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Following CITC’s pivotal decision to make the entire 6 GHz band license-exempt to capitalize on the global Wi-Fi 6E momentum, Telecom Review organized the Wi-Fi 6E virtual roundtable on January 24.

The virtual roundtable brought together renowned international speakers: Saad Bin Askar, spectrum operations center director, CITC; Graham MacDonald, senior spectrum policy advisor, Apple; Chris Szymanski, product marketing director, Broadcom; Scott Blue, global wireless policy director, Cisco; Martha Suarez, president, Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA); Detlef Fuehrer, senior manager, spectrum management and regulatory affairs, EMEA, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE); Turhan Muluk, government and telecom policy director, Intel Corporation; Guillaume Lebrun, global connectivity policy manager, Meta; Alex Roytblat, vice president of regulatory affairs, Wi-Fi Alliance; and Bruno Tomas, chief technology officer, Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA).

CITC’s Saad Bin Askar gave the opening remarks with a presentation on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s approach to Wi-Fi 6E, the pertinent regulations, progressive spectrum policies to anticipate future needs, and enabling Wi-Fi 6E at the international level.

Then the first round of the virtual Wi-Fi 6E roundtable kicked off and moderator Ahmed AlSohaily, chief advisor - governor, CITC, gave the floor to Graham MacDonald, senior spectrum policy advisor, Apple; Martha Suarez, president, DSA; and Bruno Tomas, CTO, WBA to discuss the adoption of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E globally.

Bruno Tomas started by describing the global status on 6GHz adoption, specifying how many countries are now license-exempt, and talking about the breakdown they are registering.

According to him, the WBA has been collecting data from many sources and a quick analysis regarding the adoption of the full band shows that, “we have more than 40 countries globally that either adopted all or the lower band and around 35 countries are also considering to do the same.” He added, “in terms of breakdown, as a first step, there is more adoption. We have at least 1 billion people from around the globe who have ready access to the full band and another billion who have access to the lower band. So in total, 2 billion people can start experiencing Wi-Fi 6 and some others are still in trial phase.”

Talking about the countries that are trying to make the leap, Tomas expressed that the WBA “has a very focused approach on trials and trying to make them a success.” The company has “ongoing trials with member organizations in Australia, Turkey, Japan, New Zealand, and many European countries.” These are the countries that are hopefully expected to make the move in the first half of the year given the feedback the WBA is receiving from the countries’ operators.

After presenting a global perspective, the moderator zoomed the discussion towards a more region-focused talk with Martha Suarez.

In the Americas, most countries have adopted the 6GHz band and Suarez dug deeper into where these countries are standing now. At this point, “we have 8 countries or administrations that made final decisions to adopt the 6GHz band: Canada, the US, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Brazil, and Chile. As for Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, they had consultations periods and received comments but haven’t made a decision yet.” In addition, the DSA is in conversation with different regulators with countries like Ecuador and Caribbean countries represented by the CTU (Caribbean Telecommunications Union) to help them make a final decision regarding the adoption of the 6GHz band.

Suarez expressed that it’s hard to talk for all the administrations on whether this will be the year the Americas will all use the 6GHz band, but in terms of market in the Americas, more than 70% have made a final decision to adopt the entire band; and that’s important because it implies that the region will benefit from an economy of scale.

As for the Asia Pacific region, Suarez gave some insights to keep in mind. “Asia Pacific is classified as region 3 for ITU so there is no WRC-23 studies for that region”, she said. The DSA is explaining to them the importance of having many administrations make the right decision before the end of WRC-23. Some countries are aware of the outcomes and others prefer to wait and see; which is not ideal as they will lose their chance of becoming early adopters. However, a lot of interest and discussions are taking place in the Asia Pacific region with countries who are considering the adoption such as in New Zealand and Malaysia and others such as South Korea who have made their final decision of adopting the band. At this point we know a few of the next early adopters such as Japan and India who started their trials, so a lot of activity and movement is expected this year.

