2020 trends show a serious ‘pivot’ in connectivity testing
RCR Wireless News caught up with test and measurement company Spirent Communications’ head of 5G strategy, Steve Douglas, to discuss some of the connectivity trends that the company saw unfold throughout 2020, as well as what he believes is on the horizon, particularly when it comes to 5G and Wi-Fi.
A serious ‘pivot’ in connectivity testing
Douglas explained that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the company’s customers were focused primarily on testing connectivity solutions for large, public venues like stadiums, but that, seemingly overnight, changed significantly.
“It pivoted really to three key areas,” he provided. “Education, telehealth and then gradually, the one that is really dominating now is the ‘enterprization’ of the home.”
According to Douglas, the enterprization of the home, which has become an industry term, refers to the interest of enterprises to not simply make working from home possible for their employees, but also allow them to access enterprise critical applications that typically can only be accessed in secure workplace environments.
“There is an ambition to get as much of that capability exposed to the home where people can use them in a safe and secure way,” he added. “Even when COVID does go away, I think the work from home environment is here to stay.”
Wi-Fi 6 devices are not keeping up with access points
Spirent saw “an interesting dynamic” play out between Wi-Fi 6 products in which in the access point side of the industry saw a huge increase in testing with the hope of accelerating certification.
“But the devices have been a lot slower,” said Douglas. “I think it’s probably good that the iPhone 12 came out with Wi-Fi 6 on it, but there hasn’t been a large volume of compatible Wi-Fi 6 devices on the market yet.”
He went on to say that this is a “bit of a negative at the moment” and that Spirent would like to see more acceleration when it comes to device that are compatible with the latest version of Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi 6 pulls (slightly) ahead of 5G
As a result of the delay in the 3GPP Release 16 standards, slightly more focus has been placed back on Wi-Fi as the technology that can be more readily tested and deployed.
“in reality, the first release of 5G that is out there in the market, outside of slightly faster speeds, it’s not really the game-changing technology that the marketers would like to talk about,” claimed Douglas. “Really it needs the Release 16 and 17, which are coming.”
“Wi-Fi 6 is here and it’s an easier, faster deployment and you can get immediate benefits,” he added.
Emergence of Wi-Fi 7 discussions
Wi-Fi 6 has been around for just about a year and already Wi-Fi 7 discussions are emerging as a trend, according to Douglass. However, he was careful to point out that Spirent isn’t yet convinced that what is being discussed is truly a new generation of Wi-Fi.
“We’re not convinced it’s definitely Wi-Fi 7,” he said. “It’s probably more iterations of 6 to be honest, but adding greater and greater capabilities.”
He then pointed to what the U.S. has done around Wi-Fi 6E, which refers opening up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi use, as a great example of adding additional capability without developing an entirely new generation of technology.
“The beauty with the U.S. market is that it was pretty much of unused, but in other countries that are looking at it, there is overlap. There is a big concern about how to coexists with cellular being in the same range,” he stated.
As a result, regardless of if the next big thing in Wi-Fi is 7 or some version of 6, Douglass expects automated frequency coordinators to be a central addition.
Douglas explained: “Automated frequency coordinators basically map out of where the different beams of Wi-Fi or cellular are and then just coordinating them and making sure they don’t interfere with each other.”
This type of coordination is similar to how dynamic spectrum sharing allows operators to efficiently and effectively use the same spectrum bands for different radio access technologies, like 4G and 5G.
Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites
The last of the connectivity trends that Douglas discussed it one he said is “happening in the background” of both Wi-Fi and 5G: Low Earth orbit satellites.
“There is a lot of activity at the moment to deploy these satellites to deliver point to point broadband communications and potentially right down to the physical device and not just down to a ground station,” he said.
This technology is still in its infancy and there still remain number of questions around how it will be used and if it will enable 5G or other types of communication connectivity.
But, Douglass thinks it’s something to watch out for and that these satellites have the potential to create interesting opportunities for a number of different industries.
“What is really interesting, though,” he continued, “is that we’re starting to see that it’s not just those big players, like Amazon and Tesla, but there is also a lot of government activity around these types of systems and really about creating in essence a non-terrestrial network.”