• Andrew Campbell

Wi-Fi Trends for the Next 5 Years

It's an exciting time to be in the Wi-Fi industry with the market continuing to grow and the promise of new standards, technologies, and use cases expanding.

Let's look forward to where the industry may be heading in the next 5 years.

Wi-Fi Is Not Going Anywhere

There's a lot of hype around the next generation cellular standard, 5G, which promises speeds over 1 Gbps with the use of small cells. This means the traditional cell tower deployment every couple miles to placing denser small cells closer to the user roughly every street corner.

Some have speculated that the latest cellular standard has the potential to replace Wi-Fi due to the cells being denser and thus capable of supporting more simultaneous users.

While 5G does present a huge leap forward, Wi-Fi will still be as prevalent and popular as ever. In short, here's some of the reasons why:

  • Billions of existing Wi-Fi only devices (tablets, streaming devices, home assistants, smart appliances, etc.)

  • Millions of existing Wi-Fi networks that are unlikely to be replaced by cellular small cells in the near term.

  • Even if APs are replaced, it is likely they will still be some form of combination Wi-Fi/5G AP.

  • Wi-Fi chips will remain much cheaper than 5G. If margins are thin, such as consumer devices then Wi-Fi will be preferred to keep costs down.

  • Enterprises will still want to access secure resources (private servers) and control what traverses their network.

  • Cellular providers have a history of data caps and throttling speeds. It wouldn't be a surprise if this trend continues with 5G.

  • They said the same thing about 4G LTE and yet the Wi-Fi market expanded. It's likely both the cellular and Wi-Fi market will both expand again with the next generations of 5G and 802.11ax as the world's bandwidth needs continue to grow exponentially.

Capacity Is King

Early 802.11 standards and designs focused on providing coverage allowing devices to become detached from the computer desk and mobile for the first time. As Wi-Fi made the transition from nice to have to must have, users began to expect speeds that were equivalent or close to that of the wired network.

The next generation of Wi-Fi, 802.11ax will focus on making improvements to optimize user capacity with an increase in speeds. With the use of more antennas, 802.11ax can support up to 8 simultaneous users via 8x8 MU-MIMO with both uplink and downlink. Additionally, 802.11ax uses the cellular 4G LTE’s OFDMA technology for efficient medium access. OFDMA allows multiple users with varying bandwidths to be served simultaneously. Instead of the traditional method of users competing to send data, 802.11ax is designed to schedule transmissions such that there are less collisions resulting in better resource utilization.

All of these enhancements and others are designed to meet the growing need to support the flood of mobile and IOT devices that will require denser network deployments.

Ride the Internet Of Things (IOT) Wave

Home automation and smart assistants are all the rage in the commercial market. Just as many users first experienced Wi-Fi in their homes and then began to expect it in their work environments, the same is becoming the norm with IOT.

The premise of the smart office of the future is becoming a reality with the ability to:

  • Conserve energy usage of HVAC, lighting, and even turn off Access Points when people are not around.

  • Provide indoor wayfinding for interactive directions

  • Track valuable assets

  • Notify proximity for promotions, general news, or to provide information for a given physical location

  • Reduce physical office space through modern hoteling work arrangements with the dynamic reservations of offices via beacons

  • Automate processes to improve worker efficiencies such as starting video conferencing as soon as you enter a conference room with your laptop/mobile device.

These are just a subset of the many ways IOT can enhance the way the workers of tomorrow will function. That's not even mentioning the growth of smart city, stadium experience, museum engagements, and numerous other use cases.

More Radios

In order to support the growing use cases for IOT devices, the network infrastructure will have to support the devices. While many of these IOT devices operate on Wi-Fi, there are many that run on other technologies such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth.

In the coming years be on the look out for enterprise Wi-Fi vendors to begin shipping Access Points that have numerous radios to support the growing needs of IOT infrastructure. It would not be a surprise to see an Access Point with tri-band (or more) Wi-Fi radios (900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, 60 GHz, others?), Bluetooth radio, Zigbee/Z-Wave, and a 5G chipset.

Similar to Samsung SmartThings for the SoHo market, look for vendors to capitalize on being the IOT brain for the enterprise.

Leveraging Network Analytics and Automation

With the explosion of data at the edge from user and IOT devices, there will be a need to decipher the avalanche of information.

Traditional network monitoring revolved around manually viewing real-time traffic and generating the occasional report. With the vast amount of data available to the network infrastructure it can be leveraged to provide insight back to improving the network performance, security, and rapid troubleshooting with minimal human interaction.

The ultimate goal of enterprise providers has always been to reduce the complexity for the network administrators. It started with standalone APs to controller-based to automatic transmit power and channel planning algorithms; going forward the automation of troubleshooting and network optimization will become expected.

Buzzwords such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, REST API, Python, and others will all be common in the coming years.