Businesses shouldn't wait for Wi-Fi 7 networking kit when Wi-Fi 6E can give them significant advantages today.
So says the Wi-Fi Alliance, which disputes the message coming from parts of the industry that Wi-Fi 6E will only see limited adoption because of supply chain issues that might cause buyers to hold off until Wi-Fi 7 is available. Some netizens and organizations have lately complained it can take six months, a year, or more for Wi-Fi 6E equipment they ordered to arrive.
Wi-Fi 6E builds on Wi-Fi 6, which was finalized as the 802.11ax standard in 2019, saw early products in 2020, and started to be widely adopted in 2021. Wi-Fi 6E is essentially the same, but adds the ability to use frequencies in the 6GHz portion of the wireless spectrum as well as the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. It follows moves by regulators in the US and elsewhere to open up the 6GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi use.
However, Wi-Fi 6E requires updated silicon, and this has led some industry observers to conclude that ongoing chip supply shortages will mean that Wi-Fi 6E might be skipped over by buyers, as reported by The Register.
The reasoning goes that by the time Wi-Fi 6E products are shipping in quantity, Wi-Fi 7 will be just around the corner, and organizations will delay upgrading their networks until it is available.
Not so, says the Wi-Fi Alliance, the non-profit organization that owns the Wi-Fi trademark and whose membership includes most if not all vendors of Wi-Fi kit. It claims that Wi-Fi 6E products are widely available, adoption is growing steadily, and that the arrival of Wi-Fi 7 gear is further off than some have estimated.
"The Wi-Fi Alliance has already certified more than 400 Wi-Fi 6E devices and routers, and each of these ships thousands or hundreds of thousands of units," Kevin Robinson, Wi-Fi Alliance's Senior VP of Marketing, told us. He added that IDC forecasts that the industry will ship around 350 million units of Wi-Fi 6E gear this year.
Robinson claimed there is very strong demand for Wi-Fi 6E, and that vendors are already fulfilling that demand.
"We are hearing from many of our members who have made the points that their experience and what they are seeing in in the demand fulfillment of their own product line-up does not match what has been recently reported," he said.
"If you look online, look at big companies like Dell, HP, Asus, etc. I can go today and buy a business laptop that comes standard with Wi-Fi 6E and I can have it tomorrow, right? So that is the reality of Wi-Fi 6E device availability."
This is backed up by some suppliers, such as HPE's Aruba subsidiary, which confirmed it is seeing strong enterprise demand for Wi-Fi 6E.
"Aruba is seeing unprecedented demand for Wi-Fi 6E and we believe that it will be one of the longest-lived product upgrades in the history of Wi-Fi in the enterprise," said Chuck Lukaszewski, VP and Wireless Chief Technology Officer. "We just introduced our second 6E platform, and we're already shipping 6E products into more than 10 countries with more countries being added every week."
There is a good reason for organizations to be adopting Wi-Fi 6E, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. Not only does it offer the performance improvements seen in Wi-Fi 6, the 6GHz band supported by Wi-Fi 6E is less congested than the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
"Both consumers and enterprises in countries with 6GHz available should seriously consider Wi-Fi 6E products for their next purchase to gain immediate access to that pristine uncongested 6GHz spectrum, and that is a very real benefit of Wi-Fi 6E that you get immediately by purchasing that gear and of course, Wi-Fi 7 will also support 6GHz," Robinson said.
Regulators in the US were the first to approve the 6GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi use in 2020, which allowed development and deployment of Wi-Fi 6E devices to proceed. Other territories followed suit, with Ofcom in the UK making wireless spectrum above 6GHz available.
This initially covered just the lower half of the entire 6GHz band (5.925-6.425GHz), but Ofcom announced a consultation [PDF] at the end of February for proposals that will also see the upper 6GHz band (6.425-7.070GHz) added to its Shared Access licence framework for low-power indoor use, if approved.
Meanwhile, Robinson stated that it is still early days for Wi-Fi 7, so buyers should not hold off a purchase decision in the belief that Wi-Fi 7 kit will soon be available.
"We are still very much in the stage of discussing the specific feature set that is going to make up Wi-Fi 7, and of course, Wi-Fi Alliance will be communicating expectations on the timing as that work progresses, but we are still we are still some time out from a Wi-Fi Certified 7 program being available to the market," he told us.
Robinson said that some vendors are already talking about the capabilities of their next-generation silicon, and this may have caused some of the expectations that Wi-Fi 7 is just around the corner.
"What you're seeing right now is upstream providers like silicon vendors, they're very much in that window of wanting to talk about their next generation of solution, what they're going to be able to deliver," he said.
When pushed for a prediction on when Wi-Fi 7 might appear, Robinson refused to be pinned down, stating simply that the timescale would likely follow the cycle of development and adoption seen with earlier Wi-Fi releases.
"Wi-Fi Alliance is not yet putting out an actual projected date on when we when we plan to launch our Wi-Fi Certified 7 program, but I think you can look at the historic cadence of Wi-Fi generations. They tend to be five to six years between each generation," he said.
Based on Wi-Fi 6 being approved in 2019, this would suggest 2024 at the earliest for Wi-Fi 7 kit, rather than the end of this year, as some predictions have indicated.
This is backed up by Aruba, with Lukaszewski telling us: "Wi-Fi 7 still has a very long way to go in the standards development processes at IEEE and Wi-Fi Alliance. For example IEEE's public timeline calls for ratification no earlier than March of 2024. Aruba does not expect to see enterprise Wi-Fi 7 products until 2024 at the absolute earliest and, given the huge demand for access to the 1,200MHz of new spectrum, this means that 6E products will sell as fast as we can build them for years to come."
Arista Networks confirmed this as well, saying it has also seen strong enterprise interest in Wi-Fi 6E products.
"We expect that to continue, as commercially available Wi-Fi 7 products are not expected into the market for at least another 18 months. While it is true that the transition to Wi-Fi 7 may happen sooner than previous generations, our customers accept it and see enough benefits from the availability of 6GHz spectrum that we have not seen any impact on the demand," said Arista's Group Vice President, Pramod Badjate.
The Wi-Fi Alliance also issued an update in January, Wi-Fi Certified 6 Release 2, which added new capabilities such as improved uplink performance through uplink multi-user MIMO, and power management improvements to enable power optimization of battery-powered endpoint devices. ®