The need for faster, more reliable, more efficient, and more widespread Wi-Fi coverage, says the firm, is becoming increasingly vital with the wireless technology being used in everything from high-throughput and low-latency applications to battery-constrained Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Underscoring the need for a more robust Wi-Fi network, the firm forecasts that Wi-Fi-enabled devices are set to increase from 3.3 billion annual unit shipments in 2019 to more than 4.6 billion by 2024.
In its new whitepaper – The Future of Wi-Fi – the firm finds that the growing reach of Wi-Fi will be driven by several advancements, such as Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi’s expansion into the 60 GHz and sub-1 GHz bands through WiGig and HaLow. However, says the firm, the most exciting, and potentially transformative, change to the Wi-Fi landscape is the anticipated availability of 6-GHz spectrum over the next few years.
The whitepaper explores what is driving 6 GHz adoption, the significant benefits that 6 GHz will provide, the expected timeline surrounding its launch, and the firm’s strategic recommendations for technology implementers.
“It is hard to overstate the potential that 6 GHz and Wi-Fi 6E can bring to Wi-Fi networks,” says Andrew Zignani, Principal Analyst, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Wireless Connectivity at ABI Research. “The tremendous surge in active Wi-Fi devices at home in recent months and the resulting increase in traffic due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have reaffirmed Wi-Fi as a vital utility, acutely demonstrating both its importance and limitations.”
Currently, says the firm, Wi-Fi faces several difficult challenges. Key among them are the growing demands being placed on Wi-Fi networks, leading to increased congestion, performance limitations, and reduced Quality of Service (QoS). Most Wi-Fi devices are using increasing amounts of data per device, including streaming high-resolution music and videos, video calling, application and firmware updates, digital downloads, social networking, data-heavy web content, and online gaming, among others.
“On April 23, 2020, the FCC voted to make additional spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for Wi-Fi, with other regions expected to follow suit in the not too distant future,” says Zignani. “Once the global regulatory landscape for 6 GHz is finalized, the technology will bring about much higher throughput, much more capacity, greater reliability, lower latency, and better QoS than ever before.”
6 GHz not only brings about additional spectrum and higher throughputs, says the firm, but essentially guarantees access to channels with no legacy, resulting in a corresponding improvement in latency and simplifying channel access. Wi-Fi 6E takes full advantage of what Wi-Fi 6 has to offer and can open new opportunities for Wi-Fi to better support 5G-class services reliant on high multi-gigabit throughput, low latency, high efficiency, broader coverage, and better mobility.
Regulatory challenges and obstacles across different regions are probably the largest current barrier to 6GHz adoption, says the firm. while other hurdles include limited chipset availability, cost of supporting the technology, building out the 6-GHz ecosystem, and proximity to Wi-Fi 6 rollout. However, the firm says it expects that most of these challenges will be overcome and that opening the 6-GHz band for Wi-Fi will address many of the challenges it is facing today and in the next decade.