WBA survey: 78% say 6 GHz key to network strategy

According to WBA's report, 90% of respondents already have plans to roll out Wi-Fi 6 and 66% intend to deploy the next generation before the end of 2020. (Getty Images)

A new report from the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), an industry group focused on advancing the adoption of Wi-Fi technologies, finds that plans for next-generation Wi-Fi 6 deployments are widespread, and that extension into the 6 GHz band is key to network strategies.

WBA, whose members include AT&T, BT, Google, and T-Mobile, released its annual industry report with survey results from respondents that include personnel from more than 200 telecommunications service providers, technology vendors and enterprises.

According to the results, 90% of respondents already have plans to roll out Wi-Fi 6, and 66% intend to deploy the next generation before the end of 2020.

Wi-Fi 6, the next iteration of the technology, delivers almost four times the capacity of Wi-Fi 5, and includes advancements like orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), target wake time, multi-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO), and 1024 QAM.

RELATED: Wi-Fi Alliance launches Wi-Fi Certified 6 program

Earlier this month, the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi Certified 6 certification program became available, which is meant to ensure high standards are met for products’ security and interoperability. Wi-Fi Certified 6 serves as an inflection point for broader adoption of Wi-Fi 6, according to Kevin Robinson, VP of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance in a previous interview, noting Wi-Fi 6 is focused on the aggregate network of performance not just speed.

WBA leadership indicated the organization itself was impressed with the survey results in terms of industry support for Wi-Fi.

“Although the WBA has been driving the adoption of Wi-Fi 6, with deployment guidelines and field trials, we were ourselves surprised at the scale of support that Wi-Fi 6 already has,” said Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the WBA, in a statement. “When such a large proportion of service providers and technology vendors have the technology in their short-term roadmap, it means that Wi-Fi 6 will very quickly become part of the landscape for service providers, enterprises and consumers.”

6 GHz is key, survey says

Among survey respondents, nearly 80% now have more confidence in investing in unlicensed spectrum technologies than a year ago. WBA attributed the sharp rise to the advent of Wi-Fi 6, along with potential for additional unlicensed spectrum - particularly the 6 GHz band (5.925-7.125 GHz), which sits adjacent to the 5 GHz band already occupied by unlicensed Wi-Fi users and devices.  

RELATED: 6 GHz band pits CTIA against Apple, Google and other tech behemoths

The FCC last year proposed rules to open up new opportunities for unlicensed use in portions of the 6 GHz band, while protecting current users like public utilities and public safety. However some, including industry group CTIA, have pushed back against designating a full 1200 megahertz of spectrum for unlicensed use and argued instead for a spectrum sharing regime that includes licensed, flexible use in the upper portion of the band.

“Certainly, if Wi-Fi 6 at 6 GHz gets more channels that are 160 MHz wide, this will enable many more simultaneous users to transmit and receive data at very fast speeds. Wi-Fi 6 will enable new use cases for industrial IoT, smart homes and support for high-density deployments, to name a few, but access to wider channels is needed to support these new use cases,” said WBA Chairman JR Wilson in the report, speaking about the significance to the Wi-Fi industry of extending unlicensed use to the 6 GHz band.

In WBA’s survey, 78% said the 6 GHz extension was “very important” or “important’ to their current or future network strategy. To realize benefits of combining Wi-Fi 6 with 6 GHz, the main factor among respondents (72%) is that 6 GHz spectrum won’t face traffic interference from legacy Wi-Fi devices.

According to the WBA survey, 65% want to use 6 GHz spectrum for applications that require high bandwidth and low latency including augmented and virtual reality and gaming on Wi-Fi 6 devices.

RELATED: Qualcomm fetes Wi-Fi 6, demonstrates support for new features

“We want to achieve efficient spectral reuse and get consistent throughput. Wi-Fi 6 is very efficient, and it can run multiple streams for multiple users simultaneously by scheduling the frequency domain. That’s only possible when you don't have to contend with legacy devices or other radio technologies in the same space,” said Matt MacPherson, Wireless CTO at Cisco, in the report.

In terms of top priorities for related to respondents’ network evolution and 5G strategy, 46% cited the role of Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum as the most important factor, compared to 15% that named the roadmap and standardization of 5G NR as key.    

3GPP Release 16, slated to be finalized later this year, will include specifications for 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum (5G NR-U), which is a version of license assisted access (LAA) that has been used by carriers to boost LTE. Qualcomm is one vendor has flagged the 6 GHz band as ideal for next-generation Wi-Fi and 5G NR-U, using new technologies that include spectrum sharing based on a spatial model, rather than time, between synchronized users.

While sometimes seen as competing technologies, groups including WBA are working on efforts to ensure 5G and Wi-Fi 6 play nice. With the growing trend of convergence between 5G and Wi-Fi 6, WBA and Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance in September stressed the importance and outlined techniques to bridge technology gaps at the network and RAN layers.

Some additional data points from the report:

-In-home and general enterprise were the top two Wi-Fi segments named by providers. Within the enterprise segment, the most important verticals were office buildings (22%), hospitality (21%), industrial 15%) and healthcare (13%). 

-Currently, respondents are monetizing those sectors via Wi-Fi analytics (56%), enterprise services (46%) and Wi-Fi roaming (43%).

-Within three years however, IoT and industrial applications were placed in the top three revenue drivers by 45% of respondents, followed by cloud/AI-based Wi-Fi services (33%) and city-wide services (27%).