WiFi Alliance content on being 5G buddy – safe or sluggish?

It took a few weeks but Faultline Online Reporter eventually managed to nail down some time with WiFi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa and 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 like some top figures have recently suggested, namely the CTO at UK regulator Ofcom, and the increasing hype is driving the exact innovation the WiFi Alliance was craving during our last conversation 9 months ago.

“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 off a number of figures including some 85% of all mobile traffic in Japan is delivered over WiFi.

5G may be stealing headlines but 802.11ax (now going by the name WiFi 6 following the Alliance’s recently introduced nomenclature) 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 a lot of high expectations for WiFi 6 and clearly there is demand for the next generation standard, particularly when looking at the chipset perspective 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 enables a device to quickly determine 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 OTT 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 is one in particular benefiting 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).

Faultline Online Reporter and Figueroa last spoke at Mobile World Congress just a couple of months before the EasyMesh standard rolled out in the middle of this year. 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 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 sometime next year, although wasn’t willing to give a ballpark 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.

Giving Figueroa the opportunity to defend the WiFi corner, we mentioned the comments made by the CTO of UK telecoms regulator Ofcom last week, speaking at Wireless Global Congress last week. Unfortunately, the reported rant didn’t make it to Figueroa’s inbox, and for anyone else who missed out, the gist of his comments was that 5G is universally superior to WiFi and will eventually usurp it. Mansoor Hanif, one of the key figures behind BT’s 4G launch, estimates a 5G launch in the UK around September next year.

“My feeling is they haven’t accelerated. They were faster but now they are stagnating a bit and 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,” he said, clearly caught on a bad day.