Wi-Fi 6E Ecosystem Taking Shape as Regulators Release 6 GHz Band for Wi-Fi

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4Q 2020 | IN-5978

Spectrum availability, regulations, and device deployments all need to be taken into consideration as demand for better Wi-Fi surges and operators look to transition to using the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. South Korea is the third country to make a move in this area.

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South Korea Released 6 GHz Spectrum Band for Wi-Fi


The Ministry of Science and ICT (MSICT) of Korea announced in mid-October that it will release 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi use cases. It is a decision followed by the MSICT’s consideration of amendments of technical standards, which proposed new rules for 6 Gigahertz (GHz) Wi-Fi in mid-2020. The regulator allows 1.2 GHz of spectrum between 5,925 Megahertz (MHz) and 7,215 MHz for unlicensed use. According to the MSICT, its 6 GHz Wi-Fi testing has achieved 2.1 Gigabits per Second (Gbps) speed, 5X faster than the currently available Wi-Fi standard. The announcement is a step toward facilitating the country’s operators, which have always been early adopters of new Wi-Fi standards.

6 GHz to Address Ever-Growing Wi-Fi Bandwidth Demand


At his moment, regulators around the world are still working toward releasing the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi. South Korea is the third country to allow the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi; the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the 6 GHz bands in 2Q 2020, and the United Kingdom announced opening the 6 GHz band between 5,925 MHz and 6,725 MHz for indoor Wi-Fi uses without the need for a license in 2Q 2020. Brazil and Europe are currently in the process of releasing the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi use.

Wi-Fi 6E extended Wi-Fi 6 by adding the 6 GHz band and provides a further 1200 MHz of spectrum available to Wi-Fi. It provides much higher data rates of 2.4 Gbps, a significant increase compared to 1.2 Gbps supported by the 5 GHz band and 237 Megabits per Second (Mbps) supported by the 2.4 GHz band. Higher data rates will benefit high-density areas, such as stadiums, airports, conference halls, high-density enterprise networks, etc. Bandwidth-intensive, latency-sensitive applications, such as live video streaming, Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR), and gaming applications can also see great benefit from the 6 GHz band.

Demand for better Wi-Fi has always been increasing. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for high-efficiency Wi-Fi as millions of broadband users struggle to manage to use multiple applications simultaneously within their home Wi-Fi networks. The use of applications like Wi-Fi calling, video conferencing, online gaming, and live video streaming from home networks has dramatically increased since the pandemic started. The uplink traffic has also significantly increased compared to before the pandemic. This necessitates a solution that can provide more capacity, reliability, and optimized speed, and the addition of the 6 GHz band will be able to address these needs. As broadband homes are increasingly using Wi-Fi mesh systems, allocating the 6 GHz band for wireless backhaul between mesh units, higher throughput, and better performance can be achieved.

Chipset vendors have already started developments of Wi-Fi 6E. Qualcomm has launched Wi-Fi 6E chipsets for both mobile and network infrastructure devices in 2Q 2020. Celeno announced its CL8000 series chipsets supporting Wi-Fi 6E for home networking devices. Recently, Qualcomm announced its Immersive Home Platforms chipsets for next-generation mesh networks supporting Wi-Fi 6E. Broadcom announced Wi-Fi 6E client chipsets for mobile devices earlier this year. Because the Wi-Fi 6E network infrastructure chipsets recently launched, the Wi-Fi 6E market is still in the very early stages. ASUS’ ROG Rapture-GT-AXE1100 is the first Wi-Fi 6E router announced and is expected to be available in retail markets at the end of 2020. Many other Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) makers are still exploring the potential and development of Wi-Fi 6E CPE.

Expectations for the Wi-Fi CPE Landscape


At present, 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) dominates the Wi-Fi CPE market, accounting for over 80% of total Wi-Fi CPE shipments in 2020. The majority of service providers are providing Wi-Fi 5 CPE, while a few service providers started to introduce Wi-Fi 6 CPE. Comcast, Korea Telecom, LG U+, Telefónica, and Swisscom are among the early adopters of Wi-Fi 6 devices. The introduction of Wi-Fi 6 devices by broadband operators is expected to boost the adoption rates starting from 2021. Despite the high capacity and efficiency offered by Wi-Fi 6E, it will take some time for ecosystem development. Spectrum availability is a key challenge for Wi-Fi 6E. As mentioned above, 6 GHz spectrum is not available for Wi-Fi use in every market yet. Regulators need to understand the benefits of 6 GHz and consider 6 GHz spectrum allocation. Client devices do not widely support Wi-Fi 6E at present either. In addition, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E will be a costly and lengthy process. Only limited Wi-Fi 6E networking chipsets are available, so chipset costs are currently high. The cost will eventually go down when multiple vendors offer chipsets. It will take some time for device makers and service providers to develop and test for Wi-Fi 6E CE deployments, especially because service providers have just started to deploy Wi-Fi 6 devices.

However, service providers and device makers need to prepare for 6 GHz availability, perform evaluation of demand across consumers and enterprise segments to stay relevant with the evolving Wi-Fi landscape, and make decisions on product development, partnerships, and marketing strategies. The continuous increase in Internet of Things (IoT), smart home, cloud gaming, and live streaming network needs will accelerate the Wi-Fi 6E market in both residential and enterprise markets. ABI Research expects that Wi-Fi 6 adoption will become a dominating technology in the next 4 years as the Wi-Fi 6E ecosystem continues to evolve.