Cisco Systems, Broadcom, and Facebook are creating a new group within the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) that they hope will accelerate the commercialization of wireless devices that can take advantage of the relatively newly opened 6GHz band.
The three companies this week announced the creation of the Open Automated Frequency Coordination (Open AFC) Software Group, driving a key part of the decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year to open up the 6GHz band to unlicensed use. The project group will develop a common reference open-source software for an AFC system that will better enable unlicensed devices to use the 6GHz band outdoors and drive increased range indoors, all while protecting incumbent services already on the band.
The creation of the Open AFC Software Group is part of the innovation momentum behind Wi-Fi 6 since the 6GHz band was made available in 2020, according to Rakesh Thaker, vice president of wireless engineering at Cisco.
“Many of the applications and use cases we’re just beginning to dream up with the introduction of Wi-Fi 6 and the 6GHz spectrum will rely on standard power [and] greater range and reliability,” Thaker said in a statement. “This software group will play an important role in ensuring those applications can become reality, while also protecting important incumbent services.”
Facebook has already developed a proof-of-concept Open AFC system, which will be contributed to the TIP community now that the Open AFC Software Group has launched. Facebook has been a leader of the TIP group.
The 6GHz spectrum will bring a range of benefits to wireless device users. Most Wi-Fi devices currently use either Wi-Fi 5 – known as 802.11ac – or Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), running on the 2.4GHz or 5GHz spectrum. What is known as Wi-Fi 6E falls into the 802.11ax segment as well but can support only those systems that can leverage, exclusively, the 6GHz band.
That’s unlike Wi-Fi 6 at the lower spectrums, which can support devices that run in multiple spectrums.
Wi-Fi 6GHz Benefits
With the 6GHz band, Wi-Fi 6E promises another 1,200MHz of bandwidth – the bandwidth at 5GHz is 500MHz – and support for up to 14 80MHz channels or seven 160MHz channels, almost twice the number of high-bandwidth channels with 5GHz. This extra space will be crucial to such bandwidth-hungry applications as 4K and 8K video streaming, virtual reality gaming and high-definition video conferencing, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.
In addition, Wi-Fi 6E will bring more capacity and speed, which will create more room for wireless traffic and relieve the current oversubscribed networks. More devices will be able to connect to Wi-Fi channels without grabbing bandwidth from other devices and Wi-Fi performance outdoors and in such environments as stadiums, the industry group said.
Wi-Fi’s Changing Role
The bulk of Wi-Fi use is indoors now, but the introduction of the 6GHz spectrum will make outdoor use more widespread.
“The thing with Wi-Fi is its role has really changed a lot over the last five years,” Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, told Enterprise Networking Planet. “Wi-Fi always used to be that network of convenience and where the network of performance was the wired network. But now, if you look, so many devices connect wireless only. There’s so many critical applications that connect over wireless and Wi-Fi 6 has been completely redesigned to be a lot more reliable than even Wi-Fi 5 was.”
A key element of the Open AFC group is that the software will help take some of the load off of network engineers, who spend an average of 20 percent of their time troubleshooting Wi-Fi issues, Kerravala said. The software will automate the ability to set channels and other tasks and reduce the amount of time engineers spend addressing problems, he said.
“Wi-Fi runs over a bunch of different frequencies, even within the 6 GHz band,” the analyst said. “You can make your subchannels smaller or bigger, with much more bandwidth through it. But everything has to be set the same on the AP [access point] side and on the client side and W-Fi troubleshooting is very, very difficult.”
Distance vs. Bandwidth Balancing Act
Kerravla said there is a “careful balancing act of distance vs. bandwidth, so you’d have to optimize it [manually] all the time. If you’ve only got a couple of clients that are close, you can actually change to a bigger channel and push more bandwidth through. As the person moves away, you can automate shifting the channels to something bigger with a little less bandwidth.”
The United States was the first to make the 6GHz spectrum available to unlicensed devices. Since then, more than three dozen other countries have done the same, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. Market research firm 650 Group said in a report that the Wi-Fi 6E enterprise and outdoor WLAN market will grow to more than $1 billion by 2025.
The Wi-Fi Alliance expects that by 2025, the 6GHz Wi-Fi will deliver $527.5 billion in incremental economic benefits worldwide.
The industry group in January released the Wi-Fi 6E certification program for devices and systems running in the 6GHz spectrum. Later in the month it released the specification for defining the architecture, protocols and functionality for the AFC-to-AFC device interface, enabling vendors to develop Wi-Fi 6E products that operate under AFC control.