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What will 6GHz home broadband mean for consumers?

Monday, 15 June, 2020

When the concept of domestic wireless internet access was being developed in the late 1990s, a global standard was established by a committee of experts known as 802.11.

Among the principles laid down by IEEE802.11 was the use of 2.4GHz as the optimal frequency for electromagnetic data transmission.

Equipment broadcasting across this frequency was cheaper to develop and mass-produce than the other main frequency chosen to transmit WiFi data – 5GHz.

As WiFi gradually became more widely adopted, wireless broadband routers began offering connections across both frequencies.

And now there’s a third option on the horizon – 6GHz home broadband.

Gig economy

Without delving too deeply into advanced physics, it’s important to know that higher frequencies have two major effects on wireless data transfer.

They speed it up, while reducing the distance it can travel.

The 2.4GHz frequency was chosen because it offers a good compromise between performance and range.

Meanwhile, 5GHz is ideal for high-intensity activities taking place in relatively close proximity to a wireless broadband hub.

It’s 2.4GHz which will keep you connected as you venture into the garden, but 5GHz will minimise latency while playing an MMORPG on your laptop.

The 6GHz frequency will boost performance even further, albeit over relatively limited distances.

In tandem with signal boosters or mesh networks, it could provide exceptionally fast whole-home connectivity – line speed permitting, of course.

Six appeal

Back in January, Ofcom approved 500MHz of spectrum across the 6GHz frequency to be used by WiFi6 networks.

Last autumn, we explained how WiFi 6 surpasses previous wireless speeds, while supporting more devices at once.

It’s less than a year since WiFi 6 was launched, and the industry is still developing hardware and protocols capable of exploiting its full potential.

The introduction of the 6GHz home broadband frequency is part of this evolution, helping to make home networks faster and more reliable.

There’ll be less congestion across this higher frequency, while widespread use of 6GHz would itself free up capacity over the more heavily-used 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.

However, the greatest attribute of harnessing bandwidth between 5925 and 6425MHz involves the speeds which are achievable.

As yet, these aren’t definitive. Research is ongoing, and laboratory conditions can’t accurately replicate domestic factors like interference from neighbouring properties.

Some industry experts are talking about 6GHz performance being comparable to 5G mobile networks, with lab tests already achieving speeds of 2Gbps and latency of just two milliseconds.

(Latency is the delay between an instruction being issued and a response being received. It can destroy online gaming, cause buffering on streaming videos, and corrupt VoIP calls.)

The bigger issue will remain connection speeds into our homes, with millions of UK properties served by sluggish copper phone lines which are limited to just 11Mbps.

Nonetheless, the combination of WiFi6 and 6GHz frequencies might allow us to eliminate wireless connectivity as a cause of slow internet speeds around the home.

Neil Cumins author picture

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Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!

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