What IT Managers Need To Know About Wi-Fi 6E

Rowell Dionicio

Leading the most significant Wi-Fi trend of 2022 is the release of Wi-Fi 6E access points from multiple vendors.

The FCC approved the long-awaited unlicensed frequency use in the 6 GHz spectrum. Opening up a large amount of spectrum increases Wi-Fi’s potential.

With new Wi-Fi 6E, access points come new chipsets. Client devices need new hardware to use 6 GHz. We must replace existing access points with 6 GHz capable hardware.

But the real big question is, will we finally see the full potential of Wi-Fi? With less interference in 6 GHz, we should see faster speeds, higher protocol efficiencies, and less congestion.

The major differentiators between vendors will fall into a few areas:

  • Chipset used
  • Quality of hardware and software
  • Dashboards functionality and usability
  • Cost

There are no best practices or deployment guides from the vendors as there are little-to-no real-world deployments.

Below is a table comparison of Wi-Fi 6E access points from various vendors. We’ll continue to update the table as newer access points are released.

What’s New

The new kid on the block is the 6 GHz chipset on each access point. The primary chipsets used are from Qualcomm or Broadcom.

Comparing Wi-Fi 6E access points

Tri-Band

Most of the access points will physically be larger. These access points are tri-band. There are multiple radios, more than we’ve previously had before Wi-Fi 6E. Although larger in dimensions, there is support for devices of previous Wi-Fi generations, which is essential for backward compatibility as we transition to Wi-Fi 6E.

Link-Aggregation

There will be the capability for link aggregation. Higher bandwidth through 80 MHz wide channels will exceed 1 Gbps Ethernet links. Some access points will also have dual multi-gig Ethernet ports.

Power-over-Ethernet Requirements

With more radios and capabilities comes higher Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) requirements. Currently, Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 access points use up to 30W or 802.3at. Wi-Fi 6E will push those limits up to 60W for some access points, thus using the 802.3bt PoE standard.

More PoE supports additional functionality from our access points, such as USB ports or Zigbee radios. Switching infrastructure will need to be scrutinized further as part of your Wi-Fi 6E transition.

Have a Test Plan

Before a mass rollout, perform testing with 6 GHz capable devices to understand roaming characteristics, realize real-world throughput, and identify any issues/bugs.

Obtaining Wi-Fi 6E access points is challenging with availability and supply chain issues.

Samsung released the Galaxy S21 Ultra mobile device supporting 6 GHz, which will be our first test device.

Transitioning to 6 GHz

As soon as mobile devices and laptops support 6 GHz, we will see a transitionary period. Enterprises will support primarily 5 GHz with newer devices joining to 6 GHz.

With more spectrum available, channel planning will be necessary. We must perform a Wi-Fi design to avoid band hopping or unnecessary Wi-Fi drops. And consider band-specific SSIDs.

Security must be part of the transition plan. WPA3 is a requirement in Wi-Fi 6E. There is no backwards compatibility with WPA2. But not all devices support WPA3, and it is not yet widely used.

Wi-Fi 6E access points will be highly beneficial in high-density areas, with applications needing lower latency and mission-critical applications requiring less interference.

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