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Wi-Fi 6E will use 6GHz spectrum, pending regulatory approval

The Wi-Fi Alliance using "Wi-Fi 6E" as a name for wireless devices that can communicate within the 6Ghz band may introduce confusion to a naming system that was supposed to simplify matters for consumers.

Declared on Friday, the Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi 6E name refers to hardware that is capable of "6GHz operation." This relates to bands of unlicensed spectrum that regulators around the world are anticipated to make available for device producers to use for radio communications, specifically with Wi-Fi connections in mind.

In September, FCC chairman Ajit Pai confirmed a commitment to release 1.2GHz more spectrum to Wi-Fi and other unlicensed use in within the 6Ghz band. The additional spectrum will help enable more bandwidth for Wi-Fi connections, give more headrooms so wireless networks do not need to compete for signal, and reduced interference with older Wi-Fi technologies using lower bands.

In preparation for the probable launch, the Wi-Fi Alliance created the new Wi-Fi 6E terminology, to highlight devices capable of connecting over this newly-released band. Normal and currently-available Wi-Fi 6 devices will not be able to take advantage of the additional spectrum.

As with other Wi-Fi technologies, Wi-Fi 6E will still be compatible with Wi-Fi 6, 5, 4, and earlier versions. The spectrum in question will be continuous, able to accommodate 14 80MHz channels and 7 more 160MHz channels.

Analysts predict a quick uptake of Wi-Fi 6E once the spectrum is made available by regulators, with smartphones and mobile devices anticipated to be the main drivers of its adoption, followed by enterprise applications.

"6GHz will help address the growing need for Wi-Fi spectrum capacity to ensure Wi-Fi users continue to receive the same great user experience with their devices," said Wi-Fi Alliance president and CEO Edgar Figueroa. "Wi-Fi Alliance is introducing Wi-Fi 6E now to ensure the industry aligns on common terminology, allowing Wi-Fi users to identify devices that support 6GHz operation as the spectrum becomes available."

While defining the name for the technology is useful, it does slightly backtrack the most recent overhaul of the naming scheme.

In October 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance rebranded Wi-Fi to the easily rememberable Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 4, and so on, instead of using names like 802.11ac or 802.11ax. The update significantly simplified how Wi-Fi network generations are identified to the public, with higher numbers being backward-compatible with devices using lower, earlier technologies.

The addition of Wi-Fi 6E to the list may confuse some users, due to the effective existence of two within the same Wi-Fi 6 tier. Though officially unannounced, the use of the Wi-Fi 7 name is likely to only arrive with the creation of standards for the next generation, with major changes to the underlying technologies rather than an expansion of usable bandwidth.

Companies such as Qualcomm are already working on next-generation Wi-Fi technologies, including increases in capacity and speeds.