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Understand the Differences Between 5G, WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E

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WiFi 6, WiFi 6E and 5G are the next wave of wireless technologies that are currently on the horizon. All three promise to deliver higher performance, lower latency, and faster data rates to power next-gen devices like the Internet of Things (IoT).

However, the differences between WiFi 6, WiFi 6E and 5G are often misunderstood. For example, many believe that 5G will inevitably replace WiFI. Others think that each one is equally well-suited for the enterprise. This has caused network professionals to scramble to find information on the three technologies to understand what to use where.

To help clear up confusion surrounding these technologies and explain how they’ll coexist going forward, I recently interviewed Chuck Lukaszewski, vice president and chief wireless technologist at Aruba, in my most recent ZKast interview, done in partnership with eWEEK eSPEAKS. See highlights below.

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  • In April 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened up a new band of spectrum, WiFI 6E, for unlicensed WiFI use. It’s been almost two decades since the last spectrum allocation, which was in 2003.
  • From a technology perspective, WiFI 6E is the same as WiFI 6. But from a spectrum perspective, it’s different.
  • WiFI 6E is located in the 6 gigahertz (GHz) band. In other words, WiFI 6E is WiFI 6 for the 6 GHz band.
  • WiFI 6E extends the efficiency features and capabilities of W-Fi 6, providing up to seven 160 megahertz (MHz) channels for high-bandwidth applications that require lower latency and faster data rates.
  • The extra wide channels allow for multi-gigabit speeds.
  • There was previously not enough spectrum in the 5 GHz band to do this.
  • Some key applications that will be possible with WiFI 6E include IoT, unified communications, cloud computing, telepresence, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The round-trip latency requirements for these apps are much higher than for voice traffic.
  • The U.S. and Canada are allowing WiFI to operate outdoors at standard power in the 6 GHz band, which means there will be new use cases for apps in industries like mining, manufacturing and transportation.
  • The power limits that have been approved by regulators in the 6 GHz band align with the 5 GHz band.
  • Aruba is the first vendor to launch an enterprise-grade WiFI 6E access point (AP), designed for wireless devices that operate in the 6 GHz band.
  • The 630 Series AP has three dedicated radios, which provides tri-band coverage in the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands for backwards compatibility.
  • It delivers 3.9 gigabits per second (Gbps) maximum aggregate data rates.
  • It has ultra-triband filtering to minimize interference between the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands.
  • It supports IoT devices (Zigbee and Bluetooth) with two IoT radios that can be configured and administered in Aruba Central, a platform for managing networks in the cloud.
  • It can be connected to a wired network via dual 2.5 Gbps Ethernet ports, so the combined throughput on the wired side is 5 Gbps.
  • With the 630 Series AP, enterprises can use up to 160 MHz channels in the 6 GHz band, doubling device throughput.
  • When it comes to 5G, it’s really just another radio access network (RAN). Enterprises already use different kinds of RANs to solve different problems.
  • There are distinct consumption models for 5G, a cellular technology that mobile operators are deploying in the form of macro- and small-cell base stations.
  • While 2G, 3G, and 4G were faster versions of the original mobile network, 5G is the first mobile technology standard that was born in the cloud era.
  • 5G deployment is slow in U.S. compared to the rest of the world because the main spectrum needed for 5G in the C-band was just cleared recently, forcing carriers to rely on lower frequencies.
  • By this time next year, carriers will be be deploying their networks in the C-band, which will provide them with up to 100 MHz wide channels.
  • In the U.S., Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) allows enterprises to build their own private 4G and 5G wireless networks. The band of radio-frequency spectrum sits in the 3.5GHz to 3.7GHz range.
  • CBRS 4G products are already available and 5G products are starting to emerge.
  • Celona Networks is one of the first to develop a platform that allows enterprises to deploy private 5G wireless networks. (I interviewed Rajeev Shah, Celona’s co-founder and CEO, in another recent ZKast video, which can be viewed here.)
  • Celona uses CBRS spectrum to deploy 5G in the enterprise alongside existing WiFI networks.
  • It employs a technology called MicroSlicing, which automatically enforces and tracks key service levels like latency and jitter, without IT department’s intervention.
  • What differentiates Celona from other on-premise equipment manufacturers is complexity (it’s a single platform that is easy to deploy and doesn’t require networking expertise); cost (Celona’s equipment is affordable like WiFI rather than traditional cellular equipment); network integration (it’s built for the enterprise).
  • 5G will not kill WiFI because it’s necessary for offloading wireless traffic. With all the new spectrum the carries have, it’s estimated that about 60 percent of megabytes (MBs) from mobile devices are going to be carried over WiFI. Carriers need to offload as much traffic as they can over the lowest cost medium and that’s WiFI.
  • How all the technologies will come together in the enterprise:
  • Organizations should seriously be thinking about 6 GHz-enabled equipment in their next refresh to future-proof the network.
  • On the cellular front, organizations with large outdoor operations should use CBRS.
  • An organization currently using a distributed antenna system (DAS) can drop in a 5G layer utilizing CBRS as a cost effective way to bridge the gap.
  • Think of WiFI 6, WiFI 6E and 5G as various tools in an IT architect’s toolbox, which can be applied to a particular set of business requirements and conditions.

Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions. Kerravala is considered one of the top 10 IT analysts in the world by Apollo Research, which evaluated 3,960 technology analysts and their individual press coverage metrics.

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