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Apple's adoption of Wi-Fi 6E marks the standard's move to the mainstream – is your network ready?

Apple's adoption of Wi-Fi 6E marks the standard's move to the mainstream – is your network ready?

In the endless evolution of mobile phones, Apple’s latest Pro models continue to generate interest with their collection of headline-grabbing features and changes. But while discussions naturally gravitate towards camera upgrades and the A17 Pro chip, it’s the adoption of Wi-Fi 6E that should hold the attention of anyone involved in overseeing a wireless network.

As with a lot of the features that make it onto Apple’s flagship product, Wi-Fi 6E isn’t exactly brand new – it had already made its way into the iPad Pro late last year, and has been available in a number of Android devices since early 2021. However, when Apple does take the step of integrating a new technology into their phones, it generally marks the beginning of a shift in public perception – from a technology being a ‘nice to have’ additional feature, to one that’s expected by default. Over the coming months, we can expect to see Wi-Fi 6E built into more and more devices as standard, until its inclusion has become the norm across the market. To avoid being caught out, organisations should already be thinking about how to adapt or refresh their networks to best serve these devices.

So why does Wi-Fi 6E matter? Representing an extension of Wi-Fi 6, 6E brings the same features and capabilities into the 6GHz spectrum band – marking the first time this band has been made available for use with Wi-Fi, rather than the lower frequency 2.4 or 5GHz bands. While the move from 5GHz to 6GHz might not sound like a big leap, in actuality the new band provides roughly four times the amount of channels that were available through 5GHz. Given that only one device on a Wi-Fi channel can communicate at any one time, devices forced to share a channel will end up competing for time and interrupting each other. This increase in the number of channels, then, will result in substantially less interference occurring in dense and congested environments. Beyond this greater capacity, Wi-Fi 6E also provides for internet speeds above 1Gbps and lower latency than previous Wi-Fi standards, opening up the potential for high-bandwidth wireless experiences in areas such as VR and AR that previously wouldn’t be possible, and making the new standard well positioned for use in education and healthcare settings.

Unfortunately, there are also some trade-offs that come alongside these benefits. As many will remember from the introduction of 5GHz Wi-Fi, the shorter wavelengths utilised by higher spectrum bands have a hard time moving through walls and obstacles, meaning that dead zones were introduced in locations where a stable 2.4GHz connection was previously possible. The 6GHz spectrum uses even shorter wavelengths than 5GHz, and so has a correspondingly harder time passing through solid objects. This means that a straight swap of older access points for new 6GHz ones will be unlikely to deliver desirable results. Instead, an in-depth wireless survey would be required to ensure that users throughout the premises can continue to receive solid, reliable wireless signal while also benefiting from the 6GHz band.

Another major consideration is around the use of the 6GHz band in outdoor settings. Because the upper part of the 6GHz spectrum band is already used by a variety of services within the UK, including satellites and radio astronomy, Ofcom has made the decision for 6GHz Wi-Fi usage to currently be focused on indoor settings. While outdoor use is possible, the power limitations imposed on such usage means that it will not be practical for many circumstances and environments. This situation is still in flux, however, as Ofcom continues to review the situation and more countries adopt the full band for Wi-Fi, so more feasible outdoor 6GHz usage may well come to the UK in the not too distant future.

All of these variables mean that that, while it would be shortsighted to perform any network refreshes or updates without incorporating Wi-Fi 6E, doing so successfully will require thought and careful planning. ITGL is well versed in bringing about transformative network refreshes in a wide variety of environments, from university campuses to NHS partnerships and Trusts, and we would love to talk to you about your specific situation and network needs. You can get in touch at hello@itgl.com to start the conversation.

Published by Cybersecurity Practice

November 27, 2023