A July 2020 study from Statistica reports that 58% of Americans are working from home at least one day a week, with 44% working from home every day. Before the pandemic, only 17% were working from home five days a week.
Apart from the normal challenges and distractions associated with working from home – finding a quiet location, juggling schedules and avoiding binge-watching – one in seven Americans (15%) are also dealing with daily Internet connectivity issues and more than a half (53%) are experiencing issues at least once a month, according to anApril 2020 report from Waveform.
For some people, one possible solution is to buy more (or better) technology. After heading to their local electronics store or visiting their favorite online retailer, these consumers are greeted by a wide array of Wi-Fi routers, extenders, boosters, repeaters and mesh systems – all promising to deliver better coverage and throughput. But do these products always deliver on that guarantee? Not necessarily.
In reality, adding more technology makes things more complicated, not better. Then, when the Internet service provider (ISP) is called for help, customers find there’s none available because their newly purchased technology often lacks the necessary remote troubleshooting capabilities.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
At the end of the day, consumers want two things when they are working from home: a stable connection and adequate coverage for every connected device in their home. Truth be told, most people would prefer to get both things from a single company.
A good managed Wi-Fi solution, available from an ISP, offers four things to consumers:
The Wi-Fi 6 standard (aka 802.11ax) includes more than 50 new enhancements, most of them designed to improve data rates, capacity, coverage and power efficiency.
Consumer-grade Wi-Fi routers and gateways, some costing hundreds of dollars, are available to support the growing number of compatible consumer devices (e.g., Samsung Galaxy S10, iPhone 11/12, iPad pro and most new laptops). Offering a Wi-Fi 6-powered system can be a huge differentiator for ISPs, especially if it is part of a managed Wi-Fi offer that provides consumers with an alternative that is more affordable – and comes with premium technical support and a comprehensive warranty.
Greg Owens, Product Marketing Director, Calix
A major U.S. Federal Communications Commission ruling in April unleashed 6 GHz for unlicensed use — a huge boost for expanding Wi-Fi’s potential. The floodgates for products and solutions that will use next-generation Wi-Fi capabilities are only now starting to open. Consumers and businesses alike should be ready. Globally, 59% of mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022. So whether your interest is personal entertainment or corporate productivity, understanding recent and coming changes to Wi-Fi is key for smarter planning and choices in everything from AR/VR headsets to enabling remote workers and complex IoT.
To understand Wi-Fi in general and how newest generations improve on their predecessors, let’s examine a few key specifications.
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), launched in 2007, shows its age but remains serviceable for less demanding environments. A quick refresher on its vital stats provides a useful baseline for appreciating Wi-Fi’s evolutionary advances.
Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) arrived in 2013. It dispensed with the 2.4 GHz band and only used 5 GHz. Wi-Fi 4 used a single-user (SU) MIMO scheme. That means a device could only transmit to one receiving device at a time. Wi-Fi 5 hopped to multi-user (MU-MIMO), opening the door to much more efficient handling of multiple clients from one router or access point. Maximum channel width increased to 160 MHz and modulation to 256-QAM. The number of spatial streams doubled from four to eight (although few if any access points ever implemented more than four). The PHY rate (the bandwidth of the network adapter interface) took a massive 11x leap to 6.9 Gbps, yielding a practical MAC throughput of 4.49 Gbps, compared to 390 Mbps for Wi-Fi 4. Again, these are theoretical rates, not what users saw in real life.
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) in August 2019. Based just on top-line specs, the improvements over Wi-Fi 5 seem modest. For a single user, Wi-Fi 6 is only 37% faster — and that’s with adding back 2.4 GHz spectrum alongside 5 GHz support. Channel bandwidth tops out at 40 MHz under 2.4 GHz, but reaches a full 160 MHz in 5 GHz. Wi-Fi 6 steps into 1024-QAM, preserves support for eight spatial streams (8×8), and also does MU-MIMO. When maxed out, Wi-Fi 6 yields a maximum data rate of 9.6 Gbps.
If that doesn’t sound worth an upgrade, hold on. Think about how few Wi-Fi devices were on your home network a decade ago. Most of us could count them on one hand. Today, the number has probably doubled and will likely multiply in the coming years. Imagine trying to carry on conversations with multiple people in a crowded room simultaneously. With Wi-Fi 6, you not only can (magically) talk to multiple people at the same time, you can speak and listen more efficiently, so conversations move faster.
