Wi-Fi 6 & IoT: What’s really at stake?

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“Wi-Fi 6 is not just the next generation of Wi-Fi, nor just a set of increments in terms of better throughput and coverage that improve all existing deployments, but fundamentally a new sets of capabilities which can be used by the industry to address a whole new set of opportunities for consumers, business, cities and the Internet of Things (IoT).” Does it sound familiar? It’s pretty the same discourse used to present 5G capabilities. Both technologies change the game and are poised to profoundly shake the way industries operate. So, do we have to choose between the two?

In some ways, popular opinion in the cellular field was that 3G, 4G and now 5G would somehow involve the end of Wi-Fi. Yet, interestingly, this has not happened. Quite the contrary. According to the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA)“this cost-effective technology, coupled with an open ecosystem, together with ease of upgrades that ensure backwards compatibility for all deployed Wi-Fi devices, has created an astoundingly successful market, which last year saw the deployment of over 3 billion new Wi-Fi devices.”And this continues to grow exponentially, even if today huge investments are also being made in 5G. In fact, WBA considers that Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are “best friends” that complement each other.

Yet, for now, Wi-Fi is still the most used technology in the enterprise sector and supports numerous use cases across the IoT ecosystem as Wi-Fi standards enable the connection of a wide range of devices and deployment costs are relatively low. Moreover, when combined with LoRaWAN network architecture it creates new business opportunities, for example in the smart buildings and smart hospitality areas as well as residential connectivity or automotive and smart transportation. And this is no small achievement.

But, of course, Wi-Fi also has limitations, which have led to the addition of new specifications, such as 802.11ah and 802.11ax. Fortunately, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the nonprofit organization that has promoted Wi-Fi technology and has come up with these jumbles of numbers and letters, has finally decided to simplify things. So now, 802.11ax is Wi-Fi 6.

The advantages of the new Wi-Fi 6 are clear: greater speed, better operation when there are many devices connected to the same network and better energy efficiency, which is crucial for IoT. This power-efficiency is made possible by a technology known as Target Wake Time (TWT), which enables devices to determine when to wake up to send or receive data, so that Wi-Fi access points can significantly conserve battery life.

In December 2019, the WBA confirmed the successful completion of a phase one trial of Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure in a challenging environment: an aerospace factory. The trial, which included applications of 4K video streaming, large scale file transfers, messaging and voice/video communications as well as the first stage of IoT sensor and mixed reality testing, was the first of its kind in the world and an important part of the WBA’s Wi-Fi 6 test and development program. In this respect, the Alliance provides some guidelines to a savvy deployment of Wi-Fi 6, which can ensure that operators, enterprises and vendors avoid some recurrent Wi-Fi problems.

Back to our initial question about whether the industry has to choose between 5G and Wi-Fi 6, the Wireless Broadband Alliance considers that as society increasingly depends on fast reliable data connectivity, “an important capability for the industry will be the convergence at a network level (not just the access) between 3GPP’s 5G and Wi-Fi, so that the unique and complementary capabilities of both RANs will be leveraged to provide seamless network services.” “Bearing in mind that a significant amount of data traffic from smartphones uses a Wi-Fi access, this will lead to a better user experience and create new business opportunities for both Wi-Fi and cellular providers”, adds WBA.

Be as it may, the business opportunities open by the evolution of connectivity, also in the IoT realm, will be discussed at the 2020 European Wireless Global Congress, which will be co-located at the IOTSWC2020 (Barcelona, October 29-31) to enrich the synergies between both ecosystems. Expect to see live demos and case studies from around the world and an outlining of emerging financial models that will help companies to grow their business. The revolution has just started.

About IOTSWC
IOT Solutions World Congress (IOTSWC) is an event organized by Fira de Barcelona and the Industrial Internet Consortium focused on showing the impact of IoT and other disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain or digital twin in the digitization of industries. Last year, IOTSWC brought together 350 exhibiting companies, more than 300 speakers and 16,000 professionals, from more than 120 countries. IOTSWC 2020 will be held from October 29 to 31 at the Gran Via venue and will also host the European edition of the Wireless Global Congress (WGC) 2020 and the Barcelona Cybersecurity Congress as collocated events.

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