Before the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, I wrote a piece about how I couldn’t wait for products based on the new WiFi 6E standard. In it, I described how a mesh network based on 6E would be the cherry on top of my new installation, which would be based on Verizon FIOS as the wide-area connection.
Well, everything went according to plan, except for the 6E gear. Vendors gave me the distinct impression that releases would come in the first quarter of 2021, and here we are, a few days from quarter’s end, and there’s just one announcement of availability. But even then, there’s a catch: it’s from TP-Link, and it’s only in China.
TP-Link sells in the United States under the Archer and other brands, but its 6E page here is all arm waving and pageantry for the moment. Meanwhile, other vendors are mum (I’m lookin’ at you, Linksys). No one is saying what the holdup is about, but I’ll venture a guess or two in a few moments.
Potential to host up to 59 channels
The big innovation with 6E is the introduction of the 6GHz band–and not just any 6GHz band, but a big, fat one 1.2GHz wide, with potential for seven 160MHz channels, or up to 59 20MHz channels. That’s a lot of bandwidth, particularly because, at least at first, there’ll be hardly any traffic up there. All existing WiFi channels run in either the 2.4GHz (older) or 5GHz (newer) band.
Initially, without a lot of endpoint devices using 6GHz, the band will be used mostly for backhaul traffic between mesh elements and with the wide-area gateway, but even that improvement will cause local performance to skyrocket.
So, back to the holdup. One reason could be hardware issues, which translate to cost adders. Early on, vendors were saying that WiFi 6E could reuse the hardware already in existence for WiFi 6 because everything about the two standards is the same except for the use of the 6GHz band.
The reasoning was that 6GHz was close enough to 5GHz so that antennas and other elements could serve for both. If for any reason, this turned out not to be entirely true, then some reengineering would be required, adding both cost and delay.
Range might be another issue stalling development
The other issue could be range. In general, range and robustness of radio signals decreases as frequency rises, and vendors have admitted that the 6GHz products have a shorter range than other WiFi access points. This problem is mostly solved by the mesh concept, which puts a number of access points near each other and has them share and pass on traffic, but there is still a potential issue with impenetrable walls, not to mention the cost of a requirement to have, say, four instead of only two nodes.
Be that as it may, I remain enthusiastic about WiFi 6E and plan to acquire a bunch of nodes as soon as I can. Having swapped out my old cable for an optical trunk, switched my 10/100 switch out for a gigabit version and converted my old cable to Ethernet-quality with a couple of MoCA nodes, I managed to move my ping time down from 81ms to 13ms, download speed up from 9.05Mb/s to 629.49Mb/s, and upload speed up from 5.88Mb/s to 109.44Mb/s.
Now, all I need is a way to get those fantastic speeds up into the air. I’ve got my eyes peeled for those WiFi 6E products when they finally hit the market, hopefully in just a few more months.