Exploring how things are looking in Europe with some countries now calling for full 6GHz support, Graham MacDonald commented that Europe is taking a more cautious approach to the 6 Ghz band. “Initially, the European Commission mandate that started coexisting studies many years ago, had an expectation that it would be more than just the lower 6GHz that they will be considering for the studies, but some administrations had some legacy issues that they needed to resolve. So, they were limited to the lower 6GHz for that period of time. That resulted in the CPT and the EU taking decisions to open up the lower 6GHz based upon coexisting studies that were undertaken over a few year period.”

Moreover, just until the end of last year, a new work item was approved to look into coexisting studies in the upper 6GHz. MacDonald added, “We anticipate the sharing conditions will be fairly similar to the lower 6Ghz because the incumbents are very similar and will not have to move to other frequency bands. Hopefully, that will provide administrations in Europe, Middle East, and Africa with more details on the environment by which license-exempt technologies could coexist and provide them with more insight and knowledge before taking a position.”

Cautiously optimistic, MacDonald stated that administrations are seeing the potential and benefit of license-exempt and many administrations do recognize that there’s a certain need for additional license-exempt spectrum because of the lack of new spectrum coming to the market and challenges faced with the new technologies, in particular Wi-Fi 6E and its evolution to W-Fi 7.

In his final statement, MacDonald talked about the Middle East and Africa region which is watching carefully what is happening around this topic and hope administrations takes a balanced approach and recognize the progression that other countries have undertaken to open up the full 6GHz and possibly consider the same. Some are very cautious and they need to have an understanding on the possibility for license-exempt devices and hope they can coexist with the incumbents, he shared.

A Wi-Fi 6E ecosystem

The second round of the Wi-Fi 6E virtual roundtable took a deep dive into understanding the state of Wi-Fi 6E ecosystem, all the certified devices, shipped devices supported with Wi-Fi 6E as well as Wi-Fi 6E product types available nowadays and much more.

Moderator Ahmed AlSohaily, asked Alex Roytblat, vice president of regulatory affairs, Wi-Fi Alliance about how many certified Wi-Fi 6E devices do we have now and how many OEMs are currently making Wi-Fi 6E devices.

Roytblat said that Wi-Fi 6E will be one of the most successful programs and the projections will be over 350 million Wi-Fi 6E devices shipped this year along. “We can tell that this is going to be a very important technology that’s already being adapted. Wi-Fi 6E will comprise about 11% off all the Wi-Fi 6 shipments; with the COVID-19 pandemic and in general the capacity coverage and performance offered by Wi-Fi 6 but Wi-Fi 6E particularly is just undeniable.” 

The consumers around the world are determining and want that capability. But from Wi-Fi Alliance perspective, at this point nearly 395 products have been certified from more than 20 different companies that are also the OEMs with the 6 GHz capability.

In the next part, AlSohaily asked about any estimates on the number of shipped devices supported with Wi-Fi 6E. Turhan Muluk, government and telecom policy director, Intel Corporation, replied that Wi-Fi is the world’s widest predominant technology that serves many users, connects devices and carries more traffic than other widest technologies combined, “This year, nearly 80 billion Wi-Fi devices will be in use and Wi-Fi 6 will reach further consumers in the market more than the previous Wi-Fi generation.”

Increasing the reliability of 6 GHz worldwide coupled with Wi-Fi 6E interoperability certification created a foundation for a diverse Wi-Fi ecosystem, “more than 350 million Wi-Fi 6E devices will enter the market this year and Wi-Fi 6E will be more common in daily life as in homes and enterprises.” 

5.2 billion Wi-Fi 6 products chips are expected in 2025 and approximately 2.1 billion Wi-Fi 6E devices.  Muluk mentioned also other kind of Wi-Fi 6E product types that are available today, “Wi-Fi 6E products for pcs, smartphones, routers, TVs and much more have already been introduced. We will see many more home networking, supporting Wi-Fi 6E to make their way into user’s hands.”

