Can Wi-Fi 6/6E Solve All Of My Business IT Problems? 4 Things It Can't
You may or may not have heard of Wi-Fi 6/6E. This latest iteration of wireless technology (also known as wireless standard 802.11ax) has been incorporated into a variety of access points (APs) and hardware. But it may not be the solution to all of your business IT problems.
In this article, we’ll talk about four IT issues that Wi-Fi 6/6E can’t solve alone. We’ll walk through what the issues are and why the newest wireless technology alone can’t solve them.
As a network engineer at Kelser Corporation, I’ve talked with a lot of business leaders about the advantages that Wi-Fi 6/6E can provide. I’ve also advised them about the problems that won’t be resolved just by deploying Wi-Fi 6/6E APs.
At Kelser, we don’t sell our customers things just to make money. We partner with customers to understand their goals and needs and provide the information they need to make the IT decisions that are right for their business.
Why do we avoid the hard sell? While Kelser is proud of the full complement of managed IT support services we provide and know that we provide many businesses with the tools they need to keep their environment safe, efficient, and available, we know that managed IT may not be the right solution for everyone.
So, rather than sell you something that might not be right for your organization, we provide unbiased information that business leaders like you can use to make the right decision for you.
With IT support services, it’s important to get the right fit. In our opinion, if we aren’t the right fit to work together, nobody benefits.
What is Wi-Fi 6/6E?
Wi-Fi 6 is the latest iteration of Wi-Fi technology. It offers faster speeds (almost 3x faster than Wi-Fi 5) and improves the speed available when several devices operate on one network (by communicating with multiple users at the same time rather than in sequence).
Wi-Fi 6E is an extension of Wi-Fi 6 that can operate on a 6 GHz band.
The last three generations of wireless technology have used 2.4 and 5 GHz signal bands. With more devices and networks in use than ever before, both of these bands have become crowded with traffic and interference.
According to Intel, operating on the 6 GHz band the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened in 2020, gives Wi-Fi 6/6E about quadruple the amount of airwaves as Wi-Fi 5 to broadcast Wi-Fi signals.
4 Problems Wi-Fi 6/6E Can’t Solve On Its Own
Faster, stronger, less interference? Sounds like a dream, right? Well, if you replace all of your APs and upgrade to Wi-Fi 6/6E compatible devices, maybe. But in the interest of full disclosure, let’s explore the problems Wi-Fi 6/6E can’t solve alone.
While Wi-Fi 6/6E offers advantages, they are still subject to the limits of wireless technology.
Why Wi-Fi 6/6E Won’t Solve Communication Issues On Its Own
Wireless technology is half-duplex, so no matter how good the technology is, it can still only send or receive at any given time. It is not capable of simultaneous transmission and reception. (Wired ethernet, on the other hand, is full duplex and can send and receive simultaneously.)
Bigger, stronger APs alone will not give you better coverage. So, rolling out new APs that support Wi-Fi 6/6E alone won’t inherently give you massive coverage improvement.
I’m going to get technical for a little bit here.
Coverage, or the reach of an AP, is dictated by the transmit power of the AP and that of your device. The transmit power in an AP is determined by a country’s regulatory domain and is set per channel in both the 2.4 and 5 Ghz space.
So, if APs are designed to use the maximum transmit power as defined by the regulatory agency, there is not a difference between APs.
In fact, the antennas used probably have more effect on coverage and power. But in deployments that use internal AP antennas, maximum power will likely not exceed the values dictated by the local regulatory domain.
When evaluating APs, review the transmit power of the AP. It may not change from one model to another within a single vendor’s product lineup.
Why Wi-Fi 6/6E Won’t Solve Coverage Issues On Its Own
What makes one AP better than others? Vendors answer this question and differentiate themselves in a few ways.
Some larger APs tout more spatial streams and antennas. This improves the “capacity” of the access point, and ultimately the “speed” that your users can obtain.
(If you’ve ever seen specs like 4x4:4 or 4:4:3 or 2x2:2, that translates to the number of AP transmit and receive antennas and the number of spatial streams.)
But, most handheld devices like phones can only support a maximum of 2 antennas, due to heat restrictions. So, a user on their phone may not see huge improvements regardless of antenna configuration (due to the device limitations).
3. External Speed & Performance
Upgrading to APs that support Wi-Fi 6/6E will likely bring some speed and improvements to your internal network. And, you may also see improvements as your users browse to outside services like cloud file shares and the internet at large.
However, speed and performance accessing outside assets and resources are still dictated by your internet service provider (ISP). If you have a 10MBps down agreement with your ISP for your 50 employees, all the latest and greatest equipment in the world isn’t going to help you much.
Why Wi-Fi 6/6E Won’t Solve External Speed & Performance Issues On Its Own
Many factors can influence these issues. However, having current equipment with the appropriate specifications for your needs takes the onus off you and places it on your vendors, which offers greater flexibility for improvement.
You may not have the adequate internet speed or service to keep up with your business today, but it’s easier and quicker to upgrade an ISP to the internet service plan you need rather than upgrading your wireless infrastructure after the fact.
4. Improving Functionality Of Unsupported Devices
Let’s imagine a scenario in which you upgrade all your APs to newer models that support Wi-Fi 6/6E. You’ve touted this project internally with all the new benefits that your end-users will experience. They enter the office the day after project completion expecting to be blown away by improved performance.
The reality is that the network performance hasn’t changed. What’s going on?
Well, it could be something as simple as the fact that employees are still using older model devices.
Why Wi-Fi 6/6E Won’t Provide Improved Functionality For Unsupported Devices
Wi-Fi 6/6E is backward compatible with previous wireless standards, which means devices that don't support Wi-Fi 6/6E will still function. However, they won't get the additional features and benefits of Wi-Fi 6/6E.
Does that mean that if you upgrade all your APs, you need to upgrade all your wireless devices at the same time? No.
If you're able to update your APs and devices simultaneously, your users will immediately be able to capitalize on all of the features and benefits of Wi-Fi 6/6E. If not, even older devices will benefit from APs that are more capable than your current models.
What’s The Bottom Line? Is Wi-Fi 6/6E Worth The Investment?
I always advise customers who are upgrading hardware or devices to opt for the latest technology. Since the industry changes so fast, having the latest technology today will ensure that your equipment will be current for longer.
Ultimately, though, the choice is yours.
The good news is that after reading this article, you have a realistic understanding of the advantages of Wi-Fi 6/6E and what it cannot do alone.
Investing in your infrastructure always pays dividends, you might just not realize them in this case until you upgrade your devices. Is that something you are willing to do? If so, make sure your users understand the long-term strategy and that they don’t expect miracles overnight.
One of the advantages of working with a managed IT support provider is that you have a team of experienced IT experts with whom you can discuss important IT decisions and who have the skills necessary to manage your entire IT infrastructure.
Read this article to find out more about the services included in managed IT support: What Is Managed IT? What’s Included? What Does It Cost?
If you are considering managed IT support, we encourage you to check out other providers, too.
In fact, we might be able to save you some of the legwork. We’ve published several articles that compare our services with other IT providers in the area. We base these articles on publicly available information and commit to being unbiased. Here’s one example: IT Direct vs. Kelser: Which IT Provider Is Right For Me?