New 6GHz spectrum brings the dream of digital learning closer to reality, today

By Bruce Miller

We all dream of the days when our children learn through exciting, immersive experiences, curated and guided by their teachers, regardless of socio-economic status.  This reality is closer than you might think thanks to the new 6 GHz spectrum made accessible by Wi-Fi 6E based networks.

So how does Wi-Fi 6E fit into this? First of all, let’s start with what Wi-Fi 6E is. The most important aspect of this new flavor of Wi-Fi is that it adds support for the 6 GHz band. This expands the available spectrum for Wi-Fi by two to three times (results differ by country). This represents by far the largest expansion of capacity for Wi-Fi in its 25-year history and means there is a lot more space available for Wi-Fi to support reliable, congestion-free connections. There are other enhancements in Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, including improvements in high-density Wi-Fi client support and reduced traffic latency. These types of improvements are very relevant for education where high densities of students and devices require connectivity in classrooms, auditoriums, libraries, sports venues and more for critical applications.

Does existing, pre-Wi-Fi 6E technology have sufficient capacity and capability to support these use cases in education today? For the vast majority of scenarios today, the answer is yes. Most use cases are well-supported with existing Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 technologies available today. However, the trends around technology dependency and usage requirements are ever on an upward trend in education as new applications are incorporated into curriculum. Some examples include:

  • Online testing and assessments, which are of significant importance to schools. When they are being run, the Wi-Fi network must be functioning flawlessly and cannot be the reason why a test cannot be administered or that a student fails.
  • Video collaboration applications such as Zoom, Meet and Teams supporting remote and hybrid learning. While these applications can create capacity issues on some school networks, the bigger issue is ensuring reliable service given these applications are sensitive to network quality parameters such as latency, jitter and packet loss.
  • High-bandwidth applications such as augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), which will see increased usage over time and bring even more stringent requirements to wireless networks. While the requirements for these types of applications would have been impossible over wireless years ago, advancements in Wi-Fi technology over the last few generations have enabled entirely new use cases.

Wi-Fi 6E sets the groundwork for improving wireless network quality and enabling these types of critical applications now and in the future. While many of these challenges and new requirements may not be directly impacting schools today, they inevitably will at some point. For purchase decisions being made today or in the near future, should Wi-Fi 6E be considered given the benefits it brings? A few points to consider:

  • Network lifespan – The average life of a Wi-Fi network is about five years. There is no doubt that Wi-Fi 6E will become significantly more pervasive in usage during this timeframe.
  • Client availability – While there are not many Wi-Fi 6E clients in use today, they have been available since the beginning of 2021. The number of total shipments globally is in the hundreds of millions. There are very likely Wi-Fi-6E-capable clients on your network today. A number of mobile phones and some laptops support Wi-Fi 6E as of the beginning of 2022 with more coming to market over time.
  • Economics – When new technology becomes available, it may come at a premium price. Price is typically a very important consideration in education, so investment in Wi-Fi 6E must be viewed in light of what benefits it will deliver relative to other solutions on the market.

Given this background, how are Cambium Networks’ Wi-Fi 6E solutions applicable to the needs of the educational market–today and tomorrow?

  • Better Wi-Fi 6 now – Despite the fact that you may not have many or any Wi-Fi 6E clients on your Wi-Fi network today, Cambium’s Wi-Fi 6E represent a better Wi-Fi access point to support your existing network and clients. With more radios compared to standard APs–three or five radios on Cambium’s XE3-4 and XE5-8 AP models respectively vs. two radios on a typical Wi-Fi 6 AP–you have greater capacity and flexibility supporting existing Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 clients on your network today. The new APs also leverage the latest, greatest processor and radio chipsets. You are buying ahead in the technology cycle and will be able to take advantage of better performance and features/functionality with the new solutions even without enabling the 6 GHz band.
  • Migrate when ready – The XE-series APs support software-defined radios, meaning that select radios on the APs can be configured to run either in Wi-Fi 6 5 GHz or Wi-Fi 6E 6 GHz mode. You can configure these APs as Wi-Fi 6 devices today and reprogram radios to operate in 6 GHz when those devices start to show up on the network in larger numbers. Cambium’s cnMaestro™ and XMS-Cloud will automatically monitor the Wi-Fi network and recommend when you should enable 6 GHz. This type of flexibility is key when new technology is introduced – compatibility with existing requirements while providing a roadmap to the future when you are ready. The benefits of this include investment protection and system longevity.
  • Optimized high density – The Cambium XE5-8 AP is completely unique in the industry with five Wi-Fi radios capable of supporting hundreds of devices with a single AP (absolute maximum is 2,500). For locations where high-density Wi-Fi usage is seen, e.g., auditoriums, gymnasiums, student centers, sports arenas, libraries, cafeterias, etc., the XE5-8 is ideal as one AP can replace three to four traditional two-radio APs. This reduces equipment costs, cable runs, installation costs, power consumption and maintenance costs, collectively reducing the total cost of ownership by a significant amount.
  • Future proof without a premium – A key criterion for many schools considering a new Wi-Fi infrastructure investment is cost. Cambium’s Wi-Fi 6E solutions effectively bring this new technology to the market without a cost premium compared to previous Wi-Fi generations. With the benefits of more radios per AP and software-defined radios, the new XE-series APs can replace multiple traditional APs depending on the deployment scenario. This can provide significant cost savings and actually lowers total system costs compared to previous-generation solutions.

The introduction of Wi-Fi 6E represents a watershed moment for Wi-Fi. The technological advances it provides together with true economic advantages make a compelling combination for educational institutions to consider when investing in their networks for the future. Check out how to compare solutions with our Value Profiler tool.

Our communications solutions can cover one individual school, or span district-wide to support more than 10,000 students. Additional connectivity options include fixed wireless broadband solutions that can connect buildings across campus or the district using 60 GHz, 5 GHz or CBRS frequency bands.

Published March 2, 2022