Wi-Fi 6E in the Home

Wi-Fi is now an essential utility

In today’s homes, we connect laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs and even doorbells to broadband via Wi-Fi. One reason for Wi-Fi’s huge success is its use of freely available, unlicensed spectrum. However, because so many devices are now using this unmanaged resource, congestion occurs, which degrades performance. This started in the 2.4 GHz band but, now, the more recent 5 GHz band is also becoming congested—a major issue for service providers aiming to deliver high-value services (such as UltraHD video) over Wi-Fi with assured levels of service.

As access network speeds increase, Wi-Fi performance around the home needs to improve or it will become a bottleneck. Gigabit Wi-Fi will require wide Wi-Fi channels. This, in turn, will drive the need for more radio frequency (RF) spectrum for Wi-Fi to use.

New Wi-Fi spectrum

New Wi-Fi spectrum

In April 2020, the USA FCC announced the availability of 1.2 GHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use. This includes Wi-Fi. Brazil is doing likewise. In Europe, 500 MHz of 6 GHz spectrum is being planned, with similar initiatives around Asia.

This once-in-a-generation increase in Wi-Fi capacity will alleviate congestion for the foreseeable future, enable higher performance and stimulate wireless innovation.

The Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) has named Wi-Fi in 6 GHz “Wi-Fi 6E,” where the “E” stands for “Extended.” The technical standard to be used is the same as for existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz: 802.11ax (branded as Wi-Fi 6). As only new devices using the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard will use it, the inefficiencies and degraded performance from old devices sharing the resource will be avoided. The WFA Wi-Fi 6 certification program will be extended to 6 GHz devices, guaranteeing interoperability to buyers of certified devices.

Wi-Fi as cars

Different transmit power levels will be allowed for different uses:

  • Standard power for use in outdoor applications. As parts of the spectrum are already in use (for example, outdoor point-to-point links), an automated frequency coordination (AFC) system will be used to mitigate interference. An access point reports its location to an AFC service, which then tells the AP which channels it can use.
  • Low power indoors for use in the home and enterprises. These products will appear on the market sooner than Standard Power devices as they do not require the use of the AFC system.

The large amount of spectrum will accommodate wide Wi-Fi channels, enabling higher speeds, extending Wi-Fi performance into gigabit speeds.

A key feature of the Wi-Fi 6 standard (in any band) is orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA). This technology allows scheduling of traffic to specific devices. Unlike previous generations of Wi-Fi, the performance of a Wi-Fi connection can be deterministic, with low latency allowing for a minimum quality of service. This will work even better in 6 GHz, where there is no congestion.

Wi-Fi 6E in the home

Wi-Fi 6E-enabled consumer devices will start to come onto the market in 2021. Home gateways and routers will need to be replaced to support 6 GHz. These will be tri-band devices—2.4, 5 and 6 GHz—so there will be some additional cost over a dual-band access point. As demonstrated by mesh Wi-Fi solutions, consumers are prepared to pay a premium for better Wi-Fi performance.