Cambium eyes 2023 sweet spot for Wi-Fi 6E, launches enterprise APs

Cambium Networks is launching new Wi-Fi 6E-capable access points for enterprise that aim to tee up customers for a smooth transition to the newly available 6 GHz band once adoption ticks up.

In the U.S. there’s 1,200 MHz of new spectrum for unlicensed users in 6 GHz after a 2020 unanimous FCC vote. That decision just got another go ahead in the form of a federal court ruling last month after facing a challenge from AT&T.

The 6 GHz band is seen as a boon for the Wi-Fi community, and enterprises - particularly those with high-density needs such as public venues, stadiums and education at K-12 schools or lecture halls on university campuses - are among those eager to tap the new airwaves, according to Cambium VP of Enterprise Marketing Bruce Miller. Wi-Fi 6E is the designation for Wi-Fi 6 devices operating in the 6 GHz band.

“This is a pretty watershed moment for Wi-Fi in general when you triple the available bandwidth,” Miller said. Existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands have fewer channels (compared to up to seven 160 MHz-wide channels in 6 GHz) and are already laden with billions of devices globally.   

RELATED: Samsung VP: Wi-Fi 6E an ‘entirely new canvas’

While unlicensed low-power indoor operations for Wi-Fi already have the greenlight to use 6 GHz, Miller expects the adoption tipping point at some point next year. 

“If we project how history has worked in the past and the introduction of new technology into devices, we see first part of 2023 is probably when you start to really hit the sweet spot,” with the number of Wi-Fi 6E devices on networks gradually building over time until then and beyond.

Usually consumer-space residential APs come first following user devices, though some enterprise-grade Wi-Fi 6E access points have come out with Aruba Networks claiming a first in May. Wi-Fi 6E home routers are on already on the market and the first Wi-Fi 6E-capable handset launched last year with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

6 GHz enabled Wi-Fi 6E chipsets are forecast to nearly triple year on year in 2022, according to ABI Research. On the mobile device side, the firm expects continued adoption of Wi-Fi 6 this year with increased availability of mobile Wi-Fi 6E chipsets and platforms from vendors like Qualcomm, MediaTek and Broadcom.

However, with most Wi-Fi users still on the existing (but congested) 5 GHz band and only a small number on 6 GHz, large enterprises need a way to support both existing bands and set themselves up for future use as they undertake Wi-Fi network upgrades that Miller said could involve replacing hundreds or thousands of access points.

RELATED: 6 GHz and Wi-Fi 6 create buzz in the Wi-Fi community

It’s all about investing in infrastructure that enterprises can use now as well as down the line once 6 GHz is mainstream, he noted.

To that point, a key aspect of Cambium’s new APs is flexibility, with software-defined radios that allow enterprises to shift to 6 GHz support when the time is right. According to Miller, Wi-Fi 6E solutions to date have largely been fixed where a three radio solution can support all three bands for Wi-Fi (such as one dedicated to 2.4 GHz, one on 5 GHz and one for 6 GHz) but can’t switch between channels in the early days of 6 GHz.   

“If you don’t have anybody on 6 GHz in your establishment, you’re kind of wasting that resource,” Miller said.  

RELATED: WBA boasts indoor Wi-Fi 6E trial with Intel, CableLabs

Cambium’s new products include the first two access points in the XE series, a tri-radio 4x4/2x2 access point and 5-radio 8x8/4x4 AP with software-defined Wi-Fi 6E technology that allows operators to chose between 5 GHz or 6 GHz operation per radio. Initially, one could be on 2.4 GHz and two on 5 GHz and then in a year from now when, for example once 10-20% of client devices are on 6 GHz, that third radio could turn over to operations at 6 GHz when it makes sense for the enterprise, with support for all three bands, he explained.

It's Cambium’s migration assistant software that helps automate the transition to 6 GHz, in part by tracking what devices are capable of. Once the percentage of those with 6 GHz hits a threshold, it makes a recommendation to change the AP configuration based on those shifts in the number of 6 GHz/Wi-Fi 6E capable devices on the network.  

High-density deployments for public venues, education

As mentioned, high-density areas like convention centers or stadiums where there are thousands or  tens of thousands of people are congregating is one example of where Cambium’s seeing a lot interest in Wi-Fi 6E solutions for 6 GHz, as current congested channels can’t deliver on the capacity needed.

“You have to flood the area with hundreds of access points but then you have to start reusing those channels because there’s not enough channels to design the network to where – in the ideal world each AP would have its own channel and you wouldn’t need to worry about interference – that just doesn’t happen,” Miller said. “You have to design and repeat the channel use over time, and when you have more spectrum and channels available it makes it a lot easier to design.”

RELATED: 6 GHz readies for new users as AFC wannabees stack up

Another one is education, where he pointed to K-12 classrooms which can have up between 40-80 devices when laptops and BYOD is involved.  

“You start to get really dense just regular classrooms, let alone auditoriums or places on college campuses” where students are congregating, like libraries and meeting rooms, he said. “We’ve seen a lot of interest because it will open up those scenarios with a lot more flexibility.”

AR/VR, collaboration apps and video applications that struggle with congestion are a few of the use cases he cited for Wi-Fi 6E that can take advantage of lower latency and increased bandwidth that come with more channels and clean 6 GHz spectrum.  

The Cambium XE5-8 5-radio AP for high and ultra-high density use cases can support up to thousands of users, and like the XE3-4 uses Qualcomm’s Networking Pro810 platform.