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Wi-Fi 6 and Beyond Wireless Technology

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[Copenhagen, Denmark - Shutterstock]
 
 
 

Connecting Everyone and Everything, Everywhere

 
 

 

- Spectrum and The Future of Connectivity

Like all cellular technologies, 5G (or 4G, 4G LTE) is based on the use of licensed radio frequency spectrum. What this means is that companies that want to use these networks - that is, telco carriers - have to purchase the exclusive right to broadcast signals over certain radio frequencies. Those signals are broadcast from cell towers at high power levels and can travel for long distances, often measured in miles. In order to connect to those networks, any device you use needs to have a SIM card (or eSIM) that confirms you have a valid account on a particular cellular network, and you have to pay to get access to that network.

All Wi-Fi networks, on the other hand, use what’s called unlicensed or shared spectrum, meaning anyone has the right to create products that broadcast and receive signals on those frequencies. In addition, access to these networks (in most cases) is free, and devices don’t require anything like a SIM card to connect to them, just a radio capable of sending and receiving signals at certain frequencies. 

For Wi-Fi, the frequencies that are used are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Importantly, these frequencies are available for use globally, meaning you can use the same WiFi device and chips that power a Wi-Fi connection anywhere in the world. Finally, the signals on WiFi networks are sent at lower power rates, which means they don’t travel as far - typically within the walls of your house, a section of your office, etc..

 

- The U.S. FCC Opens Up 6GHz Band for Unlicensed Use

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted (in November, 2020) to open up a plot of spectrum in the 6GHz band for unlicensed use - the same regulatory go-ahead that lets your router broadcast over the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. That means there are now more open airwaves - a lot more - that routers can use to broadcast Wi-Fi signals. 

Wi-Fi 6E, or Wi-Fi 6 Extended, refers to the ability for Wi-Fi to leverage the 6 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi operation. The new spectrum is officially opened for business, that translates to faster, more reliable connections from the next generation of devices. 

The new swath of spectrum was previously reserved for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications - but since being set aside two decades ago, the auto industry hasn’t done much with it. So the FCC is taking away a little more than half of the airwaves it reserved and offering them up to the public for use as Wi-Fi. 

The new spectrum basically quadruples the amount of space available for routers and other devices, so it will mean a lot more bandwidth and a lot less interference for any device that can take advantage of it. 

 

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[Neuschwanstein, Germany - Civil Engineering Discoveries]

- 6GHz Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi 6 and previous generations of Wi-Fi use the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio bands. A Wi-Fi 6E device is one that is capable of operating on the 6 GHz band, too. The 6 GHz spectrum should work similarly to Wi-Fi 6 over 5 GHz but offers additional non-overlapping channels. As the Wi-Fi Alliance puts it, Wi-Fi 6E allows for “14 additional 80 MHz channels and 7 additional 160 MHz channels.” These channels wouldn’t overlap with each other, which will help reduce congestion, particularly in areas where lots of networks are operating. 

All the devices communicating on the 6 GHz spectrum would also be Wi-Fi 6 devices. There wouldn’t be any older devices using standards like Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). All devices on the 6 GHz channels will be speaking the same language and can use Wi-Fi 6’s new congestion-busting features. In other words, Wi-Fi 6E is Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) over 6 GHz.

 

- Technologies Powering Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E

While there has been sustained growth in Wi-Fi usage, unlicensed spectrum allocation has not increased at pace with Wi-Fi growth until now. The U.S. FCC's approval to provide all 1,200 MHz of spectrum for unlicensed use, including Wi-Fi, in the 6 GHz band is a monumental decision to provide more access for Wi-Fi devices. 

New Wi-Fi 6E standard brings 5G-related technologies to local area wireless. Thanks to the latest additions to the Wi-Fi standard, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. Several of the underlying technologies powering these new networks are very similar to, or in some cases even the same as, ones used for 5G networks. Signal modulation techniques like OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access) and transmission technologies like beamforming and MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple Input, Multiple Output), for example, are a key part of both Wi-Fi 6/6E and 5G.

Wi-Fi operation in 6 GHz addresses Wi-Fi spectrum shortage by providing contiguous spectrum blocks to accommodate up to 14 additional 80 MHz channels  or 7 additional 160 MHz channels. These wider channels are needed for high-bandwidth applications that require faster data throughput such as high-definition video streaming and virtual reality. 

Wi-Fi 6E designates devices capable of 6 GHz operation. Wi-Fi 6E devices leverage wider channels and additional capacity to deliver greater network performance and support more Wi-Fi users at once, even in very dense and congested environments.

 

- Wi-Fi 7

Successful technologies evolve continuously – the evolution never stops. The more successful the technology, the greater the need to keep improving the user experience. Wi-Fi is one of the most successful wireless technologies. And with success comes the need to innovate.

When compared to Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 7 (or 802.11be) will also use multi-band/multi-channel aggregation and operation and deliver higher spectrum and power efficiency, better interference mitigations, higher capacity density and higher cost efficiency. The seventh generation of Wi-Fi is also referred to as Wi-Fi Extremely High Throughput as result of its projected ability to support up to 30Gbps throughput, roughly three times faster than Wi-Fi 6.  

There are a number of proposed features for the Wi-Fi 7 standard, but direct enhancements over Wi-Fi 6 include support of 320 MHz transmissions, which is double the 160 MHz of 802.11ax, the use of higher modulation orders, optionally supporting 4096-QAM — up from 1024-QAM in 802.11ax — and the allocation of multiple resource units, such as groups of OFMDA tones.

One of the main goals of Wi-F 7 is to increase capacity and data rates above the 9.6 GBPS of Wi-Fi 6 in those 160 MHz channels with 1024-QAM and 8 spatial streams. In Wi-Fi 7, the maximum data rate is 46 GBPS in a 320 MHz chanel in 6 GHz and one 160 MHz channel in 5 GHz, with 4096-QAM and 16 spatial streams. The doubling of spatial streams and the doubling of channel bannwidths result in an increase of 4.8 times in throughput from Wi-Fi 6 to Wi-Fi 7.

 

 

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