Wi-Fi 6 in Europe: Less to it than meets the eye?

Quadruple data throughput, more reliable access to high-traffic networks, higher performance, and lower battery consumption for end devices: There is much for users of wireless LAN to look forward to with the new WLAN standard, Wi-Fi 6. The IEEE has announced that the finalized standard is due to be ready soon.

But in Europe, the (success) story of IEEE 802.11ax, the old name for the standard, will probably be written differently than in the US or Asia. The problem is the EU standard, which specifies the conditions for transmissions in the 5-GHz band. The first time we blogged about this problem was over a year ago. Unfortunately, all that has happened since then has been behind the scenes. We are still a long way from finding a solution.

No privileges, no performance

Radio operation in the 5-GHz band is uniformly regulated for all EU countries by the standard 301 893. Any device operating in the 5-GHz frequency band must comply with this standard in full. If not, the device is not permitted to use the frequency and may even be withheld from sale altogether.

However, the 5-GHz band is immensely important to 802.11ax, because this is where new mechanisms provide the most improvements. The problem: In order to enable high performance for Wi-Fi devices, the standard grants them an array of privileges: For example, Wi-Fi adapters may use the Preamble Detection and Energy Detection (PD/ED) mechanisms for adaptivity and better performance. In the current version of EN 301 893 (version 2.1.1), however, this only applies to the Wi-Fi standards IEEE 802.11a/n/ac. The reason for this lies in the history of the standard: When it was drafted by ETSI, the EU’s standardization body, no one was expecting 802.11ax.

Europe is behind schedule

What we urgently need is a redraft of EN 301 893 to grant Wi-Fi 6 the same privileges as previous Wi-Fi standards. Without it, Wi-Fi 6 will arrive on the EU market as a “castrated” standard—with much worse performance than expected!

The good news first: work on version 2.2.1 of the standard is in full swing. By June, ETSI intends to have the redraft close to completion. This is followed by a comprehensive review process involving the member states and public consultation, among others.

Only when this strictly regulated process is complete can the standard be submitted to the European Commission for review. It would subsequently be published in the Official Journal and come into effect.

Which brings us to the bad news: While the final IEEE standard Wi-Fi 6, alias IEEE 802.11ax, is in the starting blocks and ready to go, version 2.2.1 of EN 301 893 is still a long way off. Right now it seems impossible that a valid version of the EU standard will be ready in time for the first major, worldwide marketing wave of ax products. Even optimistic estimates assume that the standard will be published in the European Official Journal at the earliest by the end of 2019, but more realistically in the first quarter of 2020. And even this assumes that the entire process runs smoothly and the EU Commission works quickly to get the standard published.

Marketing sham?

All the more surprising, therefore, that some manufacturers are already busy promoting their new ax devices in Europe. What about information about the limitations of operating Wi-Fi 6 in Europe and the lower performance? Not a word to be found! The user is being sold something which currently cannot operate in the EU. Or, perhaps even worse, Wi-Fi 6 products are coming to the market that—consciously or unconsciously—do not meet the mandatory EU standards and therefore should not be operated at all. These products do not deserve to bear the CE marking; market surveillance authorities could withdraw them from sale at any time.

At LANCOM, we too are about to launch our first Wi-Fi 6 access points. So the current situation is more than annoying! If we observe the current standards, the advantages of ax over ac Wave 2 will be minimal—at least initially.

Let’s hope that the EN 301 893 v2.2.1 passes through the remaining standardization procedure without problem and as quickly as possible. That will be the moment when we, in the accustomed LANCOM manner, will provide our ax customers with a software update that makes Wi-Fi 6 the new super Wi-Fi in Europe. We will keep you up to date.

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