YOU ARE AT:5GWi-Fi 6: Understanding the consumer and enterprise opportunities

Wi-Fi 6: Understanding the consumer and enterprise opportunities


In a hyper-connected world, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G have a complementary relationship

Ubiquitous access to connectivity has changed the way we all live and work. In tandem with the revolution that encompasses the fifth generation of cellular, Wi-Fi continues to evolve to support not just ever-increasing data demand but also new use cases that require very low latency, higher reliability, world class security, and support for growing device numbers and types. Wi-Fi 6, the latest generation of the massively scaled technology, is poised to play a key role in the consumer and enterprise connectivity trends of the future. 

Carlos Cordeiro, Intel’s Wireless Connectivity Chief Technology Officer, described Wi-Fi 6 as a “revolution compared to any other previous generations.” Benefits for both segments center on the ability of Wi-Fi 6 to deliver increased throughput, improved security, low latency and support for more devices–a key requisite associated with the booming internet of things.

“It will transform the experiences in both homes and enterprises because it’s going to offer much greater scalability in terms of the number of devices,” Cordeiro said. “Wi-Fi 6 also delivers much better reliability with the latest and greatest security. It’s really going to be the technology that will enable the smart home and enterprise, connecting all of your devices whether its laptops, handsets, monitoring systems, or thermostats.” 

Wi-Fi chipset shipments are at an all-time high with 3.1 billion hitting the market in 2018. As Wi-Fi 6, based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard, penetrates the market on both the access point and device side, Wi-Fi is projected to create a worldwide economic value of $3.47 trillion in 2023. To understand the impact connected enterprises can realize through investment in Wi-Fi 6 in this age of digital transformation, let’s explore some of the key enhancements of Wi-Fi 6 as compared to its predecessor Wi-Fi 5, based on the IEEE 802.11ac standard. 

Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM): QAM combines RF wave amplitude and phase to transmit bits per symbol; the higher the QAM, the more spectral efficiency and the more data throughput. Wi-Fi 6 features 1024 QAM compared to 256 QAM with Wi-Fi 5. 

Multi-user multiple-input multiple-output (MU-MIMO): MU-MIMO dedicates multiple channels to multiple devices, something important as the number of Wi-Fi devices skyrockets. Wi-Fi 5 features 4×4 MU-MIMO whereas Wi-Fi 6 has an 8×8 MU-MIMO antenna configuration for simultaneous support of eight distinct spatial streams. 

Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA): OFDMA is a multiple-user advancement of Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM) which divides a signal carrier into multiple sub-carriers to minimize distortion and degradation.

Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3): WPA3 comes in personal and enterprise flavors and features enhancements to authentication measures, cryptography for data security and resiliency. 

Bottomline, the combination of enhanced QAM, MU-MIMO and OFDMA equates to a maximum Wi-Fi 6 data rate of 9.6 Gbps compared to 3.5 Gbps with Wi-Fi 5. “Gigabit Wi-Fi enabled by Wi-Fi 6 opens up new experiences,” Cordeiro said. “Wi-Fi 6 comes to enable this capability for both the home market and the enterprise market. With Wi-Fi 6, you can actually have multiple devices talk at the same time. These new routers, they’re able to manage connected devices in such a way that it reduces latency and increases efficiency.” 

Given it is such a significant upgrade, Wi-Fi 6 will certainly shape the future of Wi-Fi for years to come but it’s also a reality today–it’s supported in flagship Apple and Samsung smartphones, PCs from Dell, HP, Microsoft and Lenovo, and a range of consumer premise equipment like set-top boxes, routers and carrier- and enterprise-grade access points. To get an idea of the impact Wi-Fi 6 is having today, consider how CenturyLink and Intel are collaborating on a Wi-Fi 6 gateway to deliver in-home gigabit connections to customers in 2020. 

Reiterating the need for Wi-Fi to support more connected devices, CenturyLink CTO Andrew Dugan said, “We’ve worked closely with Intel as we developed this dynamic Wi-Fi 6 gateway designed to meet the growing demands for premium home connectivity and provide faster connections with embedded security features to enhance performance and protect customer data.” 

On the enterprise side, Wi-Fi 6 is uniquely positioned to meet the varying connectivity requirements of high-value verticals like manufacturing, oil and gas, public sector and more traditional office environments. On a factory floor, for instance, machines could use Wi-Fi 6 to send telemetry and other data into cloud-based software capable of creating predictive maintenance schedules. Technicians equipped with augmented reality glasses could tap into vast pools of specialized knowledge to maximize productivity. 

And, according to Cordeiro, the emergence of 5G will only further this type of enterprise transformation. “There are a lot of opportunities in those environments,” he said. “In some cases, where you need mission critical capabilities with very low latency and very high reliability and dedicated spectrum is available, then 5G is going to be your technology of choice. But in most cases, there’s really going to be a need for both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G working together. You’re really going to have to marry 5G and Wi-Fi into use cases so enterprises can make the best use of these technologies to address their needs.” 

The Wi-Fi industry is at an inflection point, and Wi-Fi 6 represents a technological evolution meant to serve fast-changing consumer and enterprise segments. “In the U.S. and Europe, recent moves by regulatory bodies to allocate further spectrum in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed services is going to go far in ensuring that we can fully realize the capabilities of Wi-Fi 6. Additional spectrum will reduce congestion, improve performance and allow enterprises to take advantage of the value of Wi-Fi 6.It is going to be an absolute game changer for homes and enterprises who will be able to take advantage of all Wi-Fi 6 can enable,” Cordeiro said. 

Market uptake for Wi-Fi 6 is already strong and will continue to grow as more and more devices hit the market delivering 3-times the speed of Wi-Fi 5 with very low latency, better scalability and improved security.


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