Wi-Fi 5 versus Wi-Fi 6E at SBB AG

Illustrations: Signal range from two access points (5 GHz band on the left; 6 GHz band on the right)

Dimitri Glanzmann Project Manager at SBB AG Infrastructure Telecom
In a 3-week pilot test to see whether Wi-Fi 6E meets the requirements of SBB AG and whether a change would therefore be worthwhile, onway ag was able to provide us with meaningful conclusions. The results serve us as a good basis for further investment decisions.

WLAN is now an integral part of our everyday life. A stable and secure internet connection is the basic framework required for our daily work. Technically, we have already reached generation 6.5 of the WLAN standard – Wi-Fi 6E. It extends the previous 802.11ax standard into the 6 GHz band and promises higher throughput rates, lower latency and greater security.

On behalf of SBB, onway ag piloted the new technology in an office environment in late 2022 and compared it with existing Wi-Fi technologies.

Initial position

WLAN structures have evolved over time at SBB AG. The requirements for wireless communication coverage have changed significantly over the years, as more and more business-critical applications are running on WLAN. These changes have steadily increased the performance and availability requirements. This Wi-Fi 6E concept was designed to test how well the new technology could meet SBB’s requirements. To this end, Cisco Systems provided their latest Catalyst 9136 access points.

Measurement outcomes and resulting advantages

After a three-week pilot, the following conclusions were drawn:

  • Significantly higher throughput rates with simultaneously low latencies
    Significantly more information/data can be transferred within shorter periods of time. Latency times of less than 5 ms have been achieved, allowing for a much more realistic experience in virtual reality applications, for example.
  • Thanks to the additional spectrum, larger network capacities can be achieved
    Throughput rates (for more users) are almost tripled while coverage remains the same. This is made possible by the new 6 GHz band on the one hand, and by simultaneous communication with several clients on the other hand.
  • Improved Quality of Service (QoS) and faster roaming
    Wi-Fi 6E provides better and more stable transmission quality for critical applications such as Voice over IP. A practically uninterrupted handover from access point to access point is a contributing factor here. Moreover, the VoIP call handover between the Wi-Fi and the mobile network also worked much better.
  • Improved security
    Thanks to OWE encryption, security needs can also be met using the SBB-FREE guest network.
  • Consistently low radiation exposure for the user
    In contrast to mobile radio technologies, which are allowed to emit far more radiation, users are exposed to far less radiation with WLAN coverage.
  • No additional access points required
    Signals in the new 6 GHz band cover practically the same distance as signals in the previous 5 GHz band (see illustration at the very top). This means that no additional installations are necessary when switching to Wi-Fi 6E, and no new measurement effort is required.

Other noteworthy positive aspects in the final report include:

  • There were no collisions with radar applications in the 6 GHz band, thereby requiring no DFS, which increases the connection stability.
  • Virtually all IoT devices feature a Wi-Fi interface, making it easy, secure and cost-effective to tap into mobile devices of all kinds.
  • The new technology also benefits external employees who do not have a 5G-capable laptop/device or are dependent on a specific provider.
  • There are no additional costs for clients as the system does not require a 5G modem nor a SIM card.

In addition, we would like to highlight that it is hardly worth holding out for Wi-Fi 7 since additional features have little impact on office-based applications.