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6GHz Is Getting Closer To Reality!

Now, with all the coronavirus news going around, it could be that you missed this wonderful WiFi development. Given the date of it’s release, it would have been totally understandable if you initially dismissed it as WiFi humor, even. Rest assured, this is no joke!

If that wasn’t enough to get you excited, let’s pile on with this one!

So, let’s look at this from the really high level first. I can assure you, deeper dives pulling this news apart will come in time.

Has the 6GHz spectrum been opened up to WiFi?

Not yet, no.

The news is encouraging, for sure. The intent, as of now, is that the opening of the additional spectrum will be put to a vote on April 23rd. Now, I add the caveat of “as of now”, because with the ongoing and rapidly changing global pandemic, it’s not out of the question that the vote ends up delayed.

With that said, the vote, for now, is April 23rd, and again, WiFi professionals have a big reason to be excited and hopeful.

Here’s a look at what the channels would look like (courtesy of Aruba Networks).

So this is good news for the globe, right?

Well, probably…but not so fast.

You see, the United States-specifically, the FCC-will likely be the first governing body to approve the additional spectrum. Right now, the other entities around the world are watching and waiting. It can be presumed that, presuming the FCC vote passes, the rest of the organizations around the world will ultimately follow suit.

But when can I reap the benefits?

It’s a good question, but it’s likely too soon to tell.

If I were to make a guess-and it’s just me and my uninformed opinion here-I’d say don’t expect to see actual benefits for perhaps two years. That statement comes with caveats, however.

First, it’s going to require all new hardware. That means new access points and new client devices. Looking at past timetables, like how things rolled out with WiFi 6, for example…that takes a while. Devices have to get tested and certified and rolled out. That doesn’t happen overnight in a world and time that we’d consider normal…and right now, our world and time is anything but.

The other thought there is, you (or your clients) will also be at the mercy of a refresh cycle. Many enterprises probably see a three to five year lifespan for a typical AP (at least). That lifespan could actually be longer in some deployments-industrial spaces and hospitals come to mind. While I can easily say that the additional spectrum and capabilities that come with it are exciting and will be a great benefit in many office environments, I recognize that not every company will see that as a reason to change their refresh time table.

Now, there is one other benefit to all this, one that has been discussed with hope. One appeal of WiFi over the years has been “it just works”…but that can mean supporting a legacy client that impacts the performance of the overall network. With the introduction of the new spectrum, we may finally be seeing a class of devices that is not slowed down by legacy devices. Again, it’s too early to see exactly how that unfolds, but it’s something else to keep an eye on.

So, how to sum this up? It looks like the WiFi spectrum is about to grow. Nothing is official, the votes have not been cast yet, but we do seem poised to grow the spectrum significantly. It’s a very exciting time to be a WiFi engineer, or for that matter anyone who uses WiFi…which is a good chunk of the world at this point.

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April 7, 2020

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