Wi-Fi 6Eh..

by Michael Lester

Posted on at 09:00am

On the 23rd of April 2020, Wi-Fi took a giant leap forward in the USA, as the FCC opened up an additional 1200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-363945A1.pdf). More specifically, between 5.925 and 7.125 GHz.

So.. what does that mean? Well.. in the USA at least, that means an additional 7 x 160 MHz wide channels, in addition to the 2 that are already in the 5 GHz range. We could legitimately see some organisations running 160 MHz channels by -design-. Perhaps more likely, is the opening up of another 14 x 80 MHz wide channels, taking us to 19 in total when we include 5 GHz. By any measure, that’s a substantial amount of new bandwidth available to businesses and consumers, that brings us closer to real-world “gigabit” wireless.

Unfortunately for those of us in Australia, this isn’t on our roadmap yet. The ACMA publishes a Five Year Spectrum Outlook (FYSO) every year, and at this stage 6 GHz doesn’t really get a look in. The ACMA notes in the 2019-2023 FYSO, the following:

There are global developments in making more spectrum available for Wi-Fi above the 5 GHz band already included in the LIPD class licence. For example, in the US the FCC has commenced a notice of proposed rulemaking proposing rules in the 5925– 7125 MHz band that would support Wi-Fi use.15 This would create over another 1 GHz of spectrum available for Wi-Fi in this band. However, internationally both the microwave fixed link and satellite industry have expressed concerns about these proposals. The ACMA will monitor the progress of this issue—particularly the matter of coexistence between possible Wi-Fi and similar uses of the band with other uses, such as satellite uplinks and fixed links.

The ACMA will monitor both domestic and international factors that inform consideration of future changes to class licensing arrangements in Australia.

Source: https://www.acma.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-09/Five-year%20spectrum%20outlook%202019-23.pdf

So, while our brethren in the USA are optimistically expecting Wi-Fi 6E to begin rolling out in earnest towards the end of this year, early next, it appears we may be waiting a while longer down under.

The good news is, if history tells us anything, it’s likely that the ACMA will eventually fall in line. What’s not clear however, is whether we’re likely to see the full 1200 MHz that the USA is going to enjoy, or whether we end up aligning a little more closely to the EU, who have opened up 500 MHz between 5.925 GHz and 6.425 GHz (some great info on this, here: http://apps.cept.org/eccnews/aug-2019/europe_prepares_to_harmonise_the_6_ghz_spectrum_band_for_radio_local_area_networks.html).

The rules that have been outlined for the USA, where we see the full 1200 MHz spectrum allowed for “indoor” use, with a limited subset (U-NII-5 and U-NII-7) allowed or external use, may come into play for us. It’s not inconceivable that we see a similar arrangement in Australia, where some of the band is allowed for external or high power use, with (hopefully) the bulk allowed for internal use.

So, while we may see some Wi-Fi 6E access points and clients coming out in the USA towards the end of this year, we may be waiting a fair while longer until we see these operating in Australia.

However, you can start to prepare! Next time you do your switch refresh, consider whether you can stretch to 802.3bt POE switches, particularly if you’re going to stretch these out to 7 years. We -might- have justification for mGig… maybe. Let’s wait for some real-world tests to determine if this is likely to be required. This is particularly relevant for those of you in education, where you find entire cohorts full of homogenous devices.

So here we sit, excited by the prospect of 6 GHz Wi-Fi, but a little deflated that the ACMA isn’t ready to go just yet. These things take time, I guess. You can rest assured we’ll be keeping an eye on this and will keep you appraised of any developments. In the meantime, we’ll submit comment on the 2020-24 FYSO by the ACMA and urge them to consider 6 GHz Wi-Fi in Australia. If you’d like to submit you can do so here: https://www.acma.gov.au/consultations/2020-04/draft-five-year-spectrum-outlook-2020-24-consultation-092020