With the explosive growth in data consumption, demand for high-speed WiFi is also growing, driven by new devices, applications and use cases. The rollout of WiFi 6 technology is happening at a very opportune time. However, WiFi 6 technology may not be able to address the challenge on its own and regulatory interventions are also required.
Widespread use of WiFi across the world has been made possible by the availability of unlicensed spectrum in 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. However, this has also become its Achilles heel. By definition, unlicensed bands can be used by any device/technology as long these conform to the rules. As a result, in addition to WiFi, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands are also used by other systems such Bluetooth, ZigBee, unlicensed 4G/5G, wireless backhaul etc. While regulatory provisions ensure co-existence with non-WiFi systems, there can be significant impact on end user experience due to network congestion. Furthermore, high throughput applications require wider channels. While WiFi does support 80MHz and 160MHz channel bandwidth, given the relatively small amount of unlicensed spectrum coupled with restrictions on the use of so-called DFS channels, it is not feasible to use 80/160MHz channels, especially in high/medium density scenarios. Another challenge with current bands is the presence of legacy devices, i.e. clients and APs that support older versions of WiFi. As a result, benefits of newer technologies such as WiFi 6 become more
difficult to realise in the field since newer APs and clients have to be backward compatible with legacy devices. This adds overhead in the form of legacy headers and also reduces the advantages of new features such as Spatial Reuse, TWT, OFDMA, etc. Due to these reasons, there’s an urgent need to allocate more bandwidth for unlicensed use. This will relieve congestion in existing bands and also enable the use of wider channel bandwidths, thus enabling WiFi technology to serve the ever-increasing demand for high-speed wireless connectivity.
The WiFi industry has been considering the 6GHz band as one of the options for future expansion. In fact, the IEEE802.11ax standard was designed to support operation in the 6GHz band. Regulatory bodies like the FCC and CEPT have also been actively discussing proposals to make this band available for unlicensed services. However, due to the presence of incumbent services in this band such as Fixed Satellite Services (FSS), regulations need to be put in place to protect existing users while allowing unlicensed operation.