Wi-Fi industry launches next-gen 6E certification, and new devices are up next

The Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying Wi-Fi 6E devices Thursday, paving the way for all sorts of new gadgets that can transmit in the super-wide 6GHz band.

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Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
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Ry Crist
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Wi-Fi Alliance

The Wi-Fi Alliance has launched its Wi-Fi 6E certification program for devices equipped to transmit signals on the newly opened 6GHz band, the industry group announced Thursday. The move arrives just in time for CES 2021, and sets the stage for a flood of new, next-gen devices capable of tapping into a massive swath of additional bandwidth at the fastest speeds Wi-Fi is currently capable of.

Those speeds come by way of Wi-Fi 6, which began rolling out as the latest and greatest version of Wi-Fi in 2019. Wi-Fi 6E builds on that standard without replacing it outright by adding in access to the 6GHz band, which the FCC opened for unlicensed use in a unanimous vote last year

With enough spectrum to accommodate seven 160 MHz channels at once, that 6GHz band is much wider than the 2.4 and 5GHz bands most Wi-Fi users are already familiar with -- and without any older-generation devices slowing things down, it'll act as sort of an exclusive superhighway for devices equipped to take advantage.

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"Wi-Fi 6E will see rapid adoption in 2021 with more than 338 million devices entering the market, and nearly 20 percent of all Wi-Fi 6 device shipments supporting 6GHz by 2022," said Phil Solis, research director at IDC. "This year, we expect to see new Wi-Fi 6E chipsets from several companies, and a variety of new Wi-Fi 6E smartphones, PCs and laptops in the first quarter of 2021 followed by TVs and VR product announcements midyear."

With standards for Wi-Fi 6E now incorporated into Wi-Fi Certified 6, the Wi-Fi Alliance hopes to spur that process along by ensuring new 6E devices stay secure and fully interoperable, regardless of region or manufacturer.

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"Consumers take it on faith that if you go buy a Wi-Fi device, it's going to connect to your router," said Kevin Robinson, a Wi-Fi Alliance spokesperson. "The reason that is in fact the case is because of Wi-Fi Certified. The industry puts a lot of value in getting devices through that testing so that the end experience is that everything works together."

In addition to interoperability, Wi-Fi Certified focuses on standardizing security protocols. For instance, with Wi-Fi 6E, devices will be required to support the latest protocol, WPA3, which promises better defense against attempts to brute force your network's password, among other improvements.

"It's an opportunity for a clean break from the legacy requirements of the 2.4 and 5GHz bands," Robinson said. "In the 6GHz band, WPA3 is the only option."

All of the new routers announced at CES 2021 -- including next-gen Wi-Fi 6E

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Industry members of the Wi-Fi Alliance -- many of whom are showcasing Wi-Fi 6E devices of their own at CES this year -- heaped praise on the move, with some calling it a major milestone not just for Wi-Fi 6, but for Wi-Fi in general.

"Wi-Fi Alliance certification programs are essential to ensure confidence around Wi-Fi device interoperability," said Intel Corporation's Eric McLaughlin, VP, Client Computing Group; GM, Wireless Solutions Group. "New Wi-Fi 6E capability represents one of the single most important advancements in recent wireless history and is critical to helping address the growing demand for capacity, broadband access, and new usages."

You can expect to see a steady stream of names jumping on the Wi-Fi 6E bandwagon to meet that demand in 2021. One of the first, as far as phones are concerned, will be Samsung. The Korean conglomerate was an early adopter of Wi-Fi 6 with its Galaxy S10 lineup -- now, in 2021, it included Wi-Fi 6E support in the Galaxy S21, which arrives on Jan. 29.

"As a leading innovator of mobile experiences, we were among the very first to offer Wi-Fi Certified 6 products," said JM Choi, vice president and head of group for Convergence R&D Group, Samsung Electronics. "[We] look forward to introducing new Galaxy devices able to take advantage of the increased speeds, reduced latency and expanded bandwidth that comes with connecting to frequencies in the 6GHz band very soon."