Wi-Fi Alliance gears up for 6 GHz opportunity with introduction of Wi-Fi 6E

With an eye toward seeing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allocate spectrum in the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi Alliance today announced it is introducing new terminology to distinguish Wi-Fi 6 devices that are capable of using the 6 GHz band once it becomes available.

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, the term “Wi-Fi 6E” brings a common industry name for Wi-Fi users to identify devices that will offer the features and capabilities of Wi-Fi 6, including higher performance, lower latency and faster data rates, extended into the 6 GHz band. The 'E' is not in reference to a specific word or term; Wi-Fi 6E is meant to show the extension of Wi-Fi 6 into 6 GHz, according to the alliance.

The 6 GHz band is adjacent to 5 GHz, where Wi-Fi already operates, and it’s been seen as a good band for Wi-Fi, with greater availability of wider channel sizes and accessibility to clear spectrum with less interference from legacy Wi-Fi 4 or Wi-Fi 5 devices. However, final details on how the band will be allocated—and incumbents protected—have yet to be determined.

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“If the regulatory landscape permits, we expect companies to move forward aggressively with products that operate in 6 GHz because they understand the tremendous value brought to their customers by this portion of unlicensed spectrum,” said Phil Solis, research director at IDC, in a statement. “If spectrum is made available early this year, we expect momentum of products that support operation in 6 GHz to ramp very quickly. The capacity of 6 GHz is enormous and will be efficiently used by Wi-Fi 6 and newer versions of Wi-Fi. The U.S. is taking a big lead on the 6 GHz market, with Europe and APAC regions also exploring access to this band.”

While rules are still pending for the 6 GHz band, the Wi-Fi industry is optimistic regulators will decide in their favor. At a spectrum management event last year, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai acknowledged that the FCC in 2018 began to explore opening up 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for different types of unlicensed uses. 

“This band is currently populated by microwave services that are used to support utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul. But studies have shown that sharing this band with unlicensed operations is feasible—and can put massive amounts of new spectrum into the hands of consumers,” Pai said at the time.

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Provided the 6 GHz band is made available, analysts predict the first Wi-Fi devices to use the band will include Wi-Fi 6E consumer access points and smartphones, followed by enterprise-grade access points. Industrial environments are also expected to see strong adoption from Wi-Fi 6E to deliver applications including machine analytics, remote maintenance or virtual employee training, the alliance said. Wi-Fi 6E also will use 6 GHz to deliver things like augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) use cases for consumer, enterprise and industrial environments.

Here's a sampling of some of the comments made by Wi-Fi 6E supporters:

"The 6 GHz band will perhaps be the most disruptive boon for Wi-Fi users in the last twenty years. This swath of spectrum, when coupled with Wi-Fi, will power new consumer experiences on smartphones, AR/VR devices and wearables we haven't even yet invented," said Vijay Nagarajan, vice president, Wireless Communications and Connectivity Division at Broadcom. "The Wi-Fi 6E brand for 6 GHz Wi-Fi will let consumers know that their Wi-Fi experience is about to get even better. Broadcom is excited about the wireless future with Wi-Fi 6E, and applauds the industry for coming up with a simple, elegant brand that amplifies the immediate possibilities with 6 GHz for Wi-Fi lovers everywhere.”

“CableLabs applauds the FCC for advancing spectrum access in the 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz frequency bands. The cable industry is building the future of broadband with the 10G platform. For consumers to fully benefit from 10G innovation, wireless links need to be robust, and this spectrum is critical to that vision,” said Rob Alderfer, vice president of technology policy at CableLabs.

“2020 marks a new decade for innovation and we’re seeing that first hand with Wi-Fi 6E. Access to more megahertz, like the 6 GHz band, expands the richness and power of the wireless ecosystem, enabling providers like Boingo to complement 5G deployments and meet multiple connected use cases in dense environments,” said Boingo CTO Derek Peterson.