 GHz frequency band for 802.11ax technology is there is no need for backward compatibility. Because 802.11a/b/g/n/ac radios operate on either the 2.4 GHz or the 5 GHz band, and not the 6 GHz band, there is no need for RTS/CTS protection mechanisms. The 6 GHz frequency band will be a “pure” 802.11ax band for Wi-Fi communication.

Technology

Wi-Fi 4  

(802.11n)

Wi-Fi 5

(802.11ac)

Wi-Fi 6

(802.11ax)

Wi-Fi 6E

(802.11ax in 6 GHz)

Maximum available 20 MHz channels for reuse pattern

3 Channels in 2.4 GHz

25 Channels in 5 GHz

 

25 Channels in 5 GHz

 

3 Channels in 2.4 GHz

25 Channels in 5 GHz

 

3 Channels in 2.4 GHz

25 Channels in 5 GHz

59 Channels in 6 GHz

Available bandwidth

60 MHz in 2.4 GHz

500 MHz in 5 GHz

500 MHz in 5 GHz

 

60 MHz in 2.4 GHz

500 MHz in 5 GHz

1200 MHz in 6 GHz

Frequency bands

2.4 GHz & 5 GHz

5 GHz

2.4 GHz & 5 GHz

6 GHz

Channel size (MHz)

20 & 40

20, 40, 80, 80 + 80, 160

20, 40, 80, 80 + 80, 160

20, 40, 80, 80 + 80, 160

Frequency multiplexing

OFDM

OFDM

OFDM & OFDMA

OFDM & OFDMA

Multi-User technology

N/A

MU-MIMO (DL)

OFDMA (DL & UL)

MU-MIMO (DL & UL)

OFDMA (DL & UL)

MU-MIMO (DL & UL)

Security

Open

WPA2

WPA3 (optional)

Open

WPA2

WPA3 (optional)

Open

WPA2

WPA3 (Mandatory)

Enhanced Open (Mandatory)

WPA3 (Mandatory)

Backward compatibility

Yes

Yes

Yes

No*

*AP and clients will be backward capable in the sense that they may support multiple bands, however, only Wi-Fi 6E radios can transmit on the 6 GHz channels

I have been working with Wi-Fi since 1997, and I have to say that the availability of 6 GHz for Wi-Fi is probably the most exciting thing to happen for Wi-Fi in the last 15 years. During my past two years at Extreme Networks, I’ve enjoyed working with Rosalie Bibona, Senior WLAN Product Manager at Extreme Networks. I think she put it best when she stated recently, “It’s almost like Wi-Fi is being born again!”  I could not agree with her more, Wi-Fi 6E marks a new beginning for Wi-Fi, and the future is extremely bright.

Stay tuned for many more Wi-Fi 6E blogs about 6 GHz power regulations, design considerations, security scrutiny as much more.

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