Author: Dobias van Ingen, EMEA SE Director and CTO, HPE Aruba
Despite the pandemic, the race towards Wi-Fi 6E continues at pace, and with good reason. As organizations increase their use of bandwidth-hungry video, speed up their transition to the cloud, and battle rocketing numbers of devices, the demand for Wi-Fi connectivity continues to rise. In fact, according to the Wi-Fi alliance, there are as many as 16.4 billion client and IoT devices now in use.
The pandemic has undoubtedly been a catalyst for faster, more agile connectivity. However, wireless networks were already strained before the events of the past 14 months; for years, WLAN has been under increased pressure due to the growing number of purely wireless devices demanding higher volumes of data. The emergence of latency-critical applications such as virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) only adds to this, meaning wireless networks are fast finding themselves vastly oversubscribed, throttling application performance, and negatively impacting user experience, productivity, and the pace of digital innovation as a result.
Wi-Fi 6E is widely regarded as the solution for this, promising to make Wi-Fi technology faster and more powerful than ever before. Subsequently, the Wi-Fi Alliance expects it to generate an estimated revenue of $183 billion in the US alone by 2025, which is a region that’s already committed to embracing full 6 GHz capabilities.
Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 6E
It’s worth remembering that Wi-Fi 6E is an extension of Wi-Fi 6 which means businesses don’t have to dive straight into this new networking advancement. There are a number of considerations and, like most things, it’s not a ‘one fits all’ approach; the needs and requirements of the business will determine the best route forwards.
First and foremost, it’s vital that organizations ensure their country has adopted 6 GHz. Some countries, such as Oman, Turkey, Qatar and Jordon are still in the consultation process and so businesses based in these locations would be wise to hold back on 6E investments until a decision has been made. Assuming country adoption is in place (like in the case of UAE and Saudi for example), organizations should then consider areas such as what the new spectrum will be used for, where it’s needed, and what’s already in place.
Companies most suited to 6E will be those looking to expand into high-definition video VR/AR technologies, as well as those planning a refresh of their 802.11n standard. In addition, organizations wanting to future-proof their business by protecting technology investments will also be viable candidates for 6E adoption. The new band can extend product refresh cycles from 5-6 years to 8-10, meaning upgrades last for up to 50% longer.
It’s also important to note that 6 GHz is only currently viable indoors, so companies that require outdoor connectivity won’t benefit from it at this stage. These companies, alongside organizations based in locations that have already announced they won’t be adopting the new 6 GHz band, such as those in China, should stick to Wi-Fi 6 for the time being.
What about 5G?
The old argument about whether Wi-Fi is still necessary in a 5G world continues to rumble, but with little foundation. The truth is that 5G and Wi-Fi are very different, but complementary, technologies. The same applies to 5G and Wi-Fi 6E; together, they provide increased speeds, higher capacity and lower latency.
Businesses don’t need to (and shouldn’t) take a ‘one or the other’ approach. Wi-Fi is a critical part of the cellular equation since approximately 60% of cellular traffic is offloaded to Wi-Fi and that number is only increasing. Wi-Fi is also cheaper to deploy, maintain, and scale; without the ability to offload traffic to Wi-Fi, 4G and 5G networks would become considerably more expensive. In addition, mobile operators would need to invest more into network densification in order to increase network capacity. It makes sense, therefore, for the two technologies to work in tandem to ensure a robust user experience.
The benefits of Wi-Fi 6E are clear and, alongside other important networking advancements, it is set to enable businesses to become more connected than ever before. It’s time for businesses to wave goodbye to sluggish connections and poor user experiences and replace them with powerful, high-speed networks. However, it’s critical that they make the right choice for them. As outlined in this article, not every company is immediately suited to Wi-Fi 6E and an incorrect investment could be a costly mistake at a time when every pound counts. Instead, businesses should spend time assessing their business needs both now, and in the future, to ensure they embark along the right path for their own digital transformation. For those utilizing AR/VR and wishing to take advantage of next-generation devices, Wi-Fi 6E will be an obvious choice.