Wi-Fi and the love that divides

via Flickr © Electronic_Frontier_Foundation (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Electronic_Frontier_Foundation (CC BY 2.0)

  • WBA wants Wi-Fi integration with 5G
  • But not everyone is keen - some are worried about Wi-Fi being totally absorbed into 5G.
  • Maybe, they say, it will serve the market better by competing with 5G and enabling service-level integration?
  • As it does now

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has announced what it says is the world’s first Wi-Fi 6 Industrial Enterprise and IoT trial as part of its ongoing Wi-Fi 6 programme. Mettis Aerospace, a UK designer and manufacturer of sub-assembled components for the aerospace and defense industry will use Wi-Fi 6 to digitize its production across its 27-acre site with use cases such as augmented reality and real-time equipment monitoring.

The trial is designed to further advance the notion that Wi-Fi 6 could carve out at least a close supporting role with 5G for next generation networks - not just in the home environment but in serious heavy lifting for industrial and commercial applications.

It’s already clear that the ‘smart home’ blueprint has Wi-Fi at its core for the foreseeable future (it’s cheaper than indoor LTE or 5G, is mature, increasingly capable, has a huge base of technical understanding, and it’s cheap. What’s not to like?).

Now Wi-Fi proponents are keen to show that there’s much more to play for and industrial IoT is one of the use cases in their sights.  

The challenges for Wi-Fi 6 during the Mettis Aerospace trial include coping with the large 27 acre site and its potential for industrial radio interference. Plus, the applications will demand a spread of network characteristics: some mission critical requiring prioritisation; some requiring high bandwidth, all needing high security and resilience.

“This first trial will serve as an example to industrial manufacturers around the world who are embracing the move to ‘industry 4.0’ about the capabilities to deliver transformation with Wi-Fi 6,” claims Tiago Rodrigues, General Manager of the WBA.

The trial is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2019 and is being supported by British Telecom, Boingo, Broadcom, BSG Wireless, CableLabs, Cisco, HPE Aruba and Intel.  

However the idea that Wi-Fi needs to snuggle up to telcos and 5G to assure its future is not a settled Wi-Fi industry view.  

While the WBA represents the ‘lets be friends’ wing of the industry other Wi-Fi organisations, such the Wi-Fi Alliance, are also staunch Wi-Fi fans but would like Wi-Fi to prosper and expand under its own steam.

According to Wi-Fi proponent Claus Hetting, CEO & Chairman of Wi-Fi NOW, the WBA is “attempting to position 802.11ax (the latest standard and the underpinning for Wi-Fi 6), as ‘5G-capable’ and the WBA as the organisation that will bring Wi-Fi into some kind of unified AX/5G ecosystem”.

Hetting suspects that the integration effort advanced by the WBA and endorsed by many telcos, is a way to de-fang Wi-Fi’s disruptive potential by subsuming it into 5G. Whatever the exact motives, the WBA is certainly keen on integration and is heavily supported by some large telcos such as AT&T and BT.

BT, for instance, exhibits a long-standing enthusiasm for Wi-Fi, driven perhaps by its period of exile from the mobile industry when it sold its mobile arm to Telefonica. Whether its Wi-Fi love will fade now that it has snagged mobile operator EE is too early to call.

AT&T's also has a major attachment to Wi-Fi as a next gen technology. That love is on display in this TelecomTV video interview, conducted at MWC 19 (Watch - AT&T’s new business wifi solution not just about connectivity.)

In the wake of the Wi-Fi 6 announcements last year some voices in the Wi-Fi camp were confident that it could tackle many of the applications 5G had in its sights and get adopted faster, given 5G’s sluggish roll-out in many countries.

That didn’t go down particularly well amongst some 5G proponents and we now hear less confrontation, more conciliation. “We’re the Wi-Fi industry and we’re here to help,” might be the catchphrase, hence the Wi-Fi trial’s attempt to provide examples of how the two technologies (and the people involved) will be able to coexist and play nicely together.

Last time around (with the introduction of LTE) we had the IEEE pushing a clearly competitive technology in WiMAX. That ended badly - WiMAX became WoahMAX and fingers were burnt.

This time around it’s all about coexistence and perhaps gentle rivalry. At least at first.  And then, if Hetting is right, the trap will be sprung.

It’s going to be interesting.

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