Extreme Networks’ Systems Engineering Manager Leon Champken talks about six key things you should know about WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E if you’re considering upgrading your WiFi infrastructure.
6E or not 6E? That is the question…
So your business is considering upgrading its network, and with it your WiFi infrastructure. Right now, that means one of two options: either WiFi 6, the “next-generation” technology that’s been maturing since 2019 and is now the market default, or WiFi 6E, its recent “enhanced” successor, which offers a vastly enlarged spectrum of WiFi channels for unlicensed use.
Which do you opt for? As we’ll see, both WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E enjoy considerable advantages over their nearest predecessor, including (but not limited to) greatly improved throughput with a tangible effect on business productivity. WiFi 6E, however, with its wealth of new channels in the 6GHz spectrum, could prove a game-changer for many organisations, while maximising the longevity (and ROI) of your investment.
Either way, WiFi is so deeply embedded in all aspects of work and everyday life that your decision is bound to be a crucial one. Below, we outline six vital things to know about both these candidate technologies as you deliberate your options.
1. A step-change in support for IoT and mobile devices
This is a benefit of both WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E, although it’s considerably greater in WiFi 6E (see point 2). The reason? More WiFi channels – or more specifically in the case of both 6 and 6E, a more efficient use of channels. Any access point that offers this enlarged capacity will be able to support more IoT and mobile devices, from lighting and emission sensors to laptops, smartphones and tablets.
This core benefit is enabled by two complementary technologies. One, MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output technology), increases the number of data streams from each access point by a factor of three or four, while the other, OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access), splits each individual WiFi channel down into multiple individual sections (rather like lanes on a motorway), so data can flow more effectively. Crucially, both these technologies also offer capacity on the uplink and downlink, doubling the capacity of the channel yet again to make communication between device and access point even more effective.
The result? More efficient data throughput and a far lower number of retries, leading to a better WiFi performance and, ultimately, a more efficient business.
2. WiFi 6E offers you a whole new dedicated frequency
While WiFi 6 and its predecessors operate with two radios per access point (at 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz), WiFi 6E access points boast a third radio that uses the 6GHz spectrum, newly opened by Ofcom.
This provides around 59 new channels through which to transmit data, and is likely to be something of a game-changer for many industries. Why? Because this tri-radio setup allows organisations to offload critical traffic to the dedicated spectrum, reducing interference (the dreaded “WiFi killer”) and enabling service level agreements (SLAs) to be introduced for the delivery and performance of vital applications. In effect, this gives users of an unlicensed bandwidth the types of benefits they’d expect from a licensed frequency.
For industries like health and education, where WiFi is often congested but reliability is paramount, the arrival of WiFi 6E is likely to be transformative – especially as more and more devices emerge with WiFi 6E chips. For industries like manufacturing, the new, interference-free spectrum found on WiFi 6E will provide more reliability and lower latency for IoT devices and sensors.
Ofcom has also removed the Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) requirements from channels used by WiFi in the 5.8 GHz band (5725-5850 MHz). DFS requires a router to scan for radars and to switch channel if suspected radar transmissions are detected, which represents a constraint for equipment manufacturers regarding the quality of service and throughput as well as being the cause of connection delays for users.
3. Be aware of future-proofing benefits
As global supply chains struggle due to a complex range of factors, your choice of WiFi investment could prove crucial in avoiding procurement headaches down the line.
As technology continues to advance, the current refresh cycle for a WiFi access point is three years or so. By buying hardware that’s already compatible with WiFi 6E certified devices, you’ll maximise its longevity – possibly up to five years or more – while ensuring your network can support devices and apps that come online in 12 months and beyond. As a result, your business will be better able to anticipate and accommodate changing market requirements
4. WiFi 6 and 6E could make you more sustainable
As hinted above, a forward-thinking WiFi upgrade strategy can increase equipment lifecycles, reduce wastage and enhance your compliance with WEEE regulations. But WiFi 6 and 6E offer an additional level of sustainability, in the form of smarter power functions like Target Wait Time.
When a WiFi 6 or 6E access point isn’t in use, it reduces its power, drawing less off the switch and, in turn, less off the mains. The difference is especially marked in the case of WiFi 6E, which requires more power because of its third radio.
WiFi 6 and 6E are also underpinned by 802.113az, an energy-efficient, open standard ethernet technology that reduces power consumption to the switch, thus giving you even more ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
5. Better hybrid working and a smoother “return to the office”
For employees working at home, a WiFi 6 access point can be connected to your corporate network through a cloud network management solution like ExtremeCloud™ IQ, giving them full access to their corporate profile and privileges while adhering to your security and other policies. In effect, you’ve extended your corporate network into your employee’s homes, but in a less intrusive way, without disrupting their home broadband connection.
As workforces return to the office in the aftermath of COVID-19, however, the most prominent benefit may lie in one of the features we’ve already discussed: the increased capacity of WiFi 6 and 6E access points. With workers now more accustomed to using their own mobile devices for work purposes, many are keen to continue using them instead of, or alongside, a corporate device. The upshot is that organisations will need to support an upswell in the number of WiFi devices as well as having a secure, workable bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy – all of which is facilitated by the increased capacity of WiFi 6 and 6E.
6. Increased support for advanced applications
Thanks to the inclusion of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) chips, WiFi 6 and 6E access points from Extreme Networks allow enterprises to deploy wayfinding and location-based services. This is achieved by using multiple access points to triangulate the position of a device or individual (for example, through a wearable tag or smartwatch).
Technology like this allows businesses to fulfil their duty of care commitments, for example, by monitoring the whereabouts of expensive hospital equipment or identifying and alerting colleagues if a lone employee becomes immobilised.
We hope that has given your decision making a “starter for six” – but it’s not one that your business needs to make alone. Working together in partnership, Daisy and Extreme Networks can help you with all aspects of design, planning, deployment and ongoing management of your new network – WiFi included – resulting in a cutting-edge, cost-effective and future-proof solution that fits your business needs and the demands of your market.
TD:LR – How do businesses decide between WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E? Either technology can offer smoother data throughput, greener power usage, better support for IoT devices and a range of enhancements to hybrid working, as well as the enabling of advanced applications. WiFi 6E, however, provides access to a whole new frequency spectrum of more than 50 new channels – enabling organisations to ring-fence the delivery of critical applications, guarantee SLAs and increase the longevity of hardware.