The pandemic has caused rapid acceleration of digital transformation initiatives across sectors and with it a host of new connectivity challenges that have yet to be solved. As of January 2021, within South Africa, Internet penetration stood at 64,0%, slightly higher than the 59,5% global population average.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent shift towards hybrid working has pushed the issue of connectivity to the forefront of the business agenda. Increased video conferencing, a greater reliance on cloud operations and the rising threat of cybersecurity attacks combine to represent a maelstrom of potential network issues. The answer to these challenges may well be Wi-Fi 6E.
What is Wi-Fi 6E?
The ‘E’ in Wi-Fi 6E stands for ‘Extended’. The Wi-Fi in use today operates within two bands: 2,4 GHz and 5 GHz. But as Wi-Fi has become more pervasive, so too have the limitations of these spectrums. Recent studies have illustrated that pinch points mainly exist in city centres and areas where housing is particularly dense. The 2,4 GHz band has been shown to be highly congested and even the 5 GHz band has started to struggle due to the large number of Wi-Fi radios that are operating within a smaller space on limited channels. This is where Wi-Fi 6E comes in.
Wi-Fi 6E uses a third band – 6 GHz – and extends the same Wi-Fi 6 capabilities into it, enabling far greater efficiency, increased throughput and tighter security. The extension into this band essentially doubles the amount of frequency that is available to devices and users. While not the only solution – the rollout of 5G is a noteworthy answer to connectivity issues – Wi-Fi 6E gives an organisation far greater control over how their data is treated and it is also cheaper to boot. Adoption of Wi-Fi 6E and the less congested airways, broader channels and increased connectivity that comes with it will not only enable greater success within existing parameters, but also catalyse future innovations.
With digital transformation non-discriminately gripping all industries, the move to the cloud has accelerated. The cloud computing market in South Africa is expected to grow to R25,5 billion in 2024, due to a sharp increase in demand for public cloud infrastructure because of the pandemic.
While Wi-Fi 6E presents solutions to burgeoning network problems, as global momentum grows, the extra band should serve to alleviate pressure and not simply become the next overused and clogged network. With this in mind, here are some very specific use cases that Wi-Fi 6E is best placed to accommodate.
• AR and VR. Whilst Wi-Fi 6E presents solutions to burgeoning network problems, it also aids in more specific use cases, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). For AR and VR to reach their full potential, they require multi-gigabit speeds. Beyond enhancing consumer markets such as gaming, both of these immersive technologies have begun to cement their positions in the operations of organisations such as retail and marketing.
• Healthcare. The ongoing pandemic has turbo-charged the healthcare industry along its path towards a digital future. Wi-Fi 6E allows for critical services and applications to operate without the worry of latency issues. The extra band enables and supports the need for mobility within a dense area, as well as aiding in the data-intensive service and telemedicine.
• Higher education. If dense housing places considerable strain on networks, then higher education campuses represent a far greater challenge. At the epicentre of the issue is student accommodation, with devices demanding more bandwidth per square metre than in almost any other sector. With institutions placing increased emphasis on virtual learning and as classrooms and learning experiences are enveloped within the digital sphere, Wi-Fi 6E can empower a deeper and more inclusive learning experience.
Six steps to prepare for 6E
As the world prepares for Wi-Fi 6E, business leaders must look to how this additional networking capacity can support their own digital transformation journey. Here are six key strategies to get the most out of Wi-Fi 6E and help future-proof Wi-Fi investments.
1. Security first. The rapid transition to the cloud has left gaps in cybersecurity that continue to be exploited by cybercriminals. According to Bloomberg, cybercrime is now as big of a concern as infectious disease. Through adopting Wi-Fi 6E, organisations are mandated to utilise WPA3, the strongest available security for Wi-Fi.
2. Maximise tri-band coverage. When adopting Wi-Fi 6E it is important to remember that the existing frequency bands will still be required and remain congested for the foreseeable future. To gain most benefit, it’s vital that organisations spread their operations across the breadth of 2,4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands to maximise connectivity.
3. Leverage advanced analytics and AIOps to improve user experience. As connectivity increases, so to do issues surrounding admin and troubleshooting. By using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), AIOps augments traditional network monitoring by automatically identifying network, security and performance issues. This enables organisations to be proactive in solving issues before they have a chance to impact business operations and end user experience.
4. Self-assessment is key. Organisations must evaluate how Wi-Fi 6E can be deployed, how many client devices will benefit, how it will exist within their current spectrum of operations and whether upgrades are needed. An area of interest for any organisation is the access point to switch uplink speed.
5. Check on certification and standards. When choosing a technology vendor to implement Wi-Fi 6E, it is vital to ensure they not only have a track record of proven innovation, but also a commitment to the highest industry standards.
6. Plan to pilot. The pilot phase is imperative when rolling out new infrastructure. It’s a key opportunity to test, identify issues and be better prepared for broader rollouts. A well-executed pilot can deliver results and reduce the chance of negative impacts down the line.
A look to the future
Ultimately, when congestion on Wi-Fi networks increases, the user experience suffers. And even as normality slowly returns across the world, it’s uncertain what form it will take. What is certain though, is that the digital transformation that has been rolled out is here to stay – and we will continue to rely heavily on the connections we’ve made over the course of the pandemic whether at home, school, the office or public spaces.
Organisations have already witnessed the compelling results of all this connectivity, such as greater efficiencies and a more refined implementation of data. Looking ahead, Wi-Fi 6E offers even more opportunities for them to transform their businesses and deliver compelling end user experiences. The choice is obvious.
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