Wi-Fi at 20: More Indispensable Than Ever
In the 20 years since the first laptops with built-in Wi-Fi were introduced, the idea of totally wireless but completely connected personal devices has become commonplace. Today, many laptops don’t even have wired networking ports. Most IoT devices use Wi-Fi to communicate. Every smartphone has a Wi-Fi radio.
Wi-Fi is so pervasive that by 2022, there will be 8 billion personal mobile devices, just about 1 per every human on the planet. Some reports say there will be 50 billion IoT devices on top of that. Our data shows that over half of all data traffic will reach its endpoint over a Wi-Fi connection and that there will be more than half a billion Wi-Fi access points for these devices to connect to.
All these new devices and all the data flowing to them would strain the current network, to put it mildly. We need new wireless network technologies to keep up.
Fortunately, the network is keeping up. Both local (Wi-Fi) and mobile (cellular) standards and infrastructures are advancing rapidly.
For those of us in I.T., the first big network improvement we’ll be able to roll out to our users will be Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax). It will appear this year in new mobile devices and access points – and not a moment too soon, given the growth in connected devices.
Good for Network Managers
Wi-Fi 6 offers better performance, better reliability, more density, and better battery life.
A single access point can support about four times more connected devices at once. That means it’ll be easier to set up infrastructure for locations with a rich fabric of POS devices, robots, healthcare equipment, security devices, and so on – to say nothing of the increasing expectation that humans have regarding indoor wireless access.
New Wi-Fi 6 radios rely on scheduled transmission versus current Wi-Fi, which is best-effort. This means the radios don’t have to be on all the time, which gives a dramatic improvement in mobile battery life.
As Wi-Fi 6 takes off for indoor and nomadic users and devices, cellular carriers will start rollouts of the new 5G mobile infrastructure, which will ultimately bring extremely high-performance pervasive networking to users and things.
These two technologies are highly complementary. In fact, they share some fundamental technologies, such as the way they encode data onto radio waves, and how devices determine moment-by-moment when they can send and receive (and when they can power down to save battery life).
As users move between the indoor work state (where they can sit and perform bandwidth-intensive tasks, like editing large media files) and the mobile state (where they demand pervasive connectivity, such as when participating in a conference call from a bus or train), they naturally move between these two networks.
Better Onboarding, Performance, and Analytics
In the Wi-Fi realm, we will be making it much easier for users to get online and have a positive experience. Our goal is to give people a zero-touch way to connect to reliable Wi-Fi networks, so they don’t have to type in a password every time they find themselves in a new location.
And we’re optimizing user experience with ecosystem partners like Apple and Samsung. For example, Fast Lane will allow mission critical enterprise applications to get higher priority on the network, and with new analytics we can troubleshoot and monitor end points with simplicity and ease.
With Samsung, we’ve already tested and tweaked our upcoming Wi-Fi 6 access points against their new Wi-Fi 6 smartphones.
Wi-Fi will remain critical to business operations, and in fact companies’ existing wireless networks can help organizations on their move to digitizing their locations. I wrote about this important trend recently: See, Act, and Extend the Physical World with Cisco DNA Spaces.
The next few years are going to be incredibly interesting and exciting for IT managers. We will all be able to offer our users more capable wireless systems, and we’ll be using those same systems to advance the digitization of our spaces. At Cisco, we’ll be with you along the way, helping you get the most out of these opportunities.
This post is based on my talk at Cisco Live Melbourne 2019.