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Wi-Fi 6E Heads Outside

Thanks to robust spectrum sensing, dynamic frequency allocation, and regulatory compliance mechanisms, Automated Frequency Coordination enables you to move Wi-Fi 6E into any environment, including outdoors.

Automated Frequency Coordination Enables 6 GHz Wi-Fi Outdoors

The introduction of Wi-Fi 6E has revolutionized wireless connectivity by opening the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, providing wider channels and reduced interference for faster and more reliable connections.

However, until recently, 6 GHz Wi-Fi was limited to indoor use (known as Low Power Indoor, or LPI for short) in areas regulated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

Of course, outdoor Wi-Fi in 6 GHz, i.e., Standard Power (SP) operations, was always part of the plan, so a system to coordinate the use of 6 GHz frequencies among both incumbents and Wi-Fi users was developed: Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC).

Standard Power and Low Power Indoor Operations

LPI operations focus on localized coverage within indoor environments, optimizing spectrum utilization and minimizing interference in dense client deployments. Because of the low transmit powers and the poor penetration of 6 GHz frequencies through most building materials, LPI is very unlikely to cause interference with other 6 GHz users and therefore has no AFC dependencies.

Standard Power operations, however, involve Wi-Fi 6E devices transmitting at higher power, up to over 10 times higher than normal LPI levels. SP operations are designed to provide extended coverage and range, making them suitable for outdoor deployments and larger indoor spaces.

Even in SP mode, Wi-Fi is always a shared medium, so client density remains a factor. While SP mode’s more powerful signals can increase the likelihood of harmful interference on adjacent networks and incumbent users, the increased coverage is advantageous for many low density use cases, such as outdoor, warehousing and manufacturing.

Incumbent Users

Incumbent users refer to authorized services and devices that have historically operated in the 6 GHz band, usually with licensed access that predates the introduction of Wi-Fi 6E. These include critical infrastructure, such as radar systems, satellite services and point-to-point microwave links. These incumbent users rely on the 6 GHz spectrum for various essential functions, including weather monitoring, telecommunications and data transmission.

The introduction of Wi-Fi 6E introduces new challenges in spectrum management, particularly concerning potential interference with incumbent users. Incumbent services operate under stringent regulatory frameworks and must be protected from harmful interference to ensure the integrity of their operations. Wi-Fi 6E deployments must coexist responsibly with these incumbent users, mitigating the risk of interference while maximizing spectrum utilization.

The Role of the FCC

The FCC oversees spectrum allocation in the United States and ensures that different wireless technologies coexist harmoniously without causing interference. Limiting 6 GHz Wi-Fi to indoor spaces with LPI was a mechanism to protect incumbent users of the 6 GHz bands, since most incumbent uses are outdoors.

However, to make Wi-Fi available everywhere with 6 GHz, a system needed to be developed that could share information between incumbent users and Wi-Fi users, so they could operate without interfering with each other.

How Automated Frequency Coordination Works (AFC)

AFC is a mechanism employed to manage spectrum access dynamically, especially in shared and unlicensed bands like the 6 GHz spectrum designated for Wi-Fi 6E. It involves the real-time monitoring and coordination of frequency assignments to prevent interference between different wireless devices operating in the same vicinity.

AFC systems rely on the Global Positioning System (GPS) to track where Wi-Fi is in use, and it couples that information with databases of incumbent users to allocate channels efficiently and adapt to changing network conditions.

AFC providers are entities responsible for developing, deploying and managing AFC systems that facilitate spectrum sharing and coordination in unlicensed bands like the 6 GHz spectrum allocated for Wi-Fi 6E. To date, the FCC has approved seven providers: Broadcom, Comsearch, Federated Wireless, Qualcomm, Sony, Wi-Fi Alliance and Wireless Broadband Alliance.

Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers are partnering with AFC providers so that AFC activity will be seamless and completely transparent to users.

AFC plays a pivotal role in protecting incumbent users and ensuring the coexistence of Wi-Fi 6E deployments within the FCC domain. By implementing robust spectrum sensing, dynamic frequency allocation and regulatory compliance mechanisms, AFC enables Wi-Fi 6E technology to move into any environment while also safeguarding the integrity of incumbent services. As wireless connectivity continues to evolve, AFC will remain indispensable in promoting spectrum harmony and facilitating innovation in the wireless communications landscape.

How CDW Can Help

When planning an upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E or beyond, organizations want to enlist the aid of a trusted partner with expertise in such efforts. CDW can help organizations optimize their wireless upgrades with services such as:

  • Site surveys – A wireless site survey helps identify the best spots to place wireless access points for optimal efficiency, reliability and performance.
  • Network assessments – Through this engagement, a CDW expert examines an organization’s current network operations to see what upgrades may be needed.
  • Network designs – CDW wireless engineers help organizations design and build high-performance, dependable wireless networks.

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Jon Anhold

CDW Expert
Jon Anhold is a strategic-thinking technology leader with over 25 years of experience in enterprise IT and consulting. Before joining CDW, Jon spent 10 years working for a large global agency as a vice president of technology. Jon’s focus areas at CDW include DevSecOps, application modernization, mobile/custom application development and integration.