If you design wireless networks, or are involved in the infrastructure behind them, here are some important trends to watch for in 2019.
The latest proposed Wi-Fi standard amendment, IEEE 802.11ax, has the goal of improving the average throughput per user by a factor of at least four in dense user environments. Ratification of 802.11ax is anticipated by IEEE in December 2019, but the standard is largely finalized, so leading Wi-Fi vendors will be shipping “pre-standard” devices in 2019.
802.11ax supports multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) technology, meaning that a given access point can handle traffic from up to eight users at the same time and at the same speed. Previous-generation APs divided their attention and bandwidth among simultaneous users.
2. Wi-Fi 6
To simplify product recognition, the Wi-Fi Alliance (the body which certifies Wi-Fi device interoperability), will be calling 802.11ax products “Wi-Fi 6”. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance “Wi-Fi 6 will provide the capacity, coverage, and performance required by users—even in dense environments such as stadiums and other public venues. Wi-Fi 6 networks enable lower battery consumption in Wi-Fi 6 devices, making it a solid choice for any environment, including smart home and IoT uses.” The WFA certification program for Wi-Fi 6 is expected in fall of 2019.
3. 5G will not replace Wi-Fi
In the U.S., both AT&T and Verizon have announced the availability of 5G cellular service in select cities. However, there are no 5G mobile client devices on the market. Access to the AT&T and Verizon 5G network is through a local gateway or “hotspot” which converts the carriers’ 5G service (24GHz for AT&T, 28, and 39GHz for Verizon, according to the companies’ websites, respectively) into a standard Wi-Fi signal for use by any Wi-Fi enabled device. 5G will not replace Wi-Fi; in fact, the cellular service providers are more dependent than ever on Wi-Fi to provide their services in all locations.
4. Mobile traffic growing by factor of 7X
According to the 2017 Cisco Visual Networking index (VNI) mobile data traffic will grow a stunning 7-fold from 2017 to 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 46%. Wi-Fi will grow to account for 51%, fixed wired 29%, and cellular 20%, of all Internet traffic in 2022.
5. Video trend
Recent wireless standard amendments IEEE 802.11ac, 802.11ad, and now 802.11ax, are capable of providing the bandwidths typically associated with cabled devices, including high definition video. The demand for mobile video is high and will be higher. In 2018, websites served to mobile devices accounted for more than half the web traffic for the first time. Video is an enormous component of mobile traffic.
6. Wi-Fi networks built for mission-critical voice, IoT, and outdoor coverage
In addition to conventional mobile data applications, Wi-Fi is being used for voice applications. According to the Cisco VNI, Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) will grow from 16% of calls to 53% of calls in 2020. Supporting voice requires a very reliable wireless infrastructure, with a higher signal to noise ratio (meaning more access points) than a standard data network. Likewise, business critical Internet of Things (IoT) devices require robust, ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage. For both voice and IoT, it will be desirable to expand the Wi-Fi network to cover outdoor areas. Wireless network designers will be looking to improve the integrity of their wireless infrastructure indoors and outdoors by securing or locking wireless access points.
7. Wi-Fi Hotspots and Cellular Handoff
One of the main solutions to satisfy the increasing demand for mobile bandwidth has been to leverage Wi-Fi networks, which enables cellular operators to scale capacity to meet their subscribers’ needs. According to the Cisco VNI report, globally, there will be nearly 549 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2022, up from 124 million hotspots in 2017, a fourfold increase. Western Europe had the highest number of hotspots, with 48 percent of the world’s Wi-Fi hotspots in 2017. By 2022, Asia Pacific will have the highest percentage at 47 percent.
In Europe, the WiFi4EU initiative promotes free access to Wi-Fi connectivity for citizens in public spaces including parks, squares, public buildings, libraries, hospitals, and museums throughout Europe.
With the expansion of enterprise, SMB, residential, and public hotspot Wi-Fi, mobile system offload will become common. (“Offload” is when a mobile device automatically connects to the local Wi-Fi network, versus the macro cellular network, thereby “offloading” traffic from the cellular network to a local area network). In Cisco’s VNI report, growth in offload traffic to the Wi-Fi network is expected to grow with a 53% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) over 5 years. This will require a ubiquitous, high density Wi-Fi network, and supporting infrastructure.
With more secure public Wi-Fi hotspots available, expect to see mobile services such Google-FI become common. Such services will use a combination of the cellular infrastructure and prevailing Wi-Fi networks.
8. Location service
Leading AP vendors are offering client location capabilities, such as Real Time Location Service (RTLS) with their solutions. This can be done with the Wi-Fi signal, a Blue tooth Low Energy signal (BLE), or other technology. Location capabilities provided through the Wi-Fi infrastructure will provide for some useful services especially in healthcare and retail verticals, but the Wi-Fi designer will be further challenged by higher AP density requirements, and very precise location and orientation requirements for APs
9. Cabling for Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax)
The mobile network will only be as good as the cabling supporting it. TIA guideline TSB-162-A recommends cabling to access point with at least one cat 6A cable. Many designers recommend two cat 6A cables to take advantage of the two Ethernet jacks provide on many port sharing high-end access points. Cabling considerations will include provision of Power over ethernet (PoE), direct attach to AP versus traditional structured cabling, Passive Optical Network (PON) infrastructure versus all copper, and outdoor cabling.
10. Integrating Wi-Fi Access Points everywhere
Wi-Fi access points will become integrated into virtually every building and venue, indoors and outdoors. By its’ very nature, the Access Point, in order to provide optimum wireless coverage, must be “visible”. The number of antennas permitted by 802.11ax is doubled to eight. Because antenna size and spacing is defined by physics, 802.11ax access points will be larger than existing APs, if all eight antenna channels are to be engaged. Wireless designers will be searching for means to aesthetically integrate these larger APs throughout digital buildings while simultaneously securing the access point, enabling optimum wireless coverage, and providing for future technology upgrades and maintenance.
Wireless designers are also expanding their premise Wi-Fi networks outside of their facilities. It has become an expectation to have so called “street level” Wi-Fi available in parks, outside of buildings, retail spaces, parking lots, and sports and entertainment venues. These, too, must be integrated into the environment in an aesthetically acceptable manner.