Ongoing supply chain shortages have made the timely availability of Wi-Fi 6E equipment inconsistent as vendors shuffle limited components to the most popular products. As a result, enterprise adoption of Wi-Fi 6E is slower than previous wireless standards, increasing the likelihood that organizations will head directly to Wi-Fi 7 when it's time for a network upgrade.
Interviews with businesses ranging from global system integrators to small resellers found a lackluster uptake of Wi-Fi 6E, said Tam Dell'Oro, CEO of the market research firm.
"The enterprise customers are not asking for Wi-Fi 6E; they're asking for Wi-Fi 6," Dell'Oro said. When it comes to Wi-Fi 6E equipment, supply chain snarls and chip shortages mean "they're seeing huge delays and very lumpy availability."
It's too early to tell whether low demand for Wi-Fi 6E will persist, but two factors make it likely, Dell'Oro said. First, many buyers want time for delivery and price quotes when evaluating competing technologies, which Dell'Oro said she hasn't seen before. The demand for more information indicates that many enterprises have decided that having good-enough technology now is more important than the extra capabilities offered by 6E.
Second, several CEOs of enterprise technology companies mentioned during their earnings calls that they had focused engineers on redesigning popular products to use more readily available parts instead of using them in upcoming offerings.
"If you're shifting part of your engineering force to redesign existing products just to make sure that you've got availability … are you really going to be messing around with some little low-volume stuff [like WiFi 6E]?" Dell'Oro said.
There are Wi-Fi 6E products available on the market. Aruba has offered Wi-Fi 6E technology since last summer, and last week, Cisco launched two new Wi-Fi 6E APs. Also, some consumer devices like the Google Pixel 6 support Wi-Fi 6E.
However, Dell'Oro said she expects Wi-Fi 6E products to mostly interest universities with a financial incentive to upgrade to a faster network to serve students and faculty returning to campuses.
Based on findings by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Dell'Oro said she expects Wi-Fi 6E equipment to become reliably available in 2023. That's when the OECD found qualified labor would be on hand to straighten out the current supply chain snarls.
At the same time, Taiwanese semiconductor company MediaTek plans to introduce Wi-Fi 7 equipment with other vendors expected to follow suit.
"Wi-Fi 7 is going to be the big upgrade," Dell'Oro said. If supply constraints ease in 2023 as expected and Wi-Fi 7 is available, "who cares about Wi-Fi 6E?"
What should enterprises do today? Dell'Oro recommends evaluating the business-specific use cases for Wi-Fi 6E. For example, enterprises would find the technology beneficial for critical applications requiring extra bandwidth or low interference.
For a broad-based update that can be implemented without supply chain headaches, though, the better upgrade will be Wi-Fi 7.
Madelaine Millar is a news writer covering network technology at TechTarget. She has previously written about science and technology for MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and the Khoury College of Computer Science, as well as covering community news for Boston Globe Media.