Updated: Dec 10, 2020
We are just getting our heads around Wi-Fi 6, and now we have to figure out what Wi-Fi 6E is. Let’s take a quick look at this new Wi-Fi frontier.
The FCC will be voting on final approval of the ‘Report and Order’ that will allocate 1,200 MHz of the 6GHz frequency range on 23-April-20 for unlicensed use, particularly for 802.11 indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi.
Those of us old enough to live through the x86 CPU journey saw that each time a new processor was released, application and OS designers were waiting with use cases that gobbled up that performance gain and more. Granted, these were the growth years of the PC.
“Wi-Fi” has been around since 1997, but the last “doubling” of frequency happened relatively soon after its inception in 1999 with the adoption of 802.11a, which introduced the 5 GHz band. This new frequency increased the usable spectrum by over 7x.
Quick math break - In the US, 2.4 GHz has three non-overlapping 22 MHz channels for a total of 66 MHz of usable frequency. 5 GHz has 25 non-overlapping 20 MHz channels totaling 500 MHz. 500/66=7.56, 5 GHz has 7.56 times more usable frequency than 2.4 GHz.
Unlike the blistering rate of the CPU race, it has taken over 20 years to come to a place where the existing spectrum requires an upgrade. Some would argue it needed to happen sooner. Advancements in RF management have allowed a few new tricks to come into play to enable frequency sharing so that incumbents did not need to be completely removed from the spectrum. The new 6 GHz band will more than double the amount of frequency available to Wi-Fi from 566 MHz to 1,766 MHz.
Another math break - (last one) - Wi-Fi 6E operating in the soon to be allocated 6 GHz band offers 1200 MHz of usable frequency. Compared to the existing 566 MHz of available spectrum in all of Wi-Fi as it is today (2.4 and 5 GHz). 1200/566=2.12. The new 6 GHz band will add 2.12x more spectrum than is in use today.
While that seems like a massive amount of new spectrum, we are already hearing manufacturers chomping at the bit wanting to take advantage of larger channel sizes to boost the performance of their hardware solutions, rightly so. 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) introduced the use of 160 MHz channels. It is all but impossible to find that amount of spectrum available for use today. 6 GHz will open seven 160 MHz channels, add that to the two currently available, that is equal to the number of non-DFS 20 MHz channels available today in 5 GHz.
Now, when will we be able to use this new frequency? As soon as the FCC votes to allow unlicensed use, and hardware is made available. Yes, new hardware. This is an entirely new frequency so the vast majority of current hardware is not capable of using it. Chipset manufacturers are already producing chipsets for use in 6 GHz. Radio manufacturers should start to roll out consumer-grade equipment by the end of 2020. Enterprise-grade will follow shortly after that. User/client equipment will be rolling out soon.
There are many new channels to use, but that does not mean a Wi-Fi 6E WLAN can just be slapped up and magically work. A whole host of new factors will need to be considered during the network design phase. Wi-Fi 6E introduces three distinct AP power scenarios, Standard Power, Low Power Indoor, and Very Low power. Other items new to the Wi-Fi world include Constant Power Spectral Density, Automatic Frequency Coordination (AFC) with a third party database, Strict power differentiation, and UNII band access between indoor and outdoor AP’s.
This new frequency allotment applies to the United States only at this time. The FCC is a US government agency and has no authority to manage frequency use outside its jurisdiction. The EU is pursuing a similar solution, but the initial rollout will allocate well below half of the spectrum. Other countries around the world tend to emulate either the US or EU models. Check your local listings.
The final vote will take place on 23-Apr-20 at the FCC Open Commission Meeting. The meeting will be streaming live online at 10:30 EDT on both the FCC website, www.fcc.gov/live and YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/fccdotgovvideo.
Look to your trusted sources of Wi-Fi info to see how this newly allotted frequency will change everything. As Chuck Lukaszewski says "It's time to say goodbye to the stone age of Wi-Fi"
Related topics of interest:
AFC - Automated Frequency Coordinator - SAS like spectrum management database
Constant PSD - Power Spectral Density - the mechanism used to adjust transmit power to compensate for additional noise floor as channel size increases
Standard Power / Low Power / Very Low Power - power levels allowed per UNII band in 6 GHz
CBRS - Citizens Broadband Radio Service - additional frequency @ 3.53-3.70 GHz
SAS - Spectrum Allocation Service - National spectrum management database all CBRS CBSD’s (access points) must have access to, coordinating realtime channel allocation
CPI - Certified Professional Installer - FCC license required to install CBRS hardware