David Haynes, vice president of Specialty Technologies for the Customer Support Business Group (CSBG) at Lam Research, discusses the introduction of Wi-Fi 6 and how, together with 5G, it will create a seamless, integrated wireless experience.
Most of us have a good understanding of what 5G is by now. Buzz around the fifth-generation wireless technology has reached a fever pitch – and for good reason. It offers significantly greater bandwidth, faster connectivity, and lower latency, enabling it to power a much broader range of digital applications than its predecessors. 5G is ushering in a new wave of business and societal transformation, making it possible to perform edge computing at scale by enabling cellular and other connected devices to run untethered across a much wider geographical range than ever before.
To deliver these benefits, 5G utilizes a greater portion of radio frequencies in the wireless spectrum. Although it uses many of the same frequencies as 4G and LTE, it can also support higher-frequency bands above 5G Hz. In the future, the 5G spectrum will also extend into the millimeter-wave range.
Not the only new kid on the block
5G is not the only wireless revolution taking place, however. In parallel, a new generation of Wi-Fi – including 6 and 6E – have also been launched. Like 5G, these technologies are poised to make a significant impact on our everyday lives.
Wi-Fi 6 was first launched as a dual band technology running at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. In April 2020, the US Federal Communication Commission or FCC (the body that manages the wireless spectrum in the US), announced that it would also open up 1200 MHz of unlicensed spectrum in the 6 GHz range for an extended technology that has become known as Wi-Fi 6E.
As with 5G, the fact that Wi-Fi 6 and 6E can run at higher frequencies with wide bandwidth significantly differentiates them from prior generations of Wi-Fi. They offer faster data transfer speeds – up to 10 Mbps, roughly a 5x increase over Wi-Fi 5 – and reduce the power usage of cellular handset modems, thus improving battery life. They also offer increased capacity, which provides a more reliable connection when multiple devices are streaming data simultaneously. It’s this last point that really makes a difference.
In these times, when many of us have been working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most will have experienced a situation where the quality of an important video conference call has been negatively impacted by someone else in the home streaming a video or playing a game over their wireless network. Frustrating, yes?
Wi-Fi 6 and 6E were designed to help eliminate this problem – at least for now. Society’s appetite for data seems to know no bounds. However much bandwidth we have, we always seem to find a way to use it up and need more.
Not to worry though: Wi-Fi 7 is already in development, with a projected launch date in 2024, and will offer even more spectrum – above 7 GHz. In the meantime, 5G and Wi-Fi 6/6E will make our increasingly connected lives a little easier.
5G and Wi-Fi 6/6E will coexist and are complementary
It is important to realize that 5G and Wi-Fi 6/6E are not competing technologies but complementary ones. In fact, they are designed to work in harmony and make our connected experience a seamless one. The “hand-off” of mobile data from 5G networks to Wi-Fi is key to this seamless connectivity. In a typical day our mobile phone may switch many times from 5G cellular networks when we are outdoors or in the car, to Wi-Fi networks when we are at home, in the office or in public spaces such as malls, airports and sports stadiums.
The sheer volume of all this mobile data that needs to be handed off to Wi-Fi networks is quite staggering – more than 100 exabytes per month are projected to be offloaded from cellular networks in 2022 alone.
The combination of 5G and Wi-Fi 6/6E will be a game-changer for seamless, wireless connectivity. However, although it may sound simple conceptually, ensuring these two technologies can coexist in the same or adjacent frequency bands will make the parallel configuration of these networks extremely challenging. Specifically, the technical demands on the filters that allow signals in the band to be separated are becoming increasingly challenging. Developers are now incorporating films that have higher scandium doping levels (typically >20%) in aluminum nitride as it delivers improved device performance.
This is an area in which Lam Research is working closely with our customers to collaboratively develop and deliver solutions that meet these challenges. But that’s another story for a future blog article … watch this space.
This article was previously published in Semiconductor Review.