The 6 GHz band has the potential to support both Wi-Fi and 5G deployments.
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European Commission Releases 6GHz Band to Wi-Fi
As the Wi-Fi industry continues to work towards implementation of more efficient Wi-Fi standards, regulators around the world are updating their regulations to align with these new technologies and standards. Regulators are opening up 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi 6E, an extended version of Wi-Fi 6 to support higher data rate. The European Commission, at the end of June 2021, announced the release 480 MHz (5945-6425 MHz of 6 GHz) spectrum for Wi-Fi use case. Based on the publication by the European Commission, EU member states will need to make 6GHz band available by December 1, 2021.
Wi-Fi 6E Spectrum, Chipset, and Device Status
EU’s release of 6 GHz band is great news for Wi-Fi 6E deployments since only a few countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Brazil, have adopted the band for Wi-Fi so far. Canada is another market which recently announced the release of 6GHz band in May 2021. Other markets, such as Australia, Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand, are now considering the release of the spectrum for Wi-Fi use case, while the telecoms supply chain is also lobbying for 6GHz to be assigned to 5G and mobile broadband networks in the future.
In terms of hardware availability, a number of chipsets supporting Wi-Fi 6E standard have entered the market. Qualcomm launched Wi-Fi 6E chipsets for mobile and networking devices in 2Q 2020. Similarly, Mediatek and Celeno have announced Wi-Fi 6E chipsets for both networking and client devices. Broadcom introduced Wi-Fi 6E chips for mobile devices and NXP recently announced Wi-Fi 6E SoC for gateways and home networking devices. Hardware vendors including Linksys, TP-Link, Netgear, and ASUS have announced residential Wi-Fi routers supporting Wi-Fi 6E. ARUBA recently announced AP635, an enterprise class Wi-Fi access point which will be available for delivery in August 2021. In the client device front, the Galaxy S21 ultra smartphone and latest 8K TV sets from Samsung support Wi-Fi 6E. Intel also introduced AX210 Wi-Fi 6E capable wireless card in late 2020. Since Wi-Fi Alliance started extension of Wi-Fi 6 certification into 6GHz band, more devices are expected to enter the market.
6 GHz Likely to Create Opportunity for Both Wi-Fi and 5G
Availability of 6 GHz spectrum to support Wi-Fi 6E devices surely creates opportunity for broadband service providers. In the residential segment, devices supporting 6 GHz band will provide required high bandwidth and low latency for cloud gaming users. The use of 6 GHz for guaranteed backhaul in Wi-Fi mesh systems and integrating Wi-Fi 6E into set-top boxes and media devices can also improve home network performance. Enterprise segments such as healthcare, education sectors, and even retail sectors can also get benefit from Wi-Fi 6. Especially when AR/VR applications are deployed for these sectors, Wi-Fi connectivity supporting high speed and low latency will be essential. In addition, as many countries are expecting the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, travels and tourism, sports, and other special events are expected to resume in near future. This will also drive deployments of better Wi-Fi for high density public venues such as airports, stadiums, and event centers. As businesses and organizations prepare for their employees coming back to office after the pandemic, the demand for better Wi-Fi in workspaces will increase.
While policymakers recognize the demand for better Wi-Fi infrastructure and consider to make 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi, the need of 6 GHz band for 5G network in mobile communications should not be ignored. Currently, most of 5G networks deployments focus on mid-band (on the 3.5 GHz range), followed by mmWave (in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands). Low band (below 1 GHz) is also used for achieving wide area 5G network coverage. Although mmWave supports high bandwidth, its limited propagation characteristic can be challenging to deploy in low density areas. Since 6 GHz band can support a balanced between high bandwidth and wide coverage, allocation of licensed spectrum band within 6 GHz can be beneficial for long term investment in 5G networks.
Although the United States, Canada, and some South American countries have designated the entire 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed use cases, some of the countries have already reserved for 6 GHz band for 5G. For example, China is planning to use the entire 6 GHz spectrum (5925-7125 MHz) for 5G networks. In a recent announcement by European Commission, only 480 MHz of spectrum within 6 GHz is allocated for Wi-Fi and the rest is considered for 5G deployments. Regulators across different markets will need to consider the important role of 6 GHz in both unlicensed and licensed 5G use cases and balance in spectrum allocation. Careful consideration to manage coexistence of Wi-Fi, mobile backhaul, and 5G use cases within 6 GHz band without interference is also crucial. In order to provide affordable enhanced mobile data speeds and capacity, the GSMA has also urged regulators to make the upper part of 6 GHz (6425-7125 MHz) available for licensed 5G. Effective spectrum planning based on the requirements and conditions in each market will enable both Wi-Fi and 5G deployments thrive in multiple use cases including home entertainment, mobile broadband, fixed wireless access, industrial automation, health care, connected transport, etc.