Aruba Wi-Fi 6E access point to launch this fall

Aruba’s AP 635 will support the 6GHz spectrum that doubles the space previously designated for unlicensed wireless by the FCC.

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Business users looking for an upgrade to the very latest Wi-Fi standard, also known as Wi-Fi 6E, now have the option of Aruba’s new AP 635, the company announced this morning.

Wi-Fi 6E works much the same as Wi-Fi 6, sharing that standard’s improved ability to handle dense client environments, high throughput, and advanced multi-user and multi-antenna functionality. The new feature is the ability to use the 6GHz spectrum that the FCC opened in April 2020 to unlicensed users, representing a two-fold increase in the spectrum available for WI-Fi. That added spectrum means that Wi-Fi users can take advantage of much wider channels, leading to commensurately higher throughput.

Support for 6GHz frequency bands was already baked into the Wi-Fi 6 standard, but chipmakers didn’t begin to create hardware capable of using those bands until the FCC’s decision last year.

The new Aruba 630 series will feature backwards compatibility for 2.4GHz and 5GHz clients, support for existing PoE standards, and Aruba’s usual suite of security and failover features, the company said in a statement. The first model to be released will be the AP 635, an indoor-use AP that the company describes as more or less a standard enterprise access point.

Steve Brar, senior director of product marketing at Aruba, said that the company expects to see uptake in the higher education, healthcare and large-venue spaces, but added that Wi-Fi 6E capability should be a draw across the board.

“For a lot of customers today, they may not be pushing the limits of what their existing Wi-Fi can do, but any customer that’s considering a network upgrade should be looking at Wi-Fi 6E for future-proofing,” he said.

Michael Fratto, a senior research analyst on the applied infrastructure and DevOps team at 451 Research, agreed that uptake of equipment using the new standard was likely to be general.

“It’s just going to naturally occur,” he said. “With the higher bandwidth, for all practical purposes, you’re talking about multiple gigabits per second, so real-time broadcasts, streaming, anything where you want more capacity with lower latency.

It’s worth noting, Fratto added, that Wi-Fi 6E can only operate in a fully unlicensed way using a “low-power” mode. That’s likely to be sufficient for most standard uses, especially in an indoor setting, but wide-area use in outdoor settings could require the use of standard power mode. That mode has to be used in conjunction with an external service called an automated frequency controller, to minimize interference with incumbent users in the 6GHz band. It’s similar to the three-tiered system in use for CBRS frequencies, which is split between incumbents, priority access license holders, and general unlicensed users.

“Basically, what the AFC does is it knows what the channel usage is in an area, and it’ll tell you which channels you can use to avoid interfering with an incumbent,” said Fratto.

Wi-Fi 6E could also create slightly different challenges for site surveys and physical deployments, he said. Given its somewhat higher frequency than the 5GHz Wi-Fi bands currently in use, 6GHz signals are likely to propagate differently, and 6GHz-dependent use cases could affect where APs can be placed.

“There’s probably going to be some lessons that need to be learned,” Fratto said.

Aruba said that the AP 630 line will likely debut in the third quarter of this year. Specific pricing was unavailable.

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