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How WiFi 6E is Improving Connectivity in Healthcare Facilities

The WiFi network provides critical support for patient care in healthcare facilities. Everything from IoT devices like smart beds and heart monitors, to communication devices, appointment scheduling, and financial services depends on the WiFi in some way. This makes network upgrades a top priority. To help provide answers to WiFi 6E upgrade questions, this article will walk through the possible advantages and disadvantages of 6E, as well as WiFi automation and analytics, breaking down what healthcare professionals need to know about the latest WiFi technology.

What is WiFi 6E?

WiFi 6E, announced in 2020, is the designation or industry name for products that operate in the 6GHz wireless spectrum. The name applies to any WiFi 6 (802.11ax) product that supports the new unlicensed spectrum.

What is the 6GHz spectrum?

WiFi operates in the unlicensed spectrum. This used to mean that all WiFi-connected devices were either 2.4GHz and/or 5GHz capable. Now this has changed, as different countries and regulatory bodies have voted to open the 6GHz spectrum, or frequency band, for unlicensed use. Now all three bands will be available to healthcare facilities.

What are the advantages of WiFi 6E?

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WiFi 6E’s advantages are rooted in the advantages offered by WiFi 6. WiFi 6, the latest generation of WiFi, was designed to address issues and improve network performance in high density areas. 6E products deliver the same improved capabilities – with the added bonus of access to the 6GHz spectrum.

In regards to healthcare facilities, this translates to the following real-world benefits.

Higher capacity to support more critical devices

WiFi 6E devices are the only WiFi devices allowed to use the 6GHz band. This gives them sole and complete access to 14 more 80MHz channels and seven more 160MHz channels. This should mean that WiFi 6E will provide healthcare facilities with a WiFi option that will be less congested and offer less signal interference than the other WiFi frequencies.

With these devices the only ones allowed to operate in the 6GHz spectrum, facilities can add them to their network without worrying about overcrowding their existing 2.4 and 5GHz bands. This increases a network’s overall available capacity.

Faster traffic and improved user experience with lower latency and faster data rates 

6E offers latency as low as under one millisecond. This is the time it takes for one data packet to travel from a user device to an AP or vice versa. With latency this low, patients, medical professionals, staff, and guests will see instantaneous responses to keyboard and voice commands, and mouse clicks. 

6E also offers WiFi 6’s faster data rates. This will result in faster transmission speeds even for extremely large data files such as MRI, radiography, and ultrasound images, and better quality telemedicine sessions.

What are the disadvantages of WiFi 6E?

There are two main disadvantages that healthcare facilities need to consider.

The first is that the 6GHz spectrum uses shorter wavelengths than the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. These wavelengths struggle to travel long distances and experience greater degradation from obstructions like concrete or metal walls, doors, and ceilings. This may mean that new WiFi 6E APs cannot be placed in the same location as older generation APs.

Secondly, most 6E APs require more power than older models because they must be tri-radio to support all three frequency bands. Facilities need to make sure they can meet this increased energy demand before they upgrade their networks.

How do WiFi automation and WiFi analytics help with a 6E upgrade?

WiFi network analytics provide key insights into network performance and behavior, allowing IT professionals to optimize the network and ensure it provides reliable service. While always mandatory, these analytics are even more important during an upgrade when there is more opportunity for interoperability issues to arise and impact patients and practitioners.

It’s possible for IT to gather some analytics using manual methods, but impossible for them to gather analytics from the entire network ecosystem in real-time, all the time. Networks today are too vast and complex for this to be a realistic endeavor. To that end, the best solution is to automate the process with a WiFi automation platform.

Depending on the platform, facilities will receive:

  • Automatic notification and identification of network issues
  • Automatic recommended resolutions
  • Complete network visibility into all frequency bands and the entire RF environment
  • Automatic, scheduled network testing 
  • Up-to-date end user quality metrics
  • Remote network access and troubleshooting for issue resolution at anytime and anywhere
  • Historical analytics and wireless traces for more comprehensive network insights

With this support, facilities can improve and future-proof their WiFi networks in a cost-efficient manner while restoring time and energy to IT teams. Facilities can begin working with these platforms at any time, but it is recommended to use them for at least a few months before an upgrade for the best understanding of current network performance and needs.

Roger Sands is the CEO and Co-Founder of Wyebot.

Image by 123RF

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