The USA has shown us the way—and the rest of the world is hurrying to catch up. So far, Chile, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and the UK have approved the 6-GHz band for unlicensed use. A large, new frequency block in the 6-GHz band is opening up in May, in Europe, too. As a consequence the license-free Wi-Fi spectrum is doubling more or less overnight. Wi-Fi 6E is the commercial name used by the Wi-Fi Alliance® for 6-GHz Wi-Fi. It promises impressive speed gains, unprecedented stability, and latencies good enough for real-time applications. So what else can we expect of Wi-Fi this year? Here’s an outlook.
Wi-Fi 6 on the up
Let’s start with a retrospect. Barely a year ago, we saw a generational change from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6. While it used to take years for a new standard to become established in the market, late last year Wi-Fi 6 set a blistering pace. According to analysts at IDC, Wi-Fi 6 already generated 39.9 percent of sales in the corporate Wi-Fi market.
In Germany, this was fueled by a EUR 5 billion subsidy in the education sector. The high-density capabilities make Wi-Fi 6 the ideal technology for supplying broadband data rates simultaneously to multiple Wi-Fi devices. We’re speaking of smartphones, tablets & laptops that come into use. Following Germany’s example, other European countries are also investing heavily in school infrastructures. The development is entirely in line with the European Commission’s action plan for digital education. Infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment are a crucial part of the stragetic agenda.
For 2021, we expect to see the trend in Wi-Fi 6 investment to continue unabated. Predictions by the Wi-Fi Alliance® confirm this: Almost two billion Wi-Fi 6 devices are expected to ship by the end of 2021. Estimates of the total economic value of Wi-Fi (according to a study commissioned by the Wi-Fi Alliance®) add up to US$ 3.3 trillion. The COVID-19 crisis has also shown that the increased investments by public-sector clients in public healthcare will continue to play a role.
WPA2 has had its day
Do you remember KRACK? In October 2017 the security vulnerability in what was then the latest Wi-Fi encryption standard, WPA2, caused massive uncertainty. A lot has happened since then: With WPA3, a much more effective encryption mechanism was developed quickly and implemented step-by-step by the Wi-Fi industry. WPA3 has even been mandatory since July last year, at least for all those wanting to receive the “Wi-Fi certified label” of the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Despite this, installations with WPA2 are still around today. And surprisingly, there are still new yet technically outdated devices coming onto the market. The opinion of the Wi-Fi Alliance is that this should end soon. The association’s experts expect WPA3 to become much more widespread this year. It is high time for WPA2 to finally become obsolete.
Wi-Fi management: Two ways to the goal
The picture is a little less clear when it comes to Wi-Fi management. While analysts have long been predicting the predominance of “cloud-managed Wi-Fi” and the end of the controller era, the market remains undecided.
There is no arguing that “cloud-managed Wi-Fi” even now offers a technical advantage in terms of setup and operation. It is the best approach to implement a high degree of automation. “Zero-touch deployment“, modern anomaly detection and self-healing mechanisms are, for example, time and cost saving features. And yet, there is still an equally large fan base that prefers the classic controller-based approach.
At LANCOM we will be sticking to our dual-management strategy for the foreseeable future. That means, when it comes to managing LANCOM WLAN access points, you still have the choice between using either WLAN controllers or the LANCOM Management Cloud. So it’s your choice which path you take, and when the right time has come to switch to the cloud.
Overall, we expect even more dynamism to come to Wi-Fi. As regulators are “donating” 500 MHz of spectrum in the European 6-GHz band (which others are also keen to use) precisely because they acknowledge the immense importance of Wi-Fi. In terms of business, digitalization and the so-called “gigabit society”, Wi-Fi has become indispensable. Also, the industry firmly believes in the long-term coexistence of mobile communications (5G) and Wi-Fi. Ultimately, initiatives such as “Passpoint” and “Open Roaming” aim to make the alternate use of both technologies easier and more secure.
Here, too, a lot will be happening in 2021.