802.11ax WiFi a counterbalance to 5G?

July 19, 2018
According to GlobalData, just as cellular vendors are working to deliver 5G innovations like multiple antennas and millimeter wave ...

According to GlobalData, just as cellular vendors are working to deliver 5G innovations like multiple antennas and millimeter wave technologies, WiFi is poised for its own 5G-like upgrade with the introduction of the 802.11ax standard expected this year. The research house believes the technology has the potential to deliver 5G-like user experiences at a fraction of the cost and represents a significant selling point for WiFi gear vendors.

Since the first iPhone was introduced in 2007, "carrier WiFi" - adoption of WiFi hotspots by cellular carriers - has taken off. However, WiFi has historically been unreliable, vulnerable from a security perspective, and difficult to integrate with cellular networks. But now, WiFi proponents are close to finalizing a new industry standard that they say will make WiFi more like 5G.

John Byrne, technology analyst at GlobalData, said: "The 802.11ax standard will drive a significant boost in capacity, efficiency and flexibility that should make WiFi align closely with emerging 5G priorities. The ability to support up to 12 simultaneous user streams from a single access point, 8x8 multi-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO), and the use of much larger 80 MHz channels of wireless spectrum represent dramatic upgrades from the current state-of-the-art standard, 802.11ac."

WiFi proponents think they will still have a head start on 5G cellular devices. That may be true, but the purchasing cycles for WiFi access points are quite different than those for handsets; most cellular operators are unlikely to rip and replace 802.11ac devices, but are expected to begin to shift spending on future devices to 802.11ax devices as the cost curve falls through 2022.

"However, once the cost curve comes down, 802.11ax WiFi has the potential to deliver 5G-like user experiences at a fraction of the cost of similar cellular gear," Byrne said. "The ability to deploy WiFi access points at significantly lower cost than 5G small cells offering similar performance characteristics could represent a significant selling point for WiFi gear vendors."

Related research from UK-based analyst group Rethink Technology Research suggests that 802.11ax WiFi could provide a tenfold increase in throughput compared to 802.11ac by 2023. The research house also expects 364 million WiFi homes to have multiple access points (APs) cooperating to create a home WiFi network within the forecast period, with operator controlled WiFi making "huge dents" in the retail WiFi market.

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