Encouragingly for operators wanting to break down broadband bottlenecks in the home, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) – an industry association that promotes Wi-Fi interoperability between operators – flagged what it claimed were successful trials of next-gen Wi-Fi 6 technology in the 6GHz frequency band.
Barely a few months after the next-gen Wi-Fi 6 standard was ratified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which runs Wi-Fi certification programs and works closely with the WBA, US chipmakers Broadcom and Intel showcased Wi-Fi 6E-capable mobile platforms and laptop equipment in what were called "enterprise trials" but with clear potential for smart-home support. (The Wi-Fi Alliance came up with the Wi-Fi 6E moniker for devices that can tap into potentially large swathes of spectrum available in the 6GHz frequency band, so distinguishing it from other Wi-Fi 6 access points.)
According to WBA, Broadcom and Intel – as part of phase one testing – produced the Wi-Fi 6 goods. Speeds of 2 Gbit/s were apparently achieved, as well as a "consistent" 2 millisecond latency. "The trials showed that Wi-Fi 6E meets the needs of both consumer and industrial VR/AR applications," stated the WBA.
The next stage of Wi-Fi 6E trials is slated for the "coming months" and will include subway transportation systems and in-home testing. CableLabs, SK Telecom and Transit Wireless are each on board for phase two.
Get smart with Wi-Fi 6
John Kendall, principal research analyst at Omdia, reckons Wi-Fi 6 should be high on the list of tech priorities for operator keen on making a smart-home play. "The movement to an advanced Wi-Fi specification is taking a different form than in the past, with multiple CPE approaches to manage Wi-Fi around the home," he said in a recent video blog. "The [bandwidth] bottleneck has moved from outside the home to inside the home network." (See MWC2020: WiFi 6.0 and the broadband CPE market.)
Kendall highlighted recent upgrades by cable operators to DOCSIS 3.1, which promises speeds of 1 Gbit/s. This, he said, will need to be matched by Wi-Fi 6. "The advanced throughput will mean nothing unless the traffic can be routed around the home network," said Kendall.
Ecosystem beginning to heat
Broadcom was hopeful that mass-produced Wi-Fi 6E chips was not a distant prospect. The chipset maker recently announced a portfolio of Wi-Fi 6E chips targeted for production later this year. It predicted that as many as 500 million Wi-Fi 6E compatible laptops and mobile devices will be in use within next three years.
There is also industry optimism that regulators will free up 6GHz, which, given the quantities on offer, is less vulnerable to interference than legacy Wi-Fi bands and capable of delivering much faster data throughput. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US is exploring the possibility of releasing a whopping 1200MHz in the 6GHz band for unlicensed use, while UK regulator Ofcom is looking at something similar but not quite as grandiose.
— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Broadband World News