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How Wi-Fi6E is reshaping the world of wireless working

How Wi-Fi6E is reshaping the world of wireless working

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Julian Critchlow, ANZ General Manager, Extreme Networks, tells us how Wi-Fi6E is transforming the world of wireless working bringing lower latency, enhanced traffic management and better security.

The widespread changes to work patterns that have occurred during the past two years have had a significant impact on the way people connect to networks.

Julian Critchlow, ANZ General Manager, Extreme Networks

Where once many would have relied on an office-based Ethernet network to access applications and data, today they are much more likely to be using Wi-Fi connectivity. This connectivity is being delivered by everything from home-based wireless networks to public networks and access points.

The growth of the technology has been phenomenal. Recent industry research [1] shows that usage of Wi-Fi around the world has doubled during the past two years. There are currently more than 4.2 billion Wi-Fi-equipped devices shipping annually and 16.4 billion devices already in use.

Increasing capacity

Wi-Fi-enabled devices connecting to networks has caused challenges, particularly in environments where large numbers are being used. Because all devices share a limited amount of wireless spectrum, they must compete for bandwidth which can lead to lower data speeds and connection disruptions.

To overcome these challenges, new Wi-Fi standards have been developed. Dubbed Wi-Fi6E, they make use of triple the amount of allocated spectrum, thereby significantly increasing overall capacity. More than 41 countries including Australia have started opening up the 6GHz frequency band while a further 75 countries including New Zealand, are looking at doing the same.

The Wi-Fi6E standard brings further benefits. These include much lower latency, enhanced traffic management, and better security.

Improved networking capabilities

The rollout of Wi-Fi6E devices will have a significant impact in a range of areas. As well as improving the performance of home and office wireless networks, they will also bring advantages to specific sectors.

One is healthcare where staff have come to rely on wireless networks to access critical systems and records when moving about facilities. Another is education where students and teachers make use of Wi-Fi connections to access learning materials and interact with their peers.

A third example is manufacturing. Increasing numbers of companies are deploying Wi-Fi networks and Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructures to control machinery and provide communication links for staff.

In all these cases, Wi-Fi6E will enhance performance and enable much higher numbers of devices to be used in a location without any degradation to network speeds or connection reliability.

Wi-Fi6E allows devices to take advantage of much wider spectrum channels than was possible with earlier generations of the technology. It opens up access to a lot more channels, 59x 20-MHz, 29x 40-MHz, 14x 80-MHz and seven 160-MHz channels which will allow much better channel planning to take place, particularly in office and factory locations where a large number of devices are being used concurrently.

Knowledge is power

For anyone looking to deploy a Wi-Fi6E network, there are a number of things to be considered. These include the types of applications and speeds that users will require, the number of expected concurrent users, and the physical nature of the environment the network will cover.

Some other things to consider include:

  • Backward compatibility:
    Unlike the earlier 802.11ac standard, Wi-Fi6E is not backwardly compatible with 2.4 and 5GHz devices. This is the first clean break in Wi-Fi technology for over 20 years. It’s a marvel devices from the dot.com boom can connect to current Wi-Fi, however time to move on and remove the compromises made.

  • Simultaneous multi-user access:
    One of the most significant new capabilities offered by Wi-Fi6 is multi-user orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA). This subdivides individual radio channels into smaller frequency allocations and enables an access point to synchronise communication with multiple individual clients.

  • Older switching may not be enough:
    Typically, Wi-Fi access points (APs) are powered using PoE. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi6E APs require more power than can be delivered this way. High end APs will require power that is provided using the 802.3bt (PoE++) standard. New switching platforms may be needed and this should be factored into network designs. Additionally multi-rate switching (2.5Gbps) will also come into play.

  • Security will be Increased:
    The Wi-Fi Alliance will require WPA3 security certification for Wi-Fi 6E devices that will operate in the 6GHz band. Also, support for Enhanced Open certification with Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE) will be mandatory. This will create additional complexity for security teams but will improve the protective measures within wireless networks.

It’s clear that Wi-Fi6E has much to offer organizations of all sizes. By taking time now to understand the technology and its implications, IT teams will be well placed to deliver the potential business benefits on offer.


[1] Sources: Cisco, IDC, Telecom Advisory Services, Wi-Fi Alliance

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