Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E: better, faster, more
In my previous blog about getting the best gaming experience out of your home Wi-Fi, I briefly touched on Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6 isn’t just for gamers—it’ll improve connectivity for everyone. But what is it exactly, and what’s this new flavor—Wi-Fi 6E—all about? Let’s dive in.
Over the last 20 years, successive Wi-Fi standards have mainly focused on improving bandwidth and security. Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E continue this trend but also offer an enormous jump in data rates and a drastic reduction of latency.
Wi-Fi 6 delivers low latency via “orthogonal frequency division multiple access” (OFDMA). This allows the Wi-Fi access point to communicate to multiple devices simultaneously by assigning them small chunks of spectrum called “Resource Units” (RUs). This allocation and process is highly dynamic and flexible. The Wi-Fi access point can give the entire resource to a single device or spread it out to multiple ones, as needed. Latency is dramatically improved with an average target range (while the access point is under moderate load) of 5-10 milliseconds. This helps network traffic such as video conferencing, online gaming and voice over Wi-Fi services.
That’s all nice, but obviously devices need to be Wi-Fi 6 compliant. Today, we find Wi-Fi 6 support in the Nokia WiFI Beacon 6, most new versions of smartphones (e.g. Samsung Galaxy/Note, iPhone 10/11, etc.), and more devices such as laptops are also including support. It will take another generation or so to start finding support in SmartTVs and other network enabled devices.
There are a variety of other improvements provided by Wi-Fi 6: BSS Coloring mitigates interference and congestion; Target Wake Time save energy; mandatory WPA3 certification improves security; tunable guard intervals improve the reach. Lots of nice technical terms but the bottom line is a significant improvement in performance and security.
So what’s different about Wi-Fi 6E? The “E” stands for extended; it makes use of the 6 GHz spectrum, giving a total of 1,200 MHz of bandwidth. This is an incredible increase in capacity and also means traffic is in a range of spectrum free of the usual in-home interference from devices like Bluetooth speakers, cordless phones, baby monitors and microwaves. While Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 can allocate a total of three 160 MHz channels, two of them require Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) due to the overlap with other services such as radars. With Wi-Fi 6E we get a total seven 160 MHz channels, with no interference. In that context, latency improves yet again to ~2 ms since there are no more ambient interference agents operating in that frequency range. You can expect to start seeing Wi-Fi 6E support in access points and devices towards the tail-end of 2020, but most probably in 2021.
As our need for high bandwidth and low latency is being driven higher every day with the adoption of virtual reality, cloud gaming services, IoT services (video cameras, etc.), rest assured that Wi-Fi has stepped-up its game and is ready to accept this challenge for many more years to come. I can already imagine Wi-Fi 6E spectrum in the home being “sliced” and reserved by gaming consoles, or for IoT device management (all those smart appliances), 4K and 8K video streaming, and so much more!
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