Wireless carriers sit on 802.11ax sidelines while Charter is out in front

Wi-Fi home
802.11ax is the first major generation of Wi-Fi to come out since 2012. (Pixabay)

Charter Communications is hot on the 802.11ax path—it announced the introduction of its next-generation Spectrum Wi-Fi router featuring 802.11ax on Wednesday—but wireless operators are mostly watching from the sidelines when it comes to the latest generation of Wi-Fi.

That’s not surprising given that the nation’s largest wireless operators are knee-deep in 5G developments and Wi-Fi is typically used to offload capacity. Still, as Charter has noted, its Wi-Fi network currently serves 280 million wireless devices, and 80% of the data used on smartphones goes through Charter’s Wi-Fi network.

Charter is the first U.S.-based broadband provider to introduce 802.11ax, which increases Wi-Fi speeds, allows for more concurrently connected devices and better battery life for those devices, and improves Wi-Fi coverage in the home. It’s seen as one more way of making Wi-Fi act more like cellular, which is something the Wi-Fi market has strived to attain.

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A query of the largest nationwide cellular operators indicates they’re watching the space and will support 802.11ax as vendors make it available.

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Sprint said it’s always looking at next-generation Wi-Fi technologies to meet the unique business needs of its customers. “Sprint plans to support 802.11ax as soon as our deployment vendors (Ruckus, Meraki, Fortinet) have certified the chipset for their access points,” a Sprint spokeswoman told FierceWirelessTech. “Sprint plans to work in parallel with our vendors to test and deploy 802.11ax functionality and help ensure availability of this technology late 2019 early 2020 as part of our Business Wi-Fi deployments.”

Verizon has a negligible amount of Wi-Fi on the wireless side of the house—mostly in stadiums, and those systems tend to be owned by the venues.

T-Mobile also doesn’t provide services based on a managed Wi-Fi network, so the issue doesn’t apply, although a spokesperson said it is keeping an eye on how the standards develop and will add support in devices when appropriate.

AT&T technology support for the 802.11ax standard is on its roadmap and “something we are closely tracking for both market interest and customer demand,” a spokesperson told FierceWirelessTech. “In the business services space, as our hardware vendors add the technology, we’ll be ready to support it.”

Boingo Wireless, a neutral host Wi-Fi provider that works with U.S. operators, has kicked off 802.11ax tests as part of its work with both the Wireless Broadband Alliance and Wi-Fi Alliance. The company continues to provide Wi-Fi offload services to two of the four largest U.S. operators and has been growing the number of airports and military bases where that’s enabled.

802.11ax is the first major generation of Wi-Fi to come out since 2012, and it’s also the first generation of Wi-Fi designed to address how consumers use social media these days. Similar to how 5G smartphones are not expected to be rolled out in earnest until 2019, smartphones with 802.11ax are likely to become more common in 2019.