Chips, Glorious Wi-Fi 6E Chips!

Qualcomm, owners of the Atheros line of Wi-Fi radios, recently announced the availability of Wi-Fi 6E chips.

Game onnnnnnn! 6 GHz Wi-Fi is here. Sort of...

Qualcomm is selling Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax w/ 6 GHz support) chips, but we don't yet know when enterprise-grade APs and mobile devices will begin supporting 6 GHz Wi-Fi.

Chip-to-product timelines can vary. Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) saw enterprise WLAN vendors sell products only a few months after chip announcements. Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) saw the big vendors wait a year or more before introducing new AP models.

A ton of concerns factor into a vendor's decision on when to develop, manufacture and market new AP technology.

Vendors with small market share may be extra eager. Aerohive tried to boost their enterprise Wi-Fi profile by being a leader in Wi-Fi 6.

On the other hand, some vendors' enthusiasm for new Wi-Fi hardware may be dulled by competing organizational initiatives. Aruba/HPE, for example, was veering from controller to cloud just as Wi-Fi 6 was becoming a thing. They were the last of the big enterprise vendors to move on from Wi-Fi 5.

Also factoring in, is COVID-19. Manufacturing facilities all over the world have experienced shutdowns and limitations due to the pandemic. Apple has announced that this year's iPhone release will be delayed, and they likely won't be the last Wi-Fi player affected.

Enterprise Wi-Fi vendors hoped for robust sales from Wi-Fi 6 AP models. Mostly, those sales have not materialized. We were supposed to be living in the Summer of Wi-Fi 6. Instead, few IT departments are buying and the future of offices, schools and large events -- Wi-Fi activations, all -- are in jeopardy.

What Wi-Fi 6E has going for it is this: 6 GHz Wi-Fi creates the potential for big, big performance increases. The gap from Wi-Fi 6 to Wi-Fi 6E means a heck of a lot more than the gap from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6, in terms of the user experience.

Enterprise Wi-Fi installs and upgrades are a difficult sell right now. Could Wi-Fi 6E make the sale easier? Or is the downside not worth it?

How much will Wi-Fi 6E product development cost? Will marketers be able to create awareness in a media environment dominated by a pandemic and assorted social issues? How much will existing caches of non-6 GHz APs be devalued, once 6 GHz Wi-Fi becomes available? Cisco, Aruba/HPE, Mist, Extreme have to answer these questions before the rest of us get Wi-Fi 6E APs to play with.

Whatever the future holds for enterprise adoption of Wi-Fi use in the 6 GHz frequency band, an important milestone has been reached. Wi-Fi 6E chips exist. We just don't know when Wi-Fi users will be allowed to feel their benefits.

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Ben Miller works as a consultant. You can contact Ben via email, or follow him on Twitter, using the contact information below.

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Twitter: @benmiller

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