Wi-Fi 6 introduces orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), a cumbersome mouthful that allows routers to subdivide channels into smaller radio bands called resource units (RUs). Different RUs can service different client devices for better support of crowded device environments and/or support different data streams to the same device, which can help lower latency. Wi-Fi 6’s combination of OFDMA and MU-MIMO, which now supports multi-device communication in both directions, is particularly powerful.
Wi-Fi 6 further optimizes for crowded environments with a feature called Overlapping Basic Service Sets (OBSS). With previous Wi-Fi generations, client devices would test if traffic was using a given radio channel before transmitting. If so, they would wait until the channel was clear, whether that traffic came from the user’s network or another competing/overlapping network in the same space. That’s good for easing congestion, bad for latency rates. Rather than waiting until all traffic is gone from a channel before proceeding, OBSS allows the router/access point to “color” traffic by network. The user’s network might be blue and a competing network red. (These are visual metaphors, not literal coloring of IP packets.) If red traffic appears, the router can go ahead and still allow blue traffic, thus increasing reliability and lowering latency.
OBSS will prove critical across a range of applications. One is the growing field of remote surgery, where video must be at the highest possible resolution and with the lowest possible lag. A 2014 study found that “latencies ≤200 ms are ideal for telesurgery; 300 ms is also suitable.” Wi-Fi 6 testing often finds latency rates below 40 ms.
Similarly, VR applications have long struggled against virtual reality sickness, in which frame rates, resolution, and latency can be important contributing factors. The higher bandwidth and lower latency of Wi-Fi 6 can mitigate these issues. Gaming will also benefit from Wi-Fi 6, especially in genres like first-person shooters and rhythm games, where split-second accuracy is critical.
Wi-Fi 6 gets smarter about reducing wireless congestion. Every client device sends out a periodic ping to the router, giving its identification and status. Imagine a teacher trying to take roll, saying, “Who’s here?” If 20 kids answer simultaneously, it’s chaos. Wi-Fi 6 implements Target Wake Time, allowing routers to schedule when devices can ping their data. Also, fewer device wake-ups can translate to longer device battery lives.
Device density improves, too. Consider IoT environments packed with smart devices, such as manufacturing floors or military theaters filled with troops and ordnance. Hundreds of devices may operate within a few square meters (including battery-powered devices, which will benefit from lower power consumption) all trying to connect at full speed with a single access point. Wi-Fi 6 makes this possible at sustained, previously impossible performance levels.
For security, Wi-Fi 6 relies on WPA3, which remedies some of WPA2’s susceptibilities to brute force attacks on pass-phrases and the ability for malicious users to perform packet capture in public hotspots. WPA3 enables Wi-Fi Enhanced Open, which preserves encryption on an otherwise open network, alleviating some need for security through VPNs. This will make public wireless computing, as well as high-traffic work environments (think office hoteling and headquarters meeting rooms) much safer and more convenient.
In the year since launch of the spec, we now have a fair number of high-end (and backward-compatible) routers that support the spec. However, in January 2021, expect Wi-Fi 6E’s arrival. Wi-Fi 6E takes advantage of the April 2020 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to open 1200 MHz of radio spectrum around 6 GHz for unlicensed use. This will enable another seven 160 MHz channels.
Wi-Fi 6E preserves all Wi-Fi 6 features and adds a third radio band at 6 GHz. This extra bandwidth will be increasingly valuable to high-data rate applications, particularly those with high-def video components. We mentioned virtual reality, but augmented reality will also benefit. So, too, will service providers offering things such as in-vehicle entertainment and high-speed device tethering. Wi-Fi 6 enables 4K and higher video feeds, with more cameras connecting into fewer access points, thus saving on infrastructure costs.
It may take longer for 6E to become mainstream, as conventional applications and environments may not need the extra traffic legroom.
Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) is expected to arrive in 2024. This latest evolution could be the Gigabit Ethernet-killer you’ve been waiting for.
Part of this will stem from adoption of 4096-QAM and part from an ability to work across 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz simultaneously, rather than hopping singly to the best-possible option. Wi-Fi 7 will embrace up to 320 MHz channel bandwidths and 16 spatial streams. Interestingly, as the IEEE’s candidate features document discusses, wider channels are not always better. But the issues with very wide channels can be mitigated with simultaneous multi-band operation. All this will more than quadruple Wi-Fi 7’s maximum theoretical data rate to over 46 Gbps, with expected real-world bandwidth up to 30 Gbps shared across many devices.
