A Q&A with Wi-Fi expert Claus Hetting
RCR Wireless News recently discussed the evolution of Wi-Fi with Claus Hetting, CEO and chairman of Wi-Fi Now, a firm that evangelizes all things Wi-Fi, as well as provides consulting services, trend analysis and conference programming.
The telecoms industry is currently in a hype cycle related to 5G but, at the same time, Wi-Fi is still developing at a rapid clip and remains the de facto connectivity for enterprise and consumer users around the world. The IEEE 802.11ax standard for next generation Wi-Fi is currently available in commercial products and features enhancements geared toward dense usage models and represents an approximately 4x capacity improvement over its predecessor based on 8×8 multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO), OFDM to support multiple users with varying needs and uplink resource scheduling.
Q: Can you provide a status update and roadmap, both technology and use case-based, related to the 802.11ax standard?
A: 802.11ax ‘plugfests’ [are] already underway, and all the major chipset vendors already have both device- and client-side chipsets available. The final draft 802.11ax specification is expected to be approved this summer, and—but this is guess—we will see the 802.11ax certification program by Wi-Fi Alliance happen some time next year. So 802.11ax is on schedule. I believe ax will first be introduced in CPEs and consumer APs then move on to enterprise, although a couple of vender[s] (Aerohive and Huawei) have already announced ax enterprise products. Ax is a complete revamp of Wi-Fi technology. Perhaps the most important piece is OFDM, meaning high-density use cases will be vastly improved, first in the home and later in the enterprise. But also [I[ know that 802.11ax also will vastly improve the range of Wi-Fi, which will be of huge importance to IoT use cases and municipal deployments, for example.
Q: As 5G is commercialized this year, particularly around a fixed wireless access use case, what’s the relationship long-term as Wi-Fi continues to see capability enhancements?
A: I think Wi-Fi is an obvious and real competitor to so-called 5G FWA. In fact, I don’t see why FWA needs 5G at all. There’s no mobility requirement for FWA, so 5G seems overkill to me. Boston ISP Starry is using clocked-up 802.11ac at 37 GHz as an excellent example of what Wi-Fi can do at a fraction of the cost of anything 5G.
Q: From an end-user perspective, both consumer and enterprise, Wi-Fi is affordable, ubiquitous in devices, and easy to use, set up and manage. As 5G continues to develop, is there any real or perceived impact to Wi-Fi?
A: I frankly don’t think that 5G is a threat to Wi-Fi at all. In fact, on the contrary. A recent study commissioned by WiFi Forward has concluded that Wi-Fi is offloading data from 4G to the tune of $25 billion USD. The study estimates that in the case of 5G, Wi-Fi will offload more than $80 billion USD worth of traffic from 5G. So 5G desperately will need Wi-Fi even more than 4G does. Also, Wi-Fi is deeply entrenched in any indoor location while 5G —as far as I know—is not addressing this segment at all. And 80% of traffic is generated indoor. So in short: I don’t think the Wi-Fi industry has anything to worry about with respect to 5G.
Q: To some degree 5G is billed as a network of networks that combines different access technologies. Does this paradigm portend that Wi-Fi will continue to get closer to cellular?
A: Well, it might be touted like that, but I see no evidence of any movement towards that anywhere. Where are the network-of-networks standards or activities? I’ve not heard of any on the Wi-Fi side. That said, Wi-Fi technology is on its own getting closer to cellular with the advent of mobility enhancements (band steering, handoffs, etc.) and now also OFDM in 802.11ax. But this has nothing to do with 5G.
Q: What does that mean for the user?
A: I think we will see 4G/Wi-Fi convergence on the device side—meaning through bandwidth aggregation, Multipath TCP, etc…This has already been set in motion by Apple, Android, etc…Once this is done, extending this to 5G is fairly simple. This means that eventually the user will experience a seamless service fabric using Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, 5G—even CBRS if that happens—meaning gapless services, etc…
Q: For enterprises, will cellular security measures at some point force a choice between cellular and Wi-Fi?
A: Absolutely not. For enterprises, there is no choice between cellular and Wi-Fi—there is only Wi-Fi. There exist no meaningful cellular solution for enterprises at all from what I can see.
Q: Do you have any long term predictions regarding how you perceive the relationship between Wi-Fi and cellular, both based on technology and use cases, developing as 5G becomes commercialized and gets built-out in develop markets and Wi-Fi continues to see enhancements?
A: I think Wi-Fi will continue to grow pretty much regardless of how 5G turns out. Right now, we have major Wi-Fi AP providers growing by double-digits per year, such as Lancom Systems, the big German AP provider. Ruckus also just posted a record quarter, and so on. We will see more activity and application of Wi-Fi the IoT space especially for the home but also for industry as ax begins to take hold. As far as 5G is concerned, I’m not an optimist. I see 5G as an incremental improvement over 4G—or perhaps up to 25% better speeds, performance—but it will do nothing to address real pain points and it will struggle with indoor coverage even more than 4G does today. It may save carriers a bit because of efficiency improvements, but otherwise won’t do much.
There really isn’t any effort to somehow bring Wi-FI and 5G together (outside of the device-centric approach above)—at least not to my knowledge. In reality, the 5G community may want to do something to incorporate ‘other RAT’ but this is hardly any priority for them. They have a very, very long list of task[s] they need to deal with inside their own technology first. The truth is that anything 5G will need Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi doesn’t need 5G at all.
To learn more about the relationship between 5G and Wi-Fi, check out our upcoming webinar on the topic.