As I have written in numerous blogs, Wi-Fi 6E brings us up to 1,200 MHz of new spectrum in the 6 GHz band. This, my friends, is an enormous spectrum bonanza. 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. The availability of 6 GHz Wi-Fi began in the United States, and Wi-Fi 6E is spreading across the globe. Over 60 countries across the Americas, Europe, and APAC already have or are considering new regulations for Wi-Fi use in 6 GHz.
Wi-Fi 6E client devices with 6 GHz capabilities began to trickle into the marketplace in 2021. And according to Claus Hetting of Wi-Fi Now, we have seen an explosion of available Wi-Fi 6E client devices: “In particular, the number of PCs released with Wi-Fi 6E capability (633) has been impressive (both laptop and desktop versions). Currently, 61 smartphone models support Wi-Fi 6E.”
Enterprise networking vendors such as Extreme Networks began shipping Wi-Fi 6E access points in Q4 of 2021, with many more models debuting in 2022. We are still at the very beginning at what I believe is a renaissance of technology innovation spurred by 6 GHz Wi-Fi. However, another foretelling indicator of the explosive growth for Wi-Fi 6E is the support for 6 GHz in third-party Wi-Fi design and diagnostic tools in the last few months. In this blog, I will share information about many of the 6 GHz-capable software and hardware gadgets that all seasoned Wi-Fi professionals might add to their toolbox.
First, I must shout-out to Adrian Granados of Intuitibits because Wi-Fi Explorer Pro 3 was the very first third-party application to support 6 GHz analysis. Wi-Fi professionals have used Adrian’s Mac-based Wi-Fi troubleshooting tools for many years. Even though there are currently no Wi-Fi 6E radios inside MacBooks, Wi-Fi Explorer Pro 3 offers complete 6 GHz visibility. How is this possible? Well, knowledge about APs with 6 GHz radios can be extracted from the reduced neighbor reports (RNRs) found in 2.4 and 5 GHz beacons and probe responses. Wi-Fi Explorer Pro 3 is often classified as a WLAN discovery tool; however, it offers many more capabilities. Packet captures from 6 GHz radios in other devices can be imported into the app. Finally, Wi-Fi Explorer three offers integration support for third-party spectrum analyzers and remote external Wi-Fi sensors such as the WLAN Pi. In the meantime, let’s all hope that Apple announces support for Wi-Fi 6E with 6 GHz radios in MacBooks soon so we can leverage the full potential of this outstanding application.
Figure 1 - Wi-Fi Explorer Pro 3
So, are there any WLAN discovery tools that are Windows-based? A good place to start is Wi-Fi Scanner from AccessAgility. All you need is one of the many Windows-based laptops that use an Intel® Wi-Fi 6E (Gig+) radio. Even though I am a Mac-guy, I still use Windows, and this is one of the top apps to consider.
Figure 2 - Wi-Fi Scanner from AccessAgility
And what about 6 GHz tools for smartphones? Most Wi-Fi 6E smartphones use the Broadcom BCM4389 radio with full 6 GHz support. There have always been many more Wi-Fi diagnostic tools for Android smartphones because the OS is open-source. Pretty soon, I could probably write a separate blog about the numerous Android apps that provide 6 GHz visibility; however, I will quickly mention two: Epitiro has recently released a network agent app in the Play store that can be installed on any Android smartphone. Wi-Fi 6E smartphones can test and provide analysis with the app. The analiti Speed Test WiFi Analyzer works with 6 GHz. I just tested it with my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. As I mentioned, expect a rash of Android-based 6 GHz-capable apps
Once again, we are still waiting for Apple to announce Wi-Fi 6E capable phones. Perhaps the iPhone 14 this year? In the meantime, Numerous Networks, iPhone Wi-Fi analysis tool, nOversight, will be ready for 6 GHz support when Apple joins the party.
I am a big proponent of proper WLAN planning and design regardless of the frequency. The bulk of troubleshooting calls can be prevented if a WLAN is well planned and designed before deployment. Just as important is a post-deployment validation survey to verify the WLAN design. 6 GHz Wi-Fi will be no different. The great news is that almost all the commercial solutions now offer 6 GHz Wi-Fi design, planning, and validation features.
The first company to debut 6 GHz design capabilities is a new company from Finland called Hamina Wireless. What makes Hamina different is their cloud-based platform for designing Wi-Fi, BLE, 4G/5G cellular, and other wireless technologies
Figure 3 - Hamina Wireless
Hamina is still in the trial development phase, however, I expect public availability of their design solution any day now. This is a company to keep your eyes on.
By far, the market leader for many years in Wi-Fi design has been another Finnish-based company, Ekahau. Their best-of-class design, survey, and validation solution, Ekahau AI Pro, now offers full support for 6 GHz. The new Network Simulator feature is perfect for visualizing the impact of 6 GHz on your network. Needless to say, Ekahau will continue to excel at 6 GHz design, site-surveying, and troubleshooting moving forward.