Video will be a huge beneficiary. 8K video uses four times as many pixels as 4K, and many people likely will need multiple streams delivered. Wi-Fi 7 is expected to triple Wi-Fi 6’s speeds across twice the number of frequencies, in part due to the ability to transmit and receive simultaneously across the same frequency as well as across multiple bands. Again: faster speeds, more devices, and lower latency. Everything that benefited under Wi-Fi 6 and 6E gets better in this next release.
First-gen Wi-Fi 7 chipsets are expected in late 2023, but there’s a long road for Wi-Fi 6/6E iterations to play out before production-ready Wi-Fi 7. Still, there’s a lot to be excited about. If industry leaders like Deloitte, Cisco, Intel and others are correct, Wi-Fi and 5G will co-exist and play a critical role in providing uninterrupted, dramatically better performance for AI, edge, and cloud applications benefitting consumers, mobile workers, and organizations alike.
"When we say that 6 GHz Wi-Fi constitutes a ‘paradigm shift’ in connectivity – what exactly does that mean? Here’s the bottom line: Wi-Fi 6E (we like to call it 6E for short) will drive an irreversible change in how the world of connectivity works. It means the way we’ve been used to doing things will fundamentally change. Here are six areas that will be revolutionised by Wi-Fi 6E in short order. If you’re not already we recommend that you get involved in Wi-Fi 6E now."
Gigabits to the phone: 6E will make 5G look slow!
According to Broadcom Wi-Fi 6E will deliver 2.4 Gbps to your phone (160 MHz channel) which is at least five times more than what you have today. This kind of speed is unheard of today and is probably overkill right now but it will no doubt open up for new types of applications. It will also in most cases make 5G look slow (except perhaps for the not very practical mmWave kind of 5G) rendering 5G unnecessary indoors. Fortunately, we believe that 5G mobile carriers – where possible – will begin to embrace mobile offload to Wi-Fi 6E, so that 6E will become the de-facto indoor mobile solution.
The 6E-powered home will be something hard to imagine
What will the 6E-powered home look like? Well – we can certainly come up with some speeds and feeds for it. That’s the easy part. But living in the 6E-powered home is arguably hard to imagine at this point because the step up in connectivity is so vast that surely the entire home connectivity category will no doubt be reimagined and reinvented. Each room will likely be served by its own 160 MHz channel delivering clean, unobstructed gigabits of connectivity, and we’ll probably have (perhaps a Wi-Fi 7?) backbone covering the house or apartment.
Industrial connectivity reinvented
Here are three facts that will make 6E irresistible for industrial applications: The band is pristine, legacy Wi-Fi devices are (in principle) not allowed in 6 GHz, and the latency is as low as 2 milliseconds. This means 6E will experience very little interference, deliver all the performance industrial applications need – at a cost of a fraction of anything adopted from cellular. Remember also the extreme flexibility of Wi-Fi tech and its ability to present a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of adaptable tools to anyone developing industrial connectivity solutions.
“Eighty is the new twenty” for the enterprise
The indoor carpeted enterprise will see an enormous boost in capacity and speed. As a starting point, 80 MHz channels in the 6 GHz band will be the 6 GHz equivalent of the common 20 MHz channels we know today, and one such channel will more than quadruple average Wi-Fi speed. There are fourteen 80 MHz channels in 6 GHz, which will allow frequency reuse patterns that are so wide that co-channel interference will be a thing of the past. We can probably barely imagine how the fan experience at public-facing venues such as stadiums, arenas, and perhaps conference venues will be transformed by 6E.
A resurgence in Fixed Wireless Access
FWA is already doing very well in 5 GHz and even the 60 GHz unlicensed bands – but now the available band for outdoor FWA will be more than doubled: 850 MHz of new spectrum will be made available. This means that the business case for delivering very high-speed, low-cost wireless broadband to a home (or business) for example in rural or suburban USA just got better by several multiples. FWA offerings from WISPs will get more competitive as speeds go up and costs come down. We haven’t done the math but it’s a fair guess the economic value delivered by WISPs could at least double or triple over the next 2-3 years.
