I recently changed jobs, and as part of my new job, I am back working on a Wi-Fi-centric team doing Wi-Fi-centric things. One of the things that landed on my plate was diving deep into Wi-Fi 6E. Throughout this journey, it has become clear that we are still in the very early days of leveraging 6GHz to solve real-world challenges.
Clients across the board are a hot mess today, and this should be no surprise to the seasoned Wi-Fi professional that has been fighting clients since the dawn of this technology.
Getting clients to discover your 6GHz network is challenging. Some clients will do PSC scanning, and others will not. Right now, it seems the best way to ensure that clients will find your 6GHz SSID is leveraging a Reduced Neighbor Report (RNR) in a “legacy” band to advertise your 6GHz SSID. Some clients, like the new iPad, won’t do FILS or PSC scanning, or don’t do it consistently, relying entirely on the out-of-band RNR to find the SSID. It doesn’t have to be the same SSID; it just has to be on the same AP to advertise in the RNR.
Right now, I’m still ok deploying 6GHz at 80MHz here in the US, but the lack of PSC scanning and FILS support in clients likely means that non-PSC channels could be ok.
TLDR: I think deploying 80MHz PSC channels is fine, but I’m not sure you need to, as long as you have an SSID in a legacy band. No 6GHz-only APs today.
Considering the restriction to move to WPA3 and the limitation of WPA3 Transition mode, my instinct today is to create a new SSID for 6GHz devices, relying on our older SSIDs to support the RNR for advertisement.
TLDR: Deploy new WPA3-only networks and skip transition mode.
Dual-band vs. single-band:
You may contemplate deploying a dual-band SSID with WPA3 to account for some of these challenges, and in fact, Apple recommends the same SSID across all bands. However, as of November 2022, not all devices are ready for this. Some devices have had a preference for 5GHz for years, and that has not translated to 6GHz yet. In testing, I’ve found that 6GHz is 6-10dB lower RSSI than its 5GHz radio, even when applying 3-6dB more power. Meaning it’s tough for clients to pick 6GHz over 5GHz when looking at RSSI/SNR as a primary metric. In my opinion, this means that single-band 6GHz is the strategy for the short term.
Maybe this is related to my 6GHz APs at home, or just my 6GHz clients have a crappy antenna. But whatever the reason, I’m seeing this out in the wild. But I don’t see this in RF planning tools, so just be aware.
TLDR: Deploy single band 6GHz SSIDs and have 2.4/5GHz SSIDs to advertise your RNR. Revisit as we start to see devices mature in their roaming selection.
One thing I’m impressed with is Multi-BSSID. Advertising multiple SSIDs in a single beacon is a significant improvement to the efficiency of airtime. The first time I saw this in Wi-Fi Explorer Pro, I thought it was an issue that my beacon took up 0ms of airtime, but it is smart enough to break out the different SSIDs. And so far, I haven’t seen the need to configure this on the equipment; it just does it automatically.
TLDR: If you’re not in the IntuitBits tooling, ensure your devices support multiple BSSIDs, or you might spend time troubleshooting due to a lack of visibility to your SSIDs.
One of my favorite tools is the WLANPi. I use my WlanPi Pro frequently for scanning in 6GHz, packet capture, etc. I need to get one of the new R4 and M4 WlanPis. There are some things to be aware of today.
The MediaTek chip in the R4/M4 does have some challenges connecting to channels above 101. I’m hoping this gets resolved soon in firmware. Also, I’ve had issues with my Pro not scanning 6GHz on wlan0, so I default my WFE to use wlan1.
TLDR: Get yourself a WLAN Pi, and give the team over there a big thank you the next time you see them.
I expect some of this advice to change in the mid-term. For example, when device roaming catches up with the new standards, dual-band/multi-band SSIDs will be the way forward, especially with Multi-Link Operation in Wi-Fi7. This also means we’re going to have to learn to trust devices to make better decisions regarding roaming and band use.
I wish I could say things will get easier in the coming months, but I expect that with AFC conditionally approved by the FCC and standard power on the horizon, things will continue to be a hot mess for a bit. So the best advice I can give is this: Thoroughly test when you intend to deploy and verify it behaves in the ways you expect.