Users set to skip Wi-Fi 6E as campus switch market grows more quickly than expected

Potential tough times ahead for Wi-Fi 6E, but digital transformation initiatives have been accelerated by the pandemic, spurring new network requirements and putting pressure on IT managers to upgrade their networks

Two research publications from the Dell’Oro Group have predicted the makings of an unexpected bypass in the evolution of wireless network technology and good times rolling for campus switches, sales of which some thought would collapse and never recover because of the pandemic.

In its Wireless LAN 5-year forecast report, the analyst expressed confidence in the wireless local area network arena as a result of recently published government initiatives to advance technology, and delayed fulfilment of pent-up demand. It forecast that over the next five years, $45-50bn will be spent on enterprise-class Wi-Fi equipment and artificial intelligence applications.

But the study also highlighted what could be a significant development in the progress of Wi-Fi 6. The technology has become the almost de-facto standard for wireless LAN over the last few years and the past 12 months have seen the robust roll-out of technologies supporting the Wi-Fi 6 standard. It is estimated that nearly two billion Wi-Fi 6-compatible devices will enter the market in 2022.

In January 2022, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the wireless industry trade organisation that exists to promote wireless technologies and interoperability, announced Wi-Fi 6 Release 2.

It has long been expected that the next and most natural evolutionary step in development would be Wi-Fi 6E, which could potentially bring nearly six times the total capacity in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, seven contiguous 160MHz channels, and less interference from legacy Wi-Fi devices. This is said to translate to multi-gigabit Wi-Fi speeds and more devices performing optimally on a Wi-Fi network at once.

But Dell’Oro warned that even though the number of manufacturers launching Wi-Fi 6E products in mid-2021 increased significantly, users found products to be either not available or in very limited supply. “Supply constraints have prompted manufacturers to focus on enabling the availability of popular models by redesigning these models with components that are more readily available,” said Tam Dell’Oro, founder, CEO and wireless LAN analyst.

“Wi-Fi shipments in the second half of 2021, excluding China, were significantly limited because of supply constraints. Ecosystem players do not see constraints easing until the end of 2022.”

The analyst also warned that in interviews with systems integrators, users were asking for Wi-Fi 6, not 6E, products. It predicted that if companies had to prioritise their production, Wi-Fi 6 would be the priority and with Wi-Fi 7 products shipping as early as 2023, the latter standard – projected to support up to 30Gbps throughput, about three times faster than Wi-Fi 6 – would see users bypass 6E.

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“In addition to supply constraints inhibiting the rate of adoption of Wi-Fi 6E, we have learned that compliance with regulations to operate within the 6GHz spectrum are slowing the deployment process,” said Dell’Oro. “Compliance processes have yet to be standardised and easy to implement.”

Meanwhile, the accelerated ramp of Wi-Fi 6 and the anticipated introduction of Wi-Fi 7 WLAN access points are noted as key drivers in the renaissance of the campus switch arena, fuelling the need for 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps and even10 Gbps switch ports.

The analyst noted that when the pandemic first hit the market and spurred the work-from-home phenomenon, many people thought campus switch sales might collapse and never recover. But it now takes a more optimistic view of the market and projected that sales should go back to growth and eclipse their pre-pandemic level in 2022.

The company now believes that more than $100bn will be spent on campus switches over the next five years, and multi-gigabit switches (2.5/5/10Gbps) are expected to comprise nearly one-fifth of the sales by 2026.

“The pace of recovery has exceeded our expectations,” said Sameh Boujelbene, senior director at Dell’Oro Group. “Although the current surge in market demand was partially propelled by some short-term drivers, such as pent-up demand from 2020, orders pulled in from future quarters due to supply challenges, and strong government spending and stimulus around the world, we believe some fundamental growth drivers are here to stay.

“Digital transformation initiatives have been accelerated by the pandemic, spurring new network requirements and putting pressure on IT managers to upgrade their networks. We believe that digital transformation is a multi-year journey that will benefit the campus switch market for many years to come.”

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