Date posted: 27 October 2020 – Category: Wi-Fi Services
WiFi connections today travel through two bands along the radio spectrum: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. These are not infinite resources. Congestion and interference have become real problems, especially in the 35-year old legacy 2.4 GHz channel.
Fortunately, the highways for wireless connectivity are about to expand very soon with the opening up of 6 GHz bands. This is the largest development for WiFi connectivity in recent years, and the first time a new frequency will be opened up for unlicensed use since the inception of WiFi in 1997.
The change begs important questions on availability, speed to market, and what the new channel will mean for 5G.
The wider the channel, the less interference and the higher throughput for devices that can transmit data along these bands. Devices using 2.4 GHz frequency can only travel along a “lane” as wide as 70 MHz. Making the new frequency available will open up an additional 500 MHz, which will house three 160 MHz-wide channels. This will allow for more devices to transmit simultaneously without competing for bandwidth.
The change comes along with the next standard for WiFi, WiFi 6E. WiFi 6E’s main draw isn’t higher speeds–although it will be faster–but the ability to enable these speeds for more devices at once. Together with 6 GHz, this creates a new level of stability for transmitting huge volumes of data. That is, for devices that can tap onto the new frequency.
Currently, there are only two countries that have loosened up the airwaves for WiFi: the US and the UK. While the US doubles capacity at 1,200 MHz, the UK is first at making it available to Very Low Power (VLP) devices like smartphones outdoors.
6 GHz will be much less crowded than its predecessors because of increased bandwidth, but also because of availability. The great majority of older devices will not be able to tap onto the 6 GHz frequency, which means it will only truly be for the next generation of WiFi devices.
But the next wave of compatible hardware isn’t far behind. Manufacturers with ears to the ground have been preparing for the change. Broadcom was the first to announce WiFi 6E compatible chipsets for mobile. Around 316 million WiFi 6E-compatible phones will ship in 2021, according to consultants. Intel is building the same tech for access points and PCs.
Some see gains for mobile Internet as marks against WiFi use and vice versa, with a few pundits even speculating that mobile data will one day wipe out the need for WiFi. However, that’s not the case here. “Both have important roles to play in meeting consumer demand for data in the future”, says Facebook’s Product Management lead for WiFi products.
The opening up of 6 GHz can only improve both mobile and wireless connectivity for consumers, thanks to a feature called “spectrum sharing”. Using spectrum sharing, 5G devices with WiFi 6E chips can optimise connections and reduce latency by intelligently looking for less congested bands and switching when possible. This translates to better performance, and possibly a more seamless handoff when users switch from using data to their office’s WiFi.
The impact of 6 GHz and WiFi 6E will not immediately be visible for many businesses. Organisations will have to upgrade their existing infrastructure to take full advantage of this new frequency.
Yet the promise is there, and it is exciting. Wider airwaves can remove barriers to the adoption of technology we’ve spent the better part of the decade imagining in enterprise and commercial environments. The new frequency will also touch and improve upon many day-to-day office activities.
AR and VR wearables are anticipated to be a part of the future of nearly every industry, from architecture to oil and gas. In reality, the tech remains out of reach even for the majority of consumers because of latency issues. WiFi 6 and 6 GHz can help eliminate lag, and is an important step towards freeing headsets from their dependency on tethers. Qualcomm has already announced that they’re creating a WiFi 6E chip for mobile devices that allows for more seamless VR transmission over WiFi.
AI-enabled business analytics, amenities that “talk” to one another, VoIP, and increasingly immersive video conferencing experiences will all be part of the office of the future. But these new technologies demand bandwidth that many businesses aren’t equipped to provide today.
While 6 GHz and WiFi 6E devices won’t turn your office into an automated marvel overnight, it can significantly relieve bottlenecks in productivity due to slow, unreliable connectivity. Cloud-based apps can crunch larger volumes of data at faster speeds.
Smart sensors and automation is already changing supply chain and manufacturing industries. However, faster adoption is stymied by logistics and safety concerns. Ethernet is impractical, if not impossible, for large sites. WiFi, which can be slow and patchy due to congestion, is out of the question for machines that need to be monitored in real time for safety.
The new 6 GHz band, with its ability to support more devices at higher throughput, will help make the Industrial Internet of Things a viable option for many organisations. “If you can guarantee lower latency, you can do some safety-related stuff you couldn’t do otherwise,” says Jack Gold of IT consultancy firm, J. Gold Associates.
The opening up of 6 GHz and the advent of WiFi 6E compatible devices are a welcome relief to a legacy channel leaking with the volume of data we consume and generate every day. The new generation of routers, phones, sensors, and computers will prove powerful tools for businesses once they hit the market later this year.
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Fiona Francombe, Site director, The Bottle Yard Studio