According to him, it’s not a future technology. Wi-Fi 6 product in 6 GHz and powerful wireless ecosystem is already available, you just need a spectrum band to get the maximum benefits. Saudi Arabia, US and South Korea are perfect examples.

Furthermore, Chris Szymanski, product marketing director, Broadcom, spoke about the possibility of new product types (TVs etc.) that support Wi-Fi 6E in 2022. He said, “What I expect to see is innovation around more traditional products and we expect continued innovation in smartphones and laptops. It’s about time that we see AR and VR platforms using Wi-Fi 6E”.

Wi-Fi 7 is around the corner

The third round of the virtual roundtable organized by Telecom Review highlighted the future opportunities and challenges that 6 GHz band license-exempt processes would have on the global Wi-Fi 6E momentum and its impact on transitioning into the Wi-Fi 7 arena.

Detlef Fuehrer, senior manager, spectrum management and regulatory affairs, EMEA, HPE, spoke about the new use cases of Wi-Fi 6E.

Detlef felt that Wi-Fi 6E would bring benefits to both consumers and enterprises at equal measures. He reflected on the innovations in Wi-Fi 6 which introduced features such as OFDMA and UL MU-MIMO, and 1024-QAM, and said that these innovations helped improve data rates, latency, and power efficiency with features such as TWT (Target Wake Time) which was important for IoT and also improved coexistence in dense environments using BSS coloring, as well as other outer deployment features.

“So all of these features were critical for Wi-Fi 6. Obviously, for the Wi-Fi 6E, the underlying technology is the same but Wi-Fi 6E is enabled by the availability of 6Hz as well as 1200 MHz bandwidth. CITC has made a wise and forward-looking decision allocating a 1200 MHz spectrum that will go beyond 2030 for license-exempt usage. I believe many other regulators allocating 500 MHz will regret in a couple of years from now,” he added.

He also highlighted the various channels available in 6GHz Wi-Fi in KSA (59 x 20 MHz, 29 x 40 MHz, etc. and specifically pointed out that future availability of 3 x 320 MHz (for Wi-Fi 7) that “underlines the forward-looking aspect of CITC’s decision.”

In the next part, responding to the question of whether the development of WiFi 6 had come to an end or will there be releases beyond the latest release 2, Scott Blue, global wireless policy director, Cisco said, “Given the shortage of chips that we are seeing and the supply chain problems, we are probably going to run through the rest of this year. Release 2 Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 7 are going to blend. We saw MediaTek demonstrating 802.11be Wi-Fi 7 technology recently. So, the technology is here, the interoperability group is starting up at the Wi-Fi Alliance. We are in the early days of the next

He also said, “Wi-Fi 7 is where the next generation AR-VR application will be built on. There will be a generational shift in how applications are going to work and Wi-Fi7 is going to support that.  The chipset vendors are getting very close in pushing out the functionalities sooner than we might think.”

Exploring the state of Wi-Fi 7 development, Guillaume Lebrun, global connectivity policy manager, Meta, said, “Wi-Fi 7 is around the corner. We shouldn’t think about it as something on the long-term because by 2024 I fully expect that we are going to have not just a standard but certification process in the Wi-Fi Alliance. Two years from now we could have the 3 x 320 MHz channels.”

Regarding Wi-Fi 7 use cases, Guillaume said, “There is a bunch of innovations in internet access, for example, controlling robots enabled by large bandwidth, low latency, data exchange and will bring about changes in the internet traffic. AR and VR devices will change the way the internet traffic works, not at the heart of the internet but locally, so rendering devices (mobile phones, computers, TV screens) along with AR  and VR glasses will enable innovative applications in design manufacturing, work, education and training, medicine/E-aging, gaming, retail, etc.”

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