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Why Wi-Fi6?

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Vasudevan Venkatakrishnan, Business Development Director APAC, RUCKUS Networks, CommScope, opined that investing in next-generation Wi-Fi 6 is critical for organizations to be able to support large-scale and high-speed connectivity. He has a chat with EITN about its benefits and future.

EITN: What is Wi-Fi 6 and what are its advantages over predecessors?

Venkatesh: Wi-Fi 6 is the latest generation of Wi-Fi technology that mitigates issues that come with connecting several devices onto a single network. This includes faster performance, with speeds up to four times faster than Wi-Fi 5, bringing the maximum throughput speed to 9.6 Gbps up from Wi-Fi 5’s 3.5 Gbps.

For connected devices, Wi-Fi 6 provides improved battery life, and enhanced mission-critical security with support for WPA3™, which is the latest generation of Wi-Fi standards. WPA3™is certified by industry organization, Wi-Fi Alliance, to provide the most advanced wireless security protocol for the market. With these capabilities, Wi-Fi 6 brings better performance to crowded environments with hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous connected devices and users.

While Asia as a region will be gradually resuming life and usual operations post-COVID-19, digital models of work and life will continue to be the norm, and it has become critical for many organisations to support a wide range of video and voice streaming applications, high volumes of data downloads for distributed hybrid and remote workplaces and running fully digitized operations over large-scale connected venues.

Investing in next-generation Wi-Fi 6 solutions is critical to ensure such large-scale high-speed connectivity. Such investments can deliver the key capabilities businesses need to support today’s escalating connectivity requirements.

Vasudevan Venkatakrishnan

EITN: What challenges does Wi-Fi 6 specifically address?

Venkatesh: While Wi-Fi 6 improves core Wi-Fi performance, there continues to be an unabated need to deliver great Wi-Fi technology that goes beyond the standards. Delivering great Wi-Fi is hard, and it will only get harder. Some of the key challenges that Wi-Fi 6 specifically can address, includes:

Mobility: When a user moves out of the coverage range of an access point (AP)—and must connect to another AP in the same network—the WLAN network must migrate the user’s devices gracefully without disruptions.

Interference: Walls and floors, other Wi-Fi networks, and appliances can all interfere with the Wi-Fi network, leading to network congestion and a poor user experience.

Security: Lack of adherence to best practices for securing the network opens hackable attack surfaces for malicious actors looking to steal intellectual property, money, and personal identities. For example, the KRACK exploit managed to threaten billions of Wi-Fi devices in 2017, and its variants continue to be a persistent security threat despite the industry’s best attempts to patch up the exploit.

Standards: With the explosion of IoT devices, a new set of wireless connectivity standards has emerged such as Bluetooth LE, Zigbee, LoRA, NB-IoT and more. The traditional Wi-Fi access point hardware will now be tasked and expected to support more than just Wi-Fi use cases.

Infrastructure: Supporting infrastructure that sits behind the AP is just as important. Technologies such as multi-gigabit Ethernet, 802.3bz and the latest PoE standards like 802.3bt are critical for delivering great Wi-Fi performance.

Deployment: Physical constraints can prevent the deployment of Wi-Fi within street furniture, in vehicles and other space-restricted locations such as light poles along roads. The delivery of high-speed and seamless Wi-Fi experiences will require defining form factors that are currently not mandated by the various Wi-Fi standards bodies.

Density: Ultra-dense environments with very large numbers of users and devices present in a small area like a stadium or transit hub create unique Wi-Fi challenges that lead to a deterioration in the Wi-Fi network performance.

Applications: 4K video streaming, virtual and augmented reality, and live-stream gaming, which are all gaining in popularity today, all consume far greater bandwidth compared with simpler applications such as music streaming

These challenges must be addressed to deliver great Wi-Fi connectivity and the one of the key objectives of Wi-Fi 6 is to address these specific challenges. For CommScope, in addition to our Wi-Fi 6 portfolio, we have also designed technologies to minimize such problems which have been prevalent across the older generations of Wi-Fi solutions.

The growing number of connected devices and their users are pushing Wi-Fi 5’s 600 MHz bandwidth to its limits, and the increasing prevalence of new IoT applications is only making it harder for businesses to keep up. Having more devices on a network using Wi-Fi 5 will ultimately not be sustainable, as it means only a certain number of devices can communicate at any one time. This inevitably causes speed-throttling on the devices which is not ideal for critical areas such as telehealth where speed and precision are key, as well as in dense environments such as hospitals or schools.

Before speed-throttling can occur, Wi-Fi 6, which supports higher speeds and increased capacity for connected devices, will be able to address the current limitations of the previous generation technology, by supporting lower latency and more efficient data transfers.

The IoT market is expected to grow to US$398.6 trillion by 2023 in APAC alone. With this forecast, we can expect an increasing adoption of connected devices and consequently, greater reliance on connectivity for post-pandemic digital economies.

Wi-Fi 6 deployments can help organisations leverage this exponentially growing trend, by enabling the connection to remain robust and seamless even if multiple devices are connected, ensuring optimal network performance in crowded or remote areas.

Businesses are increasingly driven by data intelligence and management, and the high usage of social platforms and chat applications. As such, network strength and speed have become pivotal to a company’s daily operations. The connectivity brought about by Wi-Fi 6 can empower more diversified workplace environments and encourage people to stay connected even while working remotely.

EITN: What is the take up of Wi-Fi 6? Are there enough devices that support it, and is the ecosystem diverse enough to support it?

Venkatesh: Smartphones, laptops, and other devices that run on Wi-Fi 6 are expected to become widely available, allowing users to download movies in just 30 seconds.

