WiFi as of Today
TheÂ number of WiFi devices in the world would be in the range ofÂ 10 â€“ 12Â billionÂ now if we extrapolate the estimation by WiFi Alliance from a couple of years ago . It has taken aÂ couple of decadesÂ to reach this number . These WiFi devices can be classified by various criteria as below:
- SpecificationÂ supported (802.11 b/g/a/ac & ax)
- BandÂ supported (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) and frequencies restricted by various countries
- SizesÂ (Connected Home devices which are tiny to mobile phones to laptops and Access points)
Itâ€™s not clear if there is anÂ estimate of devicesÂ by category for any of the above. However, it helps to keep in mind where the growth would come from. Mobile Phones & Connected Home devices would be the key drivers forÂ WiFi ChipsetÂ market.
The introduction ofÂ 802.11axÂ (calledÂ WiFi 6Â by WiFi alliance) is a step in the right direction to address these market segments.
Wireless LAN Working Group of IEEE (WG802.11), that is working for the definition of theÂ 802.11axÂ specification released a draft version in Feb 2019 (IEEE P802.11AX/D4.0). The final version is to be published in June 2020 .
WiFi Alliance has announced that theÂ certificationÂ program would be ready byÂ 3rd quarter of 2019.Â This looks a little challenging considering the fact that the specification would be ready for approval by Dec 2019. It is possible to infer from these that the early MAJOR 802.11ax deployments would be inÂ Q1 2020.
Motivation for 802.11ax
As pointed above, the market segments where the growth of WiFi devices would be prominent areÂ Mobile Phones & Connected Home DevicesÂ (previously called â€œIoTâ€ devices).
The key feature that is addressing the mobile phone market isÂ OFDMAÂ (DL & UL). This would help APs to handle large number of devices simultaneously, which is the use case of Public WiFi (Ex: high density of users in a stadium or airport with mobile phones, see slide 19 )
OFDMA coupled withÂ TWTÂ (target wake time) would be the driver for implementingÂ 802.11axÂ in connected home devices as these features improve power efficiency.
We would also need to consider theÂ economic incentivesÂ for various manufacturers to move toÂ 802.11ax chipsetsÂ in future.
- Public WiFi operatorsÂ would like to maximise users per AP to drive down their deployment cost. Together with the increased throughput provided by 1024 QAM, the operators have a need to move to 802.11ax and consequently push AP manufacturers.
- Mobile phone manufacturersÂ currently using 802.11ac/n chipset have very little economic reason to move to 802.11ax chipsets other than marketing claims. Since these are WiFi client devices, as backward compatibility is always assured by the specification, the devices would work with 802.11ax APs as good as any 802.11ax client in most scenarios (1024 QAM is probably not going to make that good a case). This would work to disadvantage of Public WiFi operators as the overall bandwidth efficiency gets reduced. It is also not known, if the new power save mechanisms would have a significant impact on battery life of mobile phones.
- Manufacturers ofÂ Connected home devicesÂ that are battery powered may have a sound economic reason to move to 802.11ax chipsets as this would improve battery life. There are some open issues as mentioned in  for evaluation of this feature. If there is a significant order of magnitude improvement in battery life, the new technology would be deployed.
Expected Deployment Timelines
802.11ax / WiFi 6Â is a good step forward for the advancement of WiFi. Everything from PCs/Laptops, and mobile phones to IoT devices in future are likely to be significantly enhanced byÂ next generation WiFiÂ technology. Probably, the initial deployment would be little slow due to the above reasons. It would be interesting to see how the plannedÂ featuresÂ play out inÂ real lifeÂ during this phase.
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