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GlobalData Technology

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What is WiFi 6E and what does it mean for your organisation?

Cloud and managed services do not make disaster recovery and business continuity planning just a “nice to have”.

It’s no secret that technology is always on the move. New versions of software, hardware, and services are always coming to market. One of the key responsibilities of IT professionals is to find the balance between buying the newest, hottest technology, getting the maximum benefit from existing systems, and ensuring that the company does not go down any technological dead ends. This is a real challenge, not just because of the amount of research and awareness that’s required across IT sub-domains, but also due to human nature. If a product or system is not only working but also familiar, the impetus for change is often muted.

A great example of this is Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax for you IEEE types) is widely available for the enterprise, although end-user devices that use the standard are thin on the ground. Recently, there has been discussion of Wi-Fi 6E. The big difference between Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E is the inclusion of more spectrum at 6Ghz. Today, Wi-Fi 6 operates on two different frequencies, 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. These frequencies are unregulated and public and after years of development of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and other technologies, crowded and cramped spaces. The FCC, along with other international bodies, is in the process of opening up new unregulated spectrum at 6Ghz. This would not only make more spectrum available but would also make 1+Gbps operations possible on Wi-Fi. This new spectrum, if and when it is approved for public use, would be great for everyone: the consumer, enterprises, and industry.

The natural reaction would be to wait for Wi-Fi 6E. But in reality, enterprises should not put off upgrading older wireless networks waiting for Wi-Fi 6E. Wi-Fi 6 is already available and is a considerable improvement over previous versions of Wi-Fi. On top of that, endpoints for Wi-Fi 6 are scarce. The FCC and other country-based regulatory agencies must approve the use of 6ghz. While that is expected this year, there are no timelines. Approval could be next month or in the autumn. Plus while radio and chip manufacturers are currently sampling Wi-Fi 6E products, that is a far cry from actual implementation. Even with earlier, rather than later, approval of the spectrum use, Wi-Fi 6E products will not likely hit the shelves until the end of the year and, even then, are likely to first arrive in the faster-moving consumer market, where home mesh APs can make considerable use of the new spectrum. When you add the ramp-up times for Wi-Fi 6E endpoints such as phones, tablets, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, it clear that it’s going to be mid-2021 before we even begin to see devices.

Enterprises should not wait for Wi-Fi 6E. The current and, very recently, available Wi-Fi 6 standard is a huge upgrade over previous versions and is ready today. Wi-Fi 6E access points can be added in strategic spots in the future and will be compatible with current Wi-Fi 6 products and control systems. So keep your eye on Wi-Fi 6E, but don’t wait and sacrifice the speed, density, and operational improvement that Wi-Fi 6 can give you today.

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