WiFi 6E: Why CSPs Need to Invest
By now, just about all of us have horror stories related to clunky internet bandwidth and connections. We’ve frozen up during important Zoom calls. Many have lost their connection to cloud-based centralized systems while trying to help clients. We’ve been unable to enjoy real-time online gaming to the fullest capacity.
To call these incidents frustrating is a bit of an understatement. Accordingly, it thrilled many consumers to hear that the FCC approved the use of WiFi 6E. After all, many hailed WiFi 6E as a way to reduce the WiFi connection problems associated with living in a digital society.
Fast forward to 2022, and WiFI 6E is finally here. However, many communications service providers (CSPs) have been unsure when to time their jump into the WiFi 6E market.
Now seems to be the best moment to go full throttle. But, with that being said, CSPs should plan ahead by understanding how to leverage the pros—and overcome the cons—of WiFi’s newest family member.
The Premise, Power, and Problems Behind WiFi 6E
Put simply, WiFi 6E realizes the promise of WiFi 6-enabled devices by gaining access to the coveted 6GHz band.
Currently, most people connect to the Internet via 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Opening up the formerly closed 6GHz band adds more frequency channels into the fray. As you can imagine, more channels equate to less congestion—and less interference to interrupt video streams, downloads, and other online activities.
Basically, consumers using WiFi 6E should be able to see the difference in speed and reliability.
Plus, all is not lost for people on legacy devices that can only run using 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels will remain open, too, only they should be less crowded as more devices utilize the less-chaotic 6GHz band.
The Pitfalls of WiFi 6E
Of course, all the advantages of WiFi 6E come with a few tradeoffs, too, particularly from the CSP point of view. CSPs are the telecommunications companies that provide access to WiFi. It will require companies to juggle all these differing bandwidths while dealing with the downsides of WiFi 6E.
What are WiFi 6E’s most significant limitations? The first is that 6GHz airwaves are shorter than their 2.4GHz and 5GHz counterparts. Consequently, it’s harder for them to make the “jump” around a home from the primary router. The larger the building, the more noticeable this issue is likely to be.
A second snag with WiFi 6E is that it won’t work as well outdoors. See, the 6GHz bandwidth isn’t 100% clear. Also, it still has some licensed users, making the 6GHz channel spottier outside. People planning to cruise the web while relaxing by their backyard pools may be disappointed by the experience. Runners, bikers, and walkers may find that they just can’t keep a steady WiFi 6E connection as they roam around.
All in all, WiFi 6E is likely to be a huge boon. First, however, CSPs have to map out how to give customers what they expect. Remember that the hype around WiFI 6 and WiFI 6E has been substantial. This means that consumers will expect their preferred CSPs to have figured out how to avoid any WiFi 6E friction points.
Strategies for CSPs to Prepare for the Coming WiFi 6E “Invasion”
As Plume CTO Bill McFarland discussed during a recent Wi-Fi NOW global keynote address, overcoming WiFi 6E’s limitations requires innovative thinking. During his presentation, he noted that upon the arrival of WiFi 6, “many people said it would be so powerful that the need for WiFi management would be eliminated. But, in reality, to take advantage of WiFi 6, more management is required, not less.”
McFarland’s statement serves as an essential reminder to CSPs. Those who may not have thought broadly about the realities of offering WiFi 6E to their customers need to put measures to streamline later transitions. These strategies may include the following recommendations.
1. Leverage AI-powered, cloud-based band steering.
It might seem logical to just add a series of extenders to a home to avoid interrupting WiFi access. Yet signals tend to degrade with each hop. Additionally, giving customers the ability to choose the extender they want without the guidance of a smart system may not set them up for the maximum performance they deserve.
The truth is that every home is unique. It has different barriers and layout than the house next door. An intelligent system can optimize signals at the moment, figuring out where to make connections in real-time. This type of rigorous optimization allows customers to attach to the best possible channel at the time. It also avoids the need to blanket the home with an unnecessary number of physical extenders.
2. Prepare for the needs of legacy devices.
Customers won’t upgrade to devices that can use the 6MHz bandwidth for many years. Instead, some will use their 2.4GHz and 5GHz laptops, desktops, and other technological equipment. Consequently, all homes will need to support those older (but still useful) devices.
The good news is that access to all three frequencies in a single-family home is possible. However, the exact configuration for managing all those frequencies can be complicated. CSPs will need to focus attention on ensuring that WiFi 6 devices don’t get disrupted in such a mixed channel environment. But, again, we can augment this with the assistance of advanced management solutions that rely upon AI.
3. Find ways to maximize existing structures.
Customers lead busy lives. It may be necessary for CSPs to make onsite upgrades that require appointments. However, companies can keep those appointments (e.g., “interruptions” from customers’ standpoints) to a minimum. It just takes clever thinking around how to implement WiFi 6E in homes, offices, apartment complexes, and other sites with minimal interruptions. For instance, tiling out a cluster of extenders in a thoughtful way based on predictive insights can avoid the need for major physical upgrades.
Having these conversations before WiFi 6E gets as mainstream as it is in some parts of Europe will help CSPs remain competitive. At the same time, customers with WiFi 6-capable devices will see more of an immediate difference as soon as they make the switch to 6E.
Every emerging technology requires an adjustment period for all stakeholders. WiFi is no exception. The one upshot with WiFi 6E is that CSPs have the time and knowledge to construct workarounds to bypass 6E’s shortcomings and exploit its benefits.
Image Credit: Andrea DeSantis; Pexels.com; Thank you.