Originally Appearing in Corrs Chambers Westgarth, July 13 2020.
Authors Daniel Thompson, James North
State of the art ‘smart building’ technology has rapidly become a key differentiator for all stakeholders in the real estate value-chain – owners, operators, tenants and end users. However, as building technology becomes more complex, building developers and operators face new challenges that require technology-specific skill sets to address.
The data-driven ‘smart buildings’ of tomorrow will be made possible by the core technologies of Industry 4.0 – namely, 5G, IoT, AI and cloud. They will offer unprecedented customisation and control, operational efficiencies and cost saving, and will also generate valuable data sets. Smart building technology will use fleets of IoT sensors, machine learning and data analytics to learn occupant preferences, monitor occupant activity, connect physical and electronic identity, provide digital design tools, and automate ‘operational’ building technology (e.g. climate control, lighting, fire, and security).
COVID-19 has brought many of the benefits of smart buildings into acute focus: automated and remotely managed building systems have minimised the need for onsite staff during lock-down, and technologies such as thermal cameras, occupancy monitoring systems and dynamic space allocation management offer innovative solutions to safely return to work. However, with these benefits come a number of new challenges that require technology-specific skill sets to address, for example:
Many developers and operators will not have the internal capability to address these challenges and, for this reason, procurement and management of smart building technology is increasingly outsourced to specialist building technology contractors, or ‘Master Systems Integrators’ (MSIs). However, the procurement approach to (and commercial and contractual model for) engaging an MSI is not well established.
Traditionally, building developers have contracted numerous technology vendors for a range of particular building systems, generally under the head building contractor and after the building planning and design stages are complete. As technology moves from the periphery to the centre of future building design, early engagement with an MSI will be integral to ensuring that technology solutions are adapted to meet business objectives and overall building strategy.
MSI engagements will become far more complex than traditional technology contracts, and will often involve outsourcing end-to-end responsibility for design, build, commissioning, and ongoing management, support and evolution of smart building technology. Developers and operators of smart buildings should be rethinking their procurement and contracting approach to technology implementation in order to reap the benefits promised by smart building technology.
The reality of most building systems today is that information is siloed in individual systems. A core aim of smart buildings is to integrate building systems to enable data flows from these systems to be collected, analysed and used in real-time to support desired outcomes. For example, a business objective may be to identify whether a meeting room is occupied. There may be many ways of achieving such an objective, using data from one or more building systems:
Generally, when procuring smart building technology, developers and operators should focus on developing clear business outcomes or capability ‘use cases’, rather than prescribing particular technology requirements to achieve these outcomes. This ‘business outcomes’ procurement approach is well suited to the smart building context, as it allows MSIs to utilise their specialist knowledge of legacy, new and on-the-horizon technology, and design and integration expertise, to propose cost-effective solutions. This approach will also speed up the time to issue an RFP, and increase the scope for MSIs to innovate and compete to provide the best value solution that meets the required business outcomes.
There is no ‘industry standard’ model of MSI engagement, and contracts take on a number of forms. However, the MSI engagement model will expand beyond simple consulting services, or delivering integrations between particular building systems, and will often encompass end-to-end responsibility for the design, integration, operation and lifecycle of all building technology systems.
The characteristics of deeper MSI engagement models will generally include:
End-to-end design & build responsibility. The MSI will be responsible for designing and delivering a turn-key technology solution that meets the customer’s requirements, including responsibility for ensuring all third party systems incorporated in the solution are fit for purpose. This approach shifts design risk from the developer to the MSI, whose expertise in the vendor market leaves it best placed to recommend the right systems, and removes the opportunity for finger pointing between vendors if requirements are not met. This model of engagement is generally contracted on a fixed-price / fixed-scope basis.
Project responsibility. The MSI will have contractual responsibility for delivering the technology solution to meet a project timetable, and for project managing third party technology vendors and the inputs from the building owner and other stakeholders. In the case of a new construction or renovation, the MSI will need to develop its project timetable around the construction timetable, and work closely with the construction project team to identify design and access requirements. Early engagement in the building design stage is essential for ensuring that the technology and construction projects progress in harmony.
