WiFi 6 may gain value for Huawei in markets where it is excluded from 5G

Huawei has announced a WiFi 6 trial in Spain with virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR) applications in mind. While AR/VR use cases are being touted by MNOs as key revenue streams for 5G networks, WiFi 6 has many of the same capabilities. In regions where Huawei may be restricted from selling 5G equipment to MNOs, WiFi 6 could be attractive to the Chinese vendor, as something to offer to alternative service providers without licensed spectrum, and possibly without the same limitations on their choice of vendor.

Even before the escalation of political tensions and US sanctions which have cast a shadow over Huawei’s 5G business in some countries, the company was a major investor in WiFi 6 platforms and trials, especially in stadium environments.

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 access point without causing disruption to the WiFi network.

Then in 2019, the vendor claimed to have signed more commercial WiFi 6 contracts than any other vendor in the world; and it also claims to have contributed more technical proposals to the standard than any other company, at 240 papers.

This latest pilot was revealed at the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s (WBA’s) Wireless Global Congress event in Germany last week. Huawei 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 advances in 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 Multiuser-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 1.8Gbps. 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 key 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 $30m industry, growing from a market value of just over $20m today.

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 antennas and algorithms to reduce network latency from 30ms to 10ms.

Huawei’s report 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 criticized unlimited data packages marketed by mobile operators, describing them as “nonsense” because networks automatically switch to 2G once traffic volume exceeds the package volume.