Figure 4 - Ekahau AI Pro
Based in Montreal, Canada, another company that excels in Wi-Fi design and site survey tools is iBwave. They are famous for 3-D visualization of indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi coverage. Their iBwave Design solution now fully supports 6 GHz Wi-Fi. By the way, they are also experts in cellular design, particularly in stadiums. Another best-of-breed solution for wireless professionals at the top of their game.
Figure 5 - iBwave Design with 6 GHz coverage
Just as important as design is validation. Most of the above-mentioned design solutions also offer capabilities to capture data onsite to validate design. However, my all-time favorite tool for validating coverage is the Aircheck G2. Besides coverage validation, the AirCheck is fantastic for performance testing, troubleshooting, and capturing 802.11 frames.
Figure 6 - NetAlly AirCheck G2 and EtherScope nXG
NetAlly is a leading innovator of Ethernet and Wi-Fi test and analysis solutions. They recently announced the industry’s first handheld Wi-Fi 6/6E test instrument with the latest model of their EtherScope® nXG Portable Network Expert. Hopefully, we will see 6 GHz capability in the Aircheck very soon as well. So yes, NetAlly is also leading the way with 6 GHz troubleshooting and validation.
Most networking problems usually exist at the Physical layer. Layer 1 issues are often related to bad WLAN design, radio drivers, firmware bugs, and Power over Ethernet (PoE). And of course, many Wi-Fi performance problems are a direct result of RF interference from non-Wi-Fi devices.
What is the best tool to look at raw RF and for sources of interference? Without a doubt, you need a spectrum analyzer. On the high-end is the recently announced Ekahau SideKick 2 measurement device tuned for 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and now 6 GHz spectrum analysis. This device is nothing short of outstanding as it has four enterprise-grade tri-frequency radios available for scanning and eventually 6 GHz packet captures. The Ekahau Sidekick 2 enables professional Wi-Fi site surveys and spectrum analysis with support for Android, Windows, iOS, and macOS.
Figure 7 - Ekahau SideKick 2
If you are on a budget, I recommend the Oscium WiPry Clarity. The USB hardware can be used with a Windows laptop and soon MacOS. This device offers 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and now… 6 GHz spectrum analysis. The WiPry Clarity will soon also integrate with partners Intuitbits and Hamina Wireless.
Figure 8 - Oscium WiPry Clarity
Wi-Fi radios communicate via 802.11 frame exchanges at the MAC sublayer of the Data-Link layer. Therefore, the next logical layer to troubleshoot in the OSI model is layer 2. This means you need packet capture tools to grab 802.11 frames.
For years, one of my absolute favorite commercial software tools is Tamosoft’s CommView for Wi-Fi - a powerful wireless network monitor and analyzer for 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax networks. This is a Windows-based protocol analyzer that can now decode 6 GHz 802.11 frames. Tamosoft has developed a driver so you can use the Intel 210AX or 211AX radio in your laptop. And by the way, the low-cost price point for this commercial protocol analyzer cannot be beaten. Be sure to check out Tamosoft’s website, which offers numerous wired and wireless tools, including Tamograph Site Survey, which now also supports 6 GHz.
Figure 9 - Commview for Wi-Fi from TamoSoft
Of course, you can always go with the famous and reliable free protocol analyzer, Wireshark, which fully supports 6 GHz. You can import 6 GHz frame captures from APs or other sources. To this date, I do not know of a driver that works with the Intel radios for real-time 6 GHz captures. If anyone has such a driver, please reach out to me.
Are you not a packet-head? Do you understand information better if presented visually? Unlike a typical protocol analyzer, MetaGeek’s Eye P. A. uses multi-layer pie charts to visualize network traffic. This allows you to quickly view airtime utilization for all access points, client devices, and packet types transmitted on a selected channel. While MetaGeek’s analysis tools do not yet support 6 GHz….. stay tuned, it will be worth the wait.
Figure 10 - MetaGeek's Eye PA
Finally, there is a toy for total Wi-Fi geeks. Of course, I am referring to the community driven WLANPI project. The WLAN Pi operating system is built on top of the official Raspberry Pi OS. The WLAN Pi operating system includes specific customizations for the WLAN Pi Pro hardware and comes pre-loaded with a full suite of tools for Wi-Fi professionals. The new WLAN Pi Pro has two Intel AX210 radios for 6 GHz packet captures and all kinds of diagnostic goodies.
Figure 11 - WLAN Pi Pro
Of course, Extreme Networks and other WLAN vendors provide the infrastructure (APs, controllers) and the management tools for visibility of real-time operational 6 GHz Wi-Fi networks. Over time, cloud management solutions will be able to collect enormous amounts of data about 6 GHz Wi-Fi and offer real-time analytics and troubleshooting.
Wi-Fi 7, Wi-Fi 8, and other future generations of Wi-Fi will be built on the 6 GHz superhighway that has debuted with Wi-Fi 6E. Over the next ten years, I expect all kinds of innovation for new wireless applications that can prosper in 6 GHz. Likewise, I expect a lot of innovation in both WLAN vendor and third-party tools for 6 GHz design and troubleshooting.
Do you have a favorite application that you are using on 6 GHz that I have not yet mentioned? If so, please reach out so we can share with the community.