The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) presented some uplifting news for the Wi-Fi industry at its Wireless Global Congress event in London this week: The WBA’s Annual Industry Report for 2019 shows the evolution of Wi-Fi is accelerating and spanning new areas—including IoT and integration with 5G—leading to 51% reporting increased confidence in investing in Wi-Fi.
In the annual industry report, authored by Senza Fili President Monica Paolini, the WBA made a number of predictions for the year ahead, including a push in millimeter wave adoption with WiGig in the 60 GHz band, increasing IoT and Industrial IoT activity, new unlicensed spectrum allocations at 6 GHz in the U.S. and further growth in Wi-Fi roaming, with Passpoint becoming mainstream.
In the U.S., the report noted that Wi-Fi carries 67% of mobile device traffic. In Japan, that figure rises to 83%.
Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi based on IEEE 802.11ax, is coming, with prestandard equipment and limited commercial deployments already in existence. Of course, the WBA expects wider commercial availability in 2019 and final standard specifications by the fourth quarter of 2019, with the timeline for Wi-Fi 6 slightly ahead of that for 5G New Radio (NR). The organization sees the two technologies complementing each other and both are necessary to realize the ITU’s IMT-2020 vision of a pervasive connectivity fabric.
The report includes results from the annual survey—with WBA canvassing the industry on the features of Wi-Fi 6 they consider to be the most important. These include OFDMA uplink and downlink (44%); self-optimizing capability (42%); peak speed (38%) and flexible channel sizes (34%).
In 2018, Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) and Passpoint saw an adoption breakthrough, the report said, with AT&T, Charter, Boingo Wireless, SoftBank, Sprint and T-Mobile strengthening their commitment to the technologies for seamless and secure connectivity when their subscribers visit their partners’ Wi-Fi networks. At Mobile World Congress Americas in San Francisco in 2017, attendees used Passpoint for 65% of Wi-Fi connections.
According to the survey, the top drivers for investing in NGH and Passpoint include seamless access between Wi-Fi and licensed networks (69%), improving customer quality of experience and reducing churn (60%); seamless access across different networks (58%) and increasing offload from cellular networks (54%).
“Our latest report shows the significant progress that the industry has made to the adoption of NGH Passpoint—which is an important validation of our work with our members and partners to support new use cases and business models. We look forward to working together to drive this trend forward into the future,” said Tiago Rodrigues, general manager of the WBA, in a release. “Furthermore, next year all eyes will be on Wi-Fi 6 as the standard approaches ratification, marking a step-change in Wi-Fi capabilities and services. This will be a priority for us, particularly in terms of driving coexistence between licenced and unlicensed technologies to improve the delivery of better services to the end-user.”
Of course, with Wi-Fi’s continued popularity, its reliance on spectrum is top of mind. The report noted that the 2.4 GHz band is affected by congestion in locations with high-density traffic, and as more Wi-Fi moves to the 5 GHz band, congestion is starting to affect that band as well. In the U.S., Wi-Fi would benefit from the allocation of the 6 GHz band, which would add 1200 MHz of spectrum, doubling the spectrum available to Wi-Fi. A final decision by the FCC about that band is expected in 2019.
The WBA said it will focus its efforts over the next year on a number of core areas, including field trials of Wi-Fi 6 for operators, enterprises and cities to address the IMT-2020 requirements; end-to-end trials on Wi-Fi’s coexistence, integration and convergence with 5G networks; establishing a stronger foundation for IoT applications for interoperability and roaming based on Wi-Fi capabilities; adoption of Passpoint for interoperability and trials with cities, high density venues and operators.