How to Design Your Wireless Network for Wi-Fi 6E

Designing or upgrading a WLAN to Wi-Fi 6E requires careful consideration of location, edge switches, power, and upgrade stages.

sign of the wireless technology picture id1186955933

By Peter Thornycroft, Office of the CTO at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

For most organizations, whether designing a wireless network for a greenfield deployment or augmenting an existing one to accommodate 6Hz, there are several factors to consider for Wi-Fi 6E. Any discussion of how to introduce Wi-Fi 6E and the 6GHz band will depend on specifics on the ground, including existing switches, cabling, and priority locations…and most importantly, the access points (APs) themselves.   

wifi 6e image Aruba


Upgrading APs

Adding support for Wi-Fi 6E begins with swapping out older APs for new models that support the 6Ghz band. After all, the new band of spectrum is so broad that it cannot be treated as an extension of the 5 GHz band, or Wi-Fi 6, requiring new APs with the appropriate radio chip, such as the Aruba 635 AP, which supports simultaneous tri-band operation for 2.4, 5, and 6 GHz.

In short, Wi-Fi 6E APs and the corresponding access to the 6 GHz band more than doubles the existing capacity with more contiguous spectrum and wider channels up to 160 MHz. For greenfield operations, network administrators can start with the before-mentioned Aruba 625 AP, as it provides backwards compatibility while eliminating potential co-channel interference from neighboring WLANs, ensuring high performance.

Where upgrade programs involve replacing older APs across the whole or part of a WLAN, designers must also consider the existing network engineering factors including AP placement, backhaul bandwidth, and AP powering. If the WLAN is to be upgraded in stages, additional decisions must be made concerning which parts of the network to prioritize for early activity.

Beyond new APs, network administrators must also consider these four factors when designing WLANs around Wi-Fi 6E: location, edge switch capacity, power, and staged upgrades.


AP placement is usually determined by cable runs and is often expensive to change. Thus, a tri-band AP that replaces an older AP is nearly always mounted in the same location. But for new or refurbished buildings where cable must be pulled, designers have more flexibility, bearing in mind that average coverage areas per AP in enterprise networks has diminished in recent years to a current value of 1,500-2,000 sq ft (140-190 sq meters). Shorter distance from the AP to client devices ensures the highest data rates possible.

Edge switches

As the Wi-Fi 6E generation of enterprise APs will be tri-band and the 6 GHz spectrum is extensive enough to deploy 80 or 160 MHz channels, the amount of traffic passing through each AP will be considerably higher compared to earlier generations. A gigabit Ethernet backhaul may realistically become a bottleneck in the future as more Wi-Fi 6E capable clients access the network, in turn network engineers should calculate the expected traffic per AP and consider upgrading edge switches to Smart Rate (2.5 or five Gbps) Ethernet. However, some network administrators may decide to delay this upgrade until client devices compatible with 6GHz band are more widely available and used.


With three radios, the new enterprise-class APs require more power than earlier models, typically around the 25.5 W limit of PoE+. A switch upgrade to PoE++ may be required in some cases.

Staged upgrades

Another question many WLAN designers will have to answer, especially in campus environments or with multiple branch locations, is which buildings or areas to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E first. To help determine the rollout, consider how each space is used and the type of devices present. As with earlier generations, Wi-Fi 6E is beginning with high-end smartphones and laptop PCs, therefore consider prioritizing office environments versus a warehouse or factory space. IoT devices, for example, in warehouses typically rely on 2.4 GHz and that is likely to continue well into the future. Within office environments, look to areas where people are likely to use these devices to sit, work, and congregate, rather than locations where people typically stand for short durations or walk through.

Learn More about Wi-Fi 6E WLAN design

To learn more about network design considerations in existing and new environments as well as the key technical components of Wi-Fi 6E, download The Technical Guide to Wi-Fi 6E and the 6GHz Band.

For more information about the Aruba Wi-Fi 6E APs, learn more here.


Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.