Wireless Connectivity

The Wi-Fi 6 spectrum extension

27 October 2022

The difference between Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e

Wi-Fi 6e is an extension of the current Wi-Fi 6 standard (IEEE standard 802.11ax) to include the use of the 6 GHz radio frequency band in addition to the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. This extension looks to cover the 5.925 GHz to 7.125 GHz frequency range. This extension to the available operational spectrum significantly increases transmission capacity, delivering faster messaging with lower latency.

The introduction of the Wi-Fi 6e extended capability has created seven new 160 MHz channels or an additional fourteen 80 MHz channels that are universally available. This has resolved the compatibility issues encountered with the Wi-Fi 6 standard frequency spectrum, where channel availability varied by geographic location. For example, while six 80 MHz channels were available in the U.S. under the Wi-Fi 6 standard, only five were available in Europe due to frequency spectrum constraints.

The growth in internet of things (IoT) adoption primarily drove the extension to meet the increase in information technology environment density. Systems are looking to add more wireless connectivity without degradation over overall performance while managing increasing device complexity requires higher bandwidth for each one.

The benefits of Wi-Fi 6e

Availability issues can be managed when larger populations congregate at sporting events, transportation hubs and entertainment centers. Availability issues can be managed when larger populations congregate at sporting events, transportation hubs and entertainment centers.

The 6 GHz band offers implementers access to 80 MHz and 160 MHz wide channels that deliver higher throughput than the typical 40 MHz channel width available in the 5 GHz band and the 20 MHz channel width available in the 2.4 GHz band. While wider channel widths are possible in these lower bands, achieving this comes at the expense of overlapping or combining channels.

The key benefit of opening up a higher frequency area of the spectrum is its application for ultra-low-latency signals associated with critical real-time data acquisition with high sampling rates required by biomedical monitoring devices and precision industrial process monitoring devices.

The significantly wider channel widths offer performance benefits for high bandwidth applications such as ultra-high-definition media streaming, real-time immersive gaming, augmented reality systems, and virtual reality entertainment and educational systems. In addition, the availability of significant contiguous spectrum blocks facilitates the high throughput and concurrent data transmission needed for such applications.

This increased capacity can also help manage availability issues where many unregulated devices simultaneously attempt to access a wireless network. These issues typically occur where large groups of the general population congregate at sports stadia, transportation hubs and entertainment centers.

Another advantage of this spectrum expansion is that it allows the addition of new Wi-Fi 6 systems using a different set of frequencies from any legacy wireless systems that use either the Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) standard or Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) standard solutions. This expansion eliminates any potential interference issues between the new and legacy systems.

Implementation issues

For network implementation, there is the drawback that 6 GHz signals have a shorter range than the equivalent 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz signals. This limitation is due to higher frequencies suffering more significant attenuation from obstacles in the transmission path, such as interior walls and fixtures. Routers manage this issue by automatically switching device communications from a 6 GHz channel to a 5 GHz channel, which can cause signal congestion, resulting in more significant data latency for users. In addition, the move to 6 GHz signals will require more consideration of antenna placement and consideration of including repeater equipment to ensure coverage of the 6 GHz channels across the entire desired operating environment.

Another potential issue is Wi-Fi 6e does not have exclusive access to the 6 GHz frequency spectrum. As a result, existing licensed applications in this frequency band will create conflicts and generate interference that may limit which channels the Wi-Fi 6e network has available.

Existing users of the 6 GHz frequency spectrum include 5G mobile telecommunications, fixed service (FS) point-to-point microwave links, fixed-satellite service (FSS) operations, and Earth exploration satellite Services (EESS).

Typical FS applications include C-band point-to-point communications transmissions used for long-distance telephone services, public safety agency networks, and utility company applications such as electrical distribution grid management signals. Local television transmission services and cable television relay services also use this spectrum.

Typical FSS applications include Earth-to-space communications for media use, such as live sports and newscasts. In addition, EESS applications include meteorology, environmental monitoring, cartography, and surveillance.

Such 6 GHz spectrum users tend to be geographically well-defined, and wireless network implementers can consider this before developing a Wi-Fi 6e network. Where significant portions of the 6 GHz band already have incumbent operators, regulatory compliance will tend to limit Wi-Fi 6e networks to indoor use only. Implementing a Wi-Fi 6e network in an outside environment will require coordination with regulatory authorities such as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Specifically, the FCC is developing an Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) system to manage the process of authorizing standard power unlicensed operations in the 6 GHz band.

However, low-range applications also use the 6 GHz spectrum, including radio determination devices and radar level gauges such as tank level probing radar to monitor liquid levels in storage vessels. Such devices may be commonly employed in industrial environments and potentially interfere with a Wi-Fi 6e network and be subject to interference. The Wi-Fi network implementation will be responsible for detecting and managing conflict between its unlicensed use of this frequency spectrum to ensure no adverse impacts on licensed operations.

Applications for Wi-Fi 6e

The Wi-Fi 6e extension firmly targets commercial and industrial applications. Current domestic broadband speeds throttle standard Wi-Fi 6 performance. For example, the fastest domestic broadband available in the U.S. is around 1 Gbps, though homes typically have a 50 Mbps connection. This speed is significantly lower than the Wi-Fi 6 capability. Therefore, it’s unlikely that domestic users will gain any performance advantage from switching to a Wi-Fi 6e capability. However, once homes have access to multi-gigabit internet connectivity, the benefits of a home Wi-Fi 6e capability have the potential for realization.

In an environment with ultra-fast internet connectivity, the extension to the Wi-Fi 6 standard allows a bandwidth-heavy application, such as a virtual reality online application, allocation of its own dedicated 160 MHz channel. This capability segregates the other wireless users in the environment into different channels where they won’t experience latency issues if everyone competes for bandwidth on the same channel.

Different channels are necessary to avoid latency issues in a high-traffic area.Different channels are necessary to avoid latency issues in a high-traffic area.

Wi-Fi 6e deployment

At the time of writing, Wi-Fi 6e, with the extended capability across the 6 GHz frequency spectrum, is available in large parts of North and South America. In addition, partial implementation over the lower parts of the 6 GHz frequency spectrum is available in Western Europe, some parts of Africa, and large regions of Australasia. The expectation is that the adoption of this extension to the Wi-Fi 6 standard will grow as regulators resolve conflicts between the licensed and unlicensed use of the 6 GHz frequency band.

To contact the author of this article, email GlobalSpecEditors@globalspec.com

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