2019 is the 20th anniversary of Wi-Fi. What do you think is Wi-Fi’s biggest breakthrough?
I’d say the biggest breakthrough for Wi-Fi is its ubiquity, right? I’d watch people walk into a new venue, and the first thing they do? They’re on their phone; they’re looking for the Wi-Fi. So there’ve been many different wireless technologies that have promised to be that next great thing, like ultra wideband or WiMax. And for a variety of reasons, good technologies don’t always turn into good products. But Wi-Fi has dominated for the last decade.
What’s the big deal with 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6 as it is now called? Isn’t it just another speed bump?
So it is faster, right. But I think the real value in Wi-Fi 6 is around the ability to handle very dense client environments. A new student coming into a campus has anywhere between three to five devices that they bring with them all connected wirelessly. Coupled with other IoT and media streaming devices, the capacity of networks has to improve dramatically to be able to maintain consistent user experience.
The other significant change coming with Wi-Fi 6 is the ability to have much greater efficiency and battery life on endpoint devices. A more efficient use of the spectrum means those clients will be able to get on and off the network quicker to share and transmit the same amount of data. This means you can have devices that are operated with much smaller batteries, and those batteries will last much longer.
Is there more to Wi-Fi than connectivity though?
Wi-Fi will always be about connecting users. But for the operator of that network or the organization hosting that Wi-Fi network, we’re doing a lot more than we ever were before. There’s a big move toward, for example, collecting analytics at the edge of the network, both from a network behavior standpoint, and analytics about the users that are connected to that network that helps you better support the network.
That’s where A.I. comes into play then…
Yes, I think so. As you collect more data, you have to get more intelligent about how you process and act on that data. Ambitiously, we want to be able to not only understand the behavior of users and identify anomalies in the network, but we want the network have enough intelligence that it will be able to automatically remediate those issues.
What about 5G? Do you think it competes with or will at some point make Wi-Fi less relevant?
I certainly don’t think it will be make Wi-Fi less relevant. In fact, if you look at data usage around the world, as mobile data consumption grows, Wi-Fi dramatically outpaces the consumption of cellular (connectivity).
So Wi-Fi is here to stay?
The operational dynamics around the two technologies are very different. Wi-Fi operates in the unlicensed spectrum. Cellular technologies like 4G and 5G operate on licensed spectrums. It will always be more cost effective to operate and connect to a Wi-Fi network.
Furthermore, Wi-Fi also allows you to access devices on the local network. As far as I know, you can’t stream from your phone to your Apple TV or Roku device over cellular today, right? Wi-Fi enabled cameras is another one of those use cases. You don’t really ever envision that being (used) over a cellular network.
So when we talk about 5G and the evolution of mobile networks, and how that’s going to make Wi-Fi obsolete, I just don’t buy it because there’s such a robust Wi-Fi ecosystem, the capability of accessing the LAN, and doing that cheaply because there’s so much data that you want to push over video. I think these two technologies are going to co-exist forever.
Over time, I think if we do a good job as an industry, you’ll see the lines between these two technologies continue to blur. I think the user experience will someday transcend the underlying transport layer.
Is there such a movement going on?
From a technology and standards standpoint, Wi-Fi has adopted the best things from 3GPP and cellular networks and protocols. Conversely, we see cellular networks starting to adopt the best elements of Wi-Fi protocols. So, the technologies are coming closer together and I think over time as more service providers continue to build out their Wi-Fi footprint and cable operators start to build out their mobile networks, they’ll be this kind of natural coming together of these two worlds.
“The breakthrough really is the fact that Wi-Fi has become so ubiquitous, it’s the dominant way we access LAN and the internet for the things we depend on in our lives.”
Photos Darren Chang