For example, we are working with the Ministry of Education in New Zealand to deploy Wi-Fi 6 in schools to elevate teaching and learning experiences. With the increase in video-centric learning, whether that be remote or in a classroom, we are helping more than 11,000 students across Dongguk Gyeongju University in South Korea to have better connections with Wi-Fi 6 adoption.

As we move towards a connected future, we are also seeing advancements in infrastructure solutions such as enhanced access points that will supercharge various high load scenarios not only for schools and campuses but also for hospitality, manufacturing and healthcare.

EITN: What will happen to its predecessor technology?

Venkatesh: The previous generation technology e.g., Wi-Fi 5 and others, will continue to coexist and the usage of that will reduce as customers and clients upgrade their client devices. Users and network operators want the same thing: secure, reliable, high-performance Wi-Fi, for every device, every time. However, delivering this is far from easy—but can be accomplished with the right technologies. CommScope draws on years of innovation in the industry to develop technology that tackles the densest environments, mitigates interference, enables better mobility, secures network access and more.

Wi-Fi 6 devices are backward compatible with previous generations of Wi-Fi 4 and 5. However, Wi-Fi 6 is needed on both an access point (such as a router) and client device (such as a smart appliance) to benefit fully. If only one of the two supports Wi-Fi 6, they will communicate using an older version of Wi-Fi.

Therefore, Wi-Fi 6 remains complementary to its predecessor technologies and new mobile standards like 5G networks, with existing Wi-Fi deployments, devices, and enterprise investment making for a simple upgrade path to Wi-Fi 6.

EITN: Can you share a roadmap of technical and business benefits that Wi-Fi 6 will provide for the next 3 to 5 years?

Venkatesh: Even as Wi-Fi 6 deployments continue to ramp up, the industry is preparing for the biggest Wi-Fi upgrade to date—Wi-Fi 6E.

On April 23, 2020, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously to allocate 1,200-megahertz (MHz) of spectrum for unlicensed use in the 5.925-7.125 GHz (6 GHz) band. At the same time, the Wi-Fi Alliance decided to extend the Wi-Fi 6 standard (802.11ax) to include the new 6 GHz band. The result is Wi-Fi 6 extended or Wi-Fi 6E1. Wi-Fi 6E is significant in that it represents the first ever expansion of the Wi-Fi spectrum.

The additional spectrum allocated to Wi-Fi 6E will address many of the current challenges.

Less Congestion: Current Wi-Fi offers 27 non-overlapping 20 MHz channels, while Wi-Fi 6E will offer 59 new 20 MHz channels. The added channels will alleviate many of the congestion challenges and enable better support for more connected devices and device types.

Higher Speed: 1,200 MHz of contiguous spectrum enables channel bonding of 80 MHz (14 new channels), and even 160 MHz (7 new channels). This is good news for high-density venues like convention centers and auditoriums. In the home, Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6E will deliver speeds to complement the multi-gigabit speeds of the latest fiber and DOCSIS 3.1 networks. By combining multiple 20 MHz channels into one wider, higher-throughput 80 MHz or 160 MHz channel, existing Wi-Fi 6 clients can reach their maximum speeds without the limits of operating in smaller channel widths. Wi-Fi 6E can also support more wired replacement applications like wireless point-to-point and indoor mesh backbone links.

Lower Latency: Wi-Fi 6E will only support OFDMA, MU-MIMO, 1024 QAM, and 6 GHz capable devices. All other legacy Wi-Fi devices will be limited to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Separating the traffic ensures the speed that ultra-latency sensitive applications such as AR/VR, gaming, and real-time imaging require. New APs are expected to provide backward compatibility to support Wi-Fi 6E and legacy bands with the device.

As a result, Wi-Fi 6E will enable delivery of the deterministic, low-latency, highly reliable quality of service (QoS) required for next-generation wireless applications.

  • Alongside the growing adoption of 5G broadband, with almost a quarter of total mobile connections across the region set to be powered by 5G networks by 2025, there will also be a concerted push to increase available spectrum for Wi-Fi in the 6GHz band, as well as to utilize all spectrum to meet consumers’ needs, both licensed and unlicensed. Wi-Fi has never been more important for businesses than now, and enterprise demands on networks will continue to increase exponentially. Wi-Fi 6 will hence be a robust option for APAC businesses and densely populated areas to offer wireless coverage.
  • Wi-Fi 6 will transform enterprises and support digital learning, video conferencing, as well as virtual reality, augmented reality, and gaming applications. With Wi-Fi 6 designed to scale with the digital needs of businesses and consumers, it can be a viable solution to solve today’s business problems and prepare for the new challenges of tomorrow. We can expect that in the next three to five years, the following transformative use cases across industries will increase in adoption:
 Improved in-building wireless coverage

Wi-Fi 6 can enable an employee’s or visitor’s phone to be seamlessly connected to a Wi-Fi network by simply entering a building, even if they’re on an active phone call or finishing a text.

Gaining impactful insights from the edge

Wi-Fi 6 allows enterprises to obtain data insights with ultra-low latency and respond to business needs in real-time (e.g., maintenance and repair in automotive and aviation, patient care for telehealth).

IoT convergence that drives cost efficiency

Wi-Fi 6 allows consolidation of wireless resources on a single platform, to not only improve visibility but control to reduce costs.

Powering remote learning

With eLearning, online testing, Chromebooks, and even virtual reality, many schools are going all-in on digital classrooms. Schools are turning to Wi-Fi 6 to support huge increases in connected devices and streaming video with reliable, always-on Wi-Fi.