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Wi-Fi 6E Covets 6GHz Band

March 3, 2020

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Wi-Fi is on the verge of gaining much more radio-frequency spectrum and better real-world performance. It looks certain that the US will allow future Wi-Fi devices to operate as unlicensed radios in the mostly licensed 6GHz RF band, and other countries will likely follow. By reaching above the 2.4GHz and 5GHz unlicensed bands that Wi-Fi now occupies, the proposed Wi-Fi 6E specification would gain more RF spectrum and suffer less interference from other unlicensed radios. It would also maintain compatibility with existing standards. But Wi-Fi devices will need additional RF circuitry to operate at 6GHz—and they face opposition from some licensed users now occupying those frequencies.

“Wi-Fi 6E” is the Wi-Fi Alliance’s new consumer-friendly brand for the next-generation protocol. The current standard, IEEE-802.11ax, has been rebranded “Wi-Fi 6” to reduce consumer confusion. The “E” suffix in Wi-Fi 6E means “extended,” because adding the 6GHz band to the current 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands is the essential difference from Wi-Fi 6.

The maximum theoretical data rate is the same—about 9.6Gbps per user—but devices rarely come close to it in the existing bands. New devices could achieve it more often thanks to less crowding in the 6GHz band. Particularly, more devices could use the widest 160MHz channels without interfering with each other.

We expect 6E to win the approval from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this year. The UK and South Korea appear only slightly behind, and the European Union may follow late this year or early next year. China has yet to announce any plans. Nevertheless, the first 6E-enabled premium smartphones could appear this fall. Extrapolating from Cisco’s forecasts of Wi-Fi 6 adoption, we expect most premium and midrange phones to implement 6E by 2022, at which point it will begin trickling into sub-$200 phones.

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