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4G/3G/WiFi

Wi-Fi 6E poised to pave a 'VIP lane' for service providers

Pairing Wi-Fi 6 with a fresh swath of 6GHz spectrum sets the stage for a batch of new use cases and revenue-driving opportunities for cable operators and other service providers. And this emerging technology will also put those operators in position to match the performance of their access networks with customers' home networks, says a CommScope exec.

Wi-Fi 6E, a technology that combines the latest Wi-Fi standard with fresh unlicensed spectrum in the 6GHz band, effectively establishes a "new platform" that will live alongside Wi-Fi's legacy use of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, Charles Cheevers, CTO, home networks, at CommScope, explained on a panel focused on Wi-Fi 6 and private networks at this week's all-digital Anga Com conference.

"It's a new VIP lane that allows the gigabit speeds of the network to pass now ... in the home over 6GHz," Cheevers explained. "Gigabit speeds on the network have to be translated to the network in the home."

He said 2.4GHz will likely be relegated to longer range IoT apps using Wi-Fi, with 5GHz filling the gap for many other legacy Wi-Fi devices. Wi-Fi 6E, he explained, will take the home network on a "new journey" that is underpinned by 160MHz channels and capacities in the range of 4 Gbit/s to 5 Gbit/s. Out on the horizon is Wi-Fi 7, a 320MHz-channel technology that will flirt with 10-Gig speeds, he said.

But Wi-Fi 6E is not just about speed. Supporting lower latencies will also enter the picture as new devices supporting the standard can be scheduled and be made "deterministic" in the way that a DOCSIS or PON network can, Cheevers said.

"To do that on Wi-Fi is phenomenal," he said. "That's the key: Matching 6GHz networks to the PON and DOCISS 3.1 to 4.0 evolution, to be able to get those low-latency and constant jitter services."

And Cheevers acknowledged that taking this path isn't free, as operators will need to invest in more expensive tri-band Wi-Fi access points, set-tops, extenders and gateways. And they will also be faced with the fact that consumers won't be keen to swap out their old Wi-Fi devices overnight.

Use cases forming

But it will open up an opportunity for service providers to start developing and launching high-capacity and bandwidth-hungry services that can be optimized for the 6GHz band, such as video conferencing, 8K video streaming and support for augmented reality and virtual reality services. To amplify that point, Cheevers outlined a set of initial use cases for Wi-Fi 6E:

  • Deployments of new extenders that can forge a 6GHz backhaul link between an access point and an extender that, in turn, frees up capacity in the increasingly congested 5GHz band.
  • Implementing 6GHz Wi-Fi in set-tops to offload video in a way that would likewise help to unclog the 5GHz band. Cheevers said this could come in especially in apartments and other multiple dwelling units that tend to suffer from Wi-Fi network congestion.
  • App-specific apps and services, such as telemedicine, online gaming and VR, that enable operators to differentiate on the home network, and possibly open up premium, paid enhancements that deliver lower latencies and higher overall performance.

Cheevers said CommScope is particularly excited about retrofitting legacy equipment that doesn't support 6GHz. The company, he added, has built an application that can map 6GHz to Ethernet, a process that would enable a small "bridge device" to establish a private 6GHz network in the home.

He also dropped some hints about CommScope's activities tied to Low Latency DOCSIS (LLD), a feature that's part of DOCSIS 3.1 and being carried forward to the new DOCSIS 4.0 specs. CommScope, he said, expects to deliver some LLD services – starting in the lab – by the end of this year and into the start of 2022.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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