WiFi Alliance claims 5G role for 11ax, brushing off Ofcom’s attack

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There is a real sense of excitement about the role WiFi will play in the 5G era. Rather than becoming a dusty old delivery mechanism, as some top figures have recently suggested (namely the CTO at UK regulator Ofcom), WiFi expects to play a complementary role in 5G, to an even greater extent than it has in the later days of 4G. That was the theme of the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s (WBA’s) recent conference in London, and it is echoed by the WFA.

“We are happy to be play a complimentary role to 5G, but still WiFi will be an essential technology in the 5G era,” noted WiFi Alliance(WFA) CEO Edgar Figueroa who then listed a number of statistics – such as, some 85% of all mobile traffic in Japan is delivered over WiFi.

Mansoor Hanif, CTO of UK regulator Ofcom – speaking at the WBA’s recent Wireless Global Congress – was less upbeat about WiFi’s role in 5G. He said: “My feeling is they haven’t accelerated. They were faster but now they are stagnating a bit and ax is taking a bit too long to get out there. It was true that owners of venues wanted WiFi and didn’t always like to work with operators, but that is eroding. There is a danger that cellular dominance moves from outdoor to indoor and encroaches on WiFi strengths.”

High hopes for WiFi 6:

In fact, 5G may be stealing headlines but upcoming standard 802.11ax (now going by the name WiFi 6 following the Alliance’s recently introduced new naming scheme) is staking a claim for itself, interestingly borrowing a number of techniques from cellular. “WiFi and cellular have always been playing off each other and the two industries innovating independently in parallel is good news for everyone,” said Figueroa.

There are many high expectations for WiFi 6 and clearly there is demand for the next generation standard, as seen in the chipset sector, with Quantenna filing record revenues and shouting about WiFi 6 from the rooftops.

Figueroa referenced a number of new mechanisms implemented in WiFi 6 for the first time which essentially represent better recognition of the unlicensed nature of the spectrum and resultant interruptions. The WiFi Alliance has dropped in scheduling and additional coexistence techniques such as coloring, which enable a device to determine quickly whether an ongoing transmission belongs on its network. This is one technique used in spatial reuse, allowing devices, under certain circumstances, to be more aggressive in accessing the medium during the time that devices in other networks are transmitting.

“The 802.11ax standard includes a broad range of PHY layer and MAC layer features for efficiently handling demanding applications in dense network environments, even on the network’s edge,” notes a recent WiFi Alliance whitepaper.

Concerning features in WiFi 6, uplink OFDMA particularly benefits performance at the network edge, as does transmit beamforming and the per-link enhancements brought by 1024 QAM, plus increased symbol time, varied guard interval combinations, and multi-TID AMPDU (traveling ionospheric disturbances aggregated MAC protocol data unit).

Easymesh has some catching up to do in terms of matching the performance of a proprietary WiFi mesh architecture like that of AirTies or Plume, while fundamentally, the point of EasyMesh is interoperability not competition.

Release 2 of EasyMesh, is due out some time next year, while EasyMesh got an extra boost at the end of October with plans for two open groups, the prpl Foundation and Broadband Forum, to build an open platform for the WiFi Alliance’s multi-AP specification, the basis of EasyMesh.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.

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