“With 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) just beginning to roll out in the marketplace, and with the myriad of end-user benefits that come along with Wi-Fi 6 – including an average 300% improvement in user density, as well as the iPhone 11 and Galaxy 10 smartphones that support 802.11ax – what could possibly be a new ‘superhighway’ form of Wi-Fi in 2021?” asks Andre Kannemeyer, CTO at Duxbury Networking.
The Internet itself, wired Ethernet access, and Wi-Fi have all demonstrated for decades that the wider and faster the traffic lanes become, and as more lanes are added, new applications, display technologies, and video technologies always advance to fill them up.
“With ax we get more efficient use of spectrum, we get narrower channels and therefore more of them, we get more simultaneous streams, we have sleep timers, and so much more. We can expect a 300–400% improvement in density. And there’s still more to come in the form of more spectrum,” said Kannemeyer.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US is working with the Wi-Fi community to open 1,200MHz of new spectrum in the 6GHz band, thereby doubling the spectrum currently available.
This will take the form of a total of 59 additional 20MHz-wide channels. In Europe, regulators are looking at making 500MHz available.
Locally we can expect ICASA to follow suit once European regulators approve and implement the standards.
While this spectrum has some old incumbents, the usage here is very limited and generally, geographically, of low density.
“Rule changes by the FCC take time and are subject to lots of public input and industry lobbying efforts, not to mention technical analysis by the FCC’s engineering office and policy team. Caveats notwithstanding, there is reason to believe that we will see new rules permitting the use of the 6GHz spectrum by 2021,” said Kannemeyer.
More and contiguous spectrum
While Wi-Fi 6 already delivers many improvements in density when compared to prior Wi-Fi generations, the 6GHz frequency band utilisation as envisioned by the Wi-Fi community will make large contiguous blocks of spectrum available.
This will enable not just more overall spectrum for more channels, such as the fifty 20MHz channels mentioned, but importantly, more contiguous spectrum wide enough to have fourteen 80MHz and even many 160MHz-wide channels.
This, in turn, enables a variety of improvements and new use cases.
For example, virtual reality (VR learning) is finding a niche in the healthcare sector.
“A physician teaching at Harvard is using 360-degree videos taken in remote villages in Chiapas, demonstrating healthcare training for local village health promoters. Each of the video streams, even with H.264 compression, uses a huge amount of throughput. A full classroom of students can’t use the VR headsets at the same time. What if every classroom was using a hi-definition 12-bit colour video? The only solution is 6GHz,” said Kannemeyer.
“With wide channels, multi-gigabit data rates will now be available to healthcare workers. Wouldn’t it be valuable to see a 3D CAT scan or MRI on a nice retina display tablet with your physician annotating your results or your family’s results right in front of you?” he added.