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

It took a few weeks but we eventually managed to nail down some time with WiFi Alliance(WFA)  CEO Edgar Figueroa. Given the current climate, it’s no wonder his schedule is jam-packed. 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), in fact 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 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 ancd 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.”

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.

Another important development for coverage is improving performance at the edge. Funnily enough Figueroa dropped the term into conversation just a few weeks after we covered an IHS report discussing the role of over-the-top video services in being the primary driver behind edge services.

“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).

Wireless Watch’s sister service, Faultline Online Reporter, last spoke to Figueroa at Mobile World Congress in February, just a couple of months before the EasyMesh standard rolled out. Since then, vendors have been embracing EasyMesh and adoption generally looks positive. Figueroa half-admitted that the technology has some catching up to do in terms of matching the performance of a proprietary WiFi mesh architecture like that of AirTies, while reiterating that, fundamentally, the point of EasyMesh is interoperability not competition.

He touched very briefly on Release 2 of EasyMesh, which is due out some time next year, although wasn’t willing to give a timeframe for its release nor any new specifications, citing only that new features are being assessed.

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.