Editor's Letter Insights

The Path Forward for Wi-Fi 6

Written by Jeff Child

I’ve talked in this column before about different kinds of industry “standards” and how design-by- committee approaches have their own pluses and minuses. IEEE standards tend to be more rigorous. By definition, a lot of communications kinds of standards need a wide buy-in because they need to interoperate amongst a broad universe of end points and end users.

That said, I’m not so sure that some such protocols needed to take that long to finalize. I can picture myself back in 1997 at my desk when I, and large number of other industry technology journalists were on a press conference call for the announcement of the first version of the 802.11 protocol being released. Mind you this was prior to it being dubbed with the name “Wi-Fi.” I don’t recall a lot of the details of that press conference, but I do remember that there were many questions from by peers about “Why did it take so long?” I know it’s kinda a pointless speculation, but I’ve always wondered if Wi Fi had been developed by another, smaller organization, would we have enjoyed wireless data communications a decade sooner?

Fast forward to 2020, and it’s amazing how Wi-Fi and wireless data communication in general have changed our daily lives. Wireless networking is also critical to the quickly growing IoT phenomenon. Lately all eyes have been on Wi-Fi 6. In 2019, the Wi-Fi Alliance launched its Wi-Fi 6 certification program with certified chipsets now available from Broadcom, Cypress, Intel, Marvell and Qualcomm.

Last month, market research firm ABI Research released a report that identifies what will—and won’t— happen with Wi-Fi 6 in 2020. They forecast that, by the end of 2020, Wi-Fi 6 chipset shipments will more than triple versus 2019 shipments, growing to nearly 383 million units. In its new whitepaper, “54 Technology Trends to Watch in 2020”, ABI Research’s analysts identified 35 trends that will shape the technology market. The report also discusses 19 others that, although attracting huge amounts of speculation and commentary, look less likely to move the needle over the next 12 months.

“In 2020, Wi-Fi 6 will be increasingly adopted across numerous device categories, including smartphones, tablets, PCs, networking products and some premium tier home entertainment devices.” Says Andrew Zignani, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Wireless Connectivity Principal Analyst at ABI Research. Wi-Fi 6 technology was first deployed last year in several high-profile and high-volume smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S10, Note10, iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro series of devices. This was compounded by numerous access points and networking product announcements over the course of the year, alongside some traction in notebook PCs, says ABI.

When the Wi-Fi Alliance launched its Wi-Fi 6 certification program last year, that removed a further barrier to adoption, says ABI. This early client adoption from companies like Samsung and Apple will help incentivize others to adopt the technology, while the companies like MediaTek have also recently unveiled their 5G SoCs with integrated Wi-Fi 6 support, adding to Broadcom and Qualcomm’s mobile Wi-Fi offerings. Meanwhile, ABI says that the next generation of flagship tablets is likely to follow the lead of smartphones, while in higher-end connected home devices, Wi-Fi 6 technology may be used as a differentiator by leading OEMs.

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ABI’s report also talks about what won’t happen with Wi-Fi 6 in 2020. “ABI Research believes that 2021 will see the first real ramp-up of Wi-Fi 6 for IoT applications, as more and more chipset providers begin to provide low-power IoT-centric Wi-Fi 6 SoCs over the course of the next 12 months,” says Zignani. He remarked that as these Wi-Fi 6 IoT chipsets fall in price—and the cost and availability become comparable to 802.11n—the enormous benefits that these solutions can provide versus existing technologies will help scale up Wi-Fi 6 adoption across a number of IoT verticals over the next few years.

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE• FEBRUARY 2020 #355- Get a PDF of the issue


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Editor-in-Chief at Circuit Cellar | Website | + posts

Jeff Child has more than 28 years of experience in the technology magazine business—including editing and writing technical content, and engaging in all aspects of magazine leadership and production. He joined the Circuit Cellar after serving as Editor-in-Chief of COTS Journal for over 10 years. Over his career Jeff held senior editorial positions at several of leading electronic engineering publications, including EE Times and Electronic Design and RTC Magazine. Before entering the world of technology journalism, Jeff worked as a design engineer in the data acquisition market.