Post-commissioning ops. Traditional facilities management functions will be transformed and in many cases replaced by smart building systems, which require specialist IT and data expertise to operate and maintain that may be beyond the abilities of in-house facilities management and IT teams. Accordingly, MSIs will have a greater role to play in managing the operation of smart building technology than traditional ‘operational technology’ contractors, which may include IT support and maintenance services, technology vendor management (including management of licensing, vendor software support, and end-of-life issues), cyber security, unified data management, privacy compliance, optimising and improving building operations through data analytics, and training services for in-house teams. A key part of the value MSIs offer in the operational phase of a smart building is to connect building stakeholders to the data generated by building systems in meaningful ways, and assisting operational decision-making based on such data. Performance of such ongoing operational services will be driven by service levels, which may include metrics for systems availability, energy efficiency, preventative maintenance, systems security, and customer satisfaction, among others.
Upgrade and enhancement. Building lifecycles are significantly longer than technology lifecycles, and the technology in smart buildings will evolve in time. In many cases, technology upgrade or enhancement work will commence from the moment the building is commissioned. There is often a gap in perspective between the design and build teams and the stakeholders most invested in the operational use of the building, and this will often result in the MSI development team being engaged in continual development or re-configuration of building systems to meet operational needs. MSI contracts need to contemplate more than the initial solution delivery, and include terms governing how future projects or continuous delivery will be governed. Engagement models may include minor enhancement work built into operations and support services, priced technology roadmap options, gain-share mechanisms for joint investments, and/or agile project development regimes.
How a smart building owner chooses to engage with a MSI will depend on a number of factors, including the complexity of their technology requirements and their in-house capabilities. Although engagements with MSIs are likely to continue to involve significant consulting work on an hourly rate basis, and piecemeal integration projects, the trend in MSI engagements for truly integrated building systems will shift towards outsourcing end-to-end responsibility for all building technology, both in the delivery and operations stages.
There will always be a cost for pushing greater contractual responsibility on an MSI, but as technology and the smart building industry continues to develop, the value in deeper partnerships with such service providers will become more compelling, and MSIs will become more accustomed to accepting and capable of managing such risk.
Originally Appearing in Wi-Fi Forward, June 18 2020
This Saturday is World Wi-Fi Day — a day in which we recognize the countless benefits and accomplishments of a technology that most of us use every day. This year, World Wi-Fi Day comes as changes from COVID-19 seep across our culture and economy in ways no one could have envisioned just a few months ago. Across the globe, people have been forced to adapt to new ways of doing things — at home, at work and at school. One thing that makes this possible is fast and available Wi-Fi.
Telehealth has been a fast-growing part of the healthcare industry for most of the past decade, and Wi-Fi supports much of this critical practice. While many medical practices were already utilizing Wi-Fi in hospitals and doctors’ offices, some were slow to adopt, especially in states where insurance laws kept down reimbursements for virtual visits. This year, it seemed every doctor was encouraging patients to connect online. It’s safer for everyone — not just in a time of COVID-19 — but when dealing with any contagious illness or with patients with mobility challenges. Many more patients now realize there’s no need to go to a doctor’s office when there is a much easier way to “visit” the doctor using your home internet connectivity — keeping more patients out of the hospital and reducing the risk of infection.
With the onset of COVID-19, teachers and professors at every level were forced to rejigger their curricula to an online format. But as they adapted, many reported new benefits to distance learning. Beyond ensuring the health of students and faculty, students gained flexibility and can now attend class from virtually anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. Wi-Fi has opened the door for new and creative ways of learning and has made school possible in this critical time.
When COVID-19 shut down offices across the U.S. in mid-March, companies scrambled to find new and innovative ways to stay connected and productive; many turned to wireless internet. Wi-Fi allows employees to collaborate remotely from the safety of their own homes using Zoom, email, and countless other web-based applications. Home Wi-Fi allows businesses to adapt quickly to the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, assuring companies the ability to continue to serve their customers, all while ensuring their employees’ safety.
Wi-Fi has helped society and the economy adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from assisting in the continuation of critical functions like healthcare and education, Wi-Fi is keeping friends and family connected at a time when keeping in touch with loved ones is more important than ever. These alterations to the fabric of our lives would have been far less efficient had a pandemic struck with the ethernet connections of a decade ago. The past several months have proven the utility and value of unlicensed spectrum in an increasingly virtual world. So, on this World Wi-Fi Day, let’s look at what we have learned these past few months and ponder how we can move forward together in a world connected by Wi-Fi that connects us in ways few thought possible.
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