Tech users weigh in on upcoming approval of more Wi-Fi 6 spectrum

Technology users say the pending Federal Communications approval of additional spectrum for Wi-Fi 6 should bring much higher wireless performance than available today.

Technology users welcomed news that the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to dramatically increase the available spectrum for Wi-Fi 6 networks. The move is expected to deliver the kind of network performance that vendors have long promised.

This week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released draft rules permitting Wi-Fi routers, mobile devices and other hardware to operate on the 6 GHz band. Currently, much of the spectrum is restricted for use by licensed operators, such as radio stations. The proposal, which the FCC is assured to approve in a meeting April 23, would make the full spectrum available for use by unlicensed businesses.

The 6GHz band is a big deal because of the current limitations in the 5 GHz used to achieve the highest speeds possible on Wi-Fi 6 (formally the 802.11ax standard), according to network engineers. The problem stems from the insufficient spectrum, which means too few channels to achieve the speed gains vendors promise on the latest wireless technology.

"The Wi-Fi Alliance and Wi-Fi vendors ignore this fact and market the heck out of performance benchmarks that can't generally be achieved," said Lee Badman, a network architect at a major private university.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is an industry group responsible for marketing wireless technology. It also certifies devices as complying with Wi-Fi standards developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The Wi-Fi Alliance markets the 6 GHz band as Wi-Fi 6E, which has the same technical underpinnings as Wi-Fi 6. However, manufacturers of mobile devices and access points will have to release new products that can operate on the 6 GHz band after it gets FCC approval.

David Boos, director of technology at Mitchell Technical Institute in Mitchell, S.D., said he expects vendor marketing to muddy the distinctions between Wi-Fi 6 and 6E. Nevertheless, he looks forward to having more spectrum to deliver faster speeds to the increasing number of mobile devices accessing the school's wireless network.

Also, Wi-Fi 6E should provide enough spectrum for network engineers to add IoT devices that support the 5G specification for unlicensed frequencies. Called 5G-U, the spec makes Wi-Fi a viable option for future hardware that use the next-generation cellular technology.

"More unlicensed spectrum is great for consumer devices and the potential for 5G crossover," Boos said.

Following the FCC announcement, the Wi-Fi Alliance commended Pai for his "momentous decision to sustain America's technological leadership." Alliance members expecting to drive revenue from the 6GHz band also issued statements praising the decision. They included Cisco, Extreme Networks, Qualcomm Technologies, and Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

Industry observers expect vendors to start offering Wi-Fi 6E products shortly after the FCC's final approval of unlicensed use of the 6 GHz band.

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