Huawei enrolls campuses for WiFi 6 pilots with 5G convergence in mind

Huawei again dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons this week as the FCC plans to officially label the Chinese equipment maker a national security risk at its November 19 meeting. Yet it was an announcement lower down the bill that piqued our interest here at Faultline, with Huawei launching a WiFi 6 pilot trial in Spain specifically with virtual and augmented reality applications in mind.

It’s interesting that while use cases like VR are being peddled by MNOs as guaranteed cash cows on the back of 5G network roll outs, many built by Huawei, that the vendor itself should come out with a research project exploring WiFi 6 use cases in the volatile current climate. Coincidence?

Huawei’s pilot was revealed at the Wireless Global Congress event in Germany this week, held by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), in which the company will carry out a series of WiFi 6 verification tests at Mondragon University in Spain. Trials will include online live broadcasts and remote education using WiFi 6, although the names of third party partner companies in the pilot project, such as the network operator and headset manufacturer, have not been disclosed. All we know is that the WBA will oversee the project.

The technical advancements of the WiFi 6 (802.11ax) standard have been tipped to transform wireless experiences in environments such as stadiums where interference is rife, using techniques including OFDMA and MU-MIMO. University campuses are therefore ideal settings for early WiFi 6 product tests while simultaneously allowing academics and students to explore new educational models.

Mondragon University is deploying Huawei’s AI-powered AirEngine WiFi 6 access points, supporting 2 x 2 MIMO and featuring built-in adaptive array antennas, with dual-band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands promising a rate of up to 1.8 Gbps. AirEngine APs also support cloud management, an important feature of WiFi for managing APs and services to reduce operations and maintenance costs.

Campuses are such a prospective environment for Huawei that the vendor released a dedicated design guide for campus WiFi networks earlier this year – foreseeing a lucrative market as universities in particular initiate major WiFi 6 upgrade projects.

Huawei forecasts enterprise indoor AP shipments to be dominated by WiFi 6 come 2023, accounting for the majority of the estimated $30 million industry, growing from a market value of just over $20 million today. To us this feels a little underestimated, which is not something we envisaged ever saying about a vendor-authored report.

Naturally, there are numerous vested interests for a company like Huawei in highlighting the coexistence of WiFi 6 and 5G. That is why Huawei’s WiFi 6 products support 5G-powered antenna and algorithms to reduce network latency from 30ms to 10ms.

Huawei’s research notes that if 5G technology replaces WiFi, then a package with unlimited traffic must be launched, or risk costs rocketing beyond the current average broadband package. The vendor also criticizes unlimited data packages marketed by mobile operators, describing them as “nonsense” because – as we know – networks automatically switch to 2G once traffic volume exceeds the package volume.

Huawei’s significance in the WiFi 6 story should not be downplayed because of its continued controversy in the cellular scene. In September 2018, Huawei claimed the industry’s first WiFi 6 networks in the ‘Super i-Shanghai’ project, in which more than 240 concurrent users were able to connect to the wireless network, whereas previously connecting more than 60 users to a single AP without causing disruption to the WiFi network was a tough ask, according to Huawei.

Then in 2019, with more customers recognizing and accepting the product, Huawei claimed the rather bold crown of inking more commercial WiFi 6 contracts than any other vendor in the world. The WiFi 6 claims continue, with Huawei saying it contributed more technical proposals to the standard than any other vendor, at 240 papers.

But with its reputation in tatters in Western markets and the FCC reportedly poised to order mobile operators to begin ripping out Huawei and ZTE network equipment, we can see Huawei pursuing a heightened focus on reaping the rewards of WiFi 6.