Wi-Fi users are demanding more efficient, reliable, and secure connectivity in 2022. The reason: Internet of Things (IoT) environments, including homes with dozens or more connected devices and industrial settings, continue to drive demand for high capacity, low latency Wi-Fi. This is pushing the Wi-Fi community to adopt new features and add capabilities to their solutions.
The ability to add features and capabilities is partly due to the way the standard was both developed and used to create products. In particular, the underlying standard for Wi-Fi is the 802.11 standard within the IEEE. Not everything in the standard makes its way into Wi-Fi products. And the standard is not the only place where Wi-Fi technologies get defined.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group that has been around for more than 20 years, helps get new features and capabilities into the market with the assurance that different devices from different vendors interoperate. "One of the most important things we do is we administer a program called Wi-Fi CERTIFIED, which you're probably familiar with; the black and white yin yang logo," says Kevin Robinson, SVP of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance. "That is the certification program that ensures that Wi-Fi products work well together regardless of vendor. It's the reason you can go get the latest iPhone, and it's going to work with a Cisco access point at work, or a Netgear access point in your home, or buy a car that has Wi-Fi, and it's going to connect to your home."
The Wi-Fi Alliance has many specifications and standards that have been developed within the organization. Take Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint. Once a user accesses a Wi-Fi network, a Passpoint-enabled client device will automatically connect upon subsequent visits. This eliminates the need for users to search for and choose a network, request Wi-Fi access, and re-enter authentication credentials each time they visit. That technology was defined within the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Accommodating the explosive growth in IoT
Wi-Fi has long been the technology of choice for home and industrial IoT. For example, virtually every device in homes, including thermostats, door locks, security cameras, smart appliances, and more, connect over Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi 6 includes features such as orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) that can improve performance in dense environments. That capability allows devices to divvy up the spectrum. One thing that this can do is allow smaller packets through simultaneously with the larger packets that might be used for streaming of video. It offers a much more deterministic, consistent experience on a network. "Because of the efficiencies, all devices can perform and meet their desired use cases without having a negative impact on the overall network," says Robinson. "Everything plays well together."
Another feature supported is target wake time (TWT), which allows devices to determine when and how frequently they wake up to send or receive data. This allows access points to effectively increase device sleep time, leading to significantly reduced battery consumption and longer battery life. Such a feature is particularly important for IoT and smart devices deployed in the field and left on their own.
The Wi-Fi Alliance recently introduced Wi-Fi CERTIFIED HaLow, which delivers long-range, low-power Wi-Fi. Devices that meet this certification specification enable a variety of new, power-efficient use cases for residential IoT and industrial IoT environments, as well as retail, agriculture, healthcare, smart home, and smart city markets.
"HaLow offers speed, power, distance, penetration, and security benefits over other technologies," says Robison. "You can have higher throughput with lower power and performance at range." Wi-Fi HaLow supports connectivity at a long range of up to a kilometer. An example of where such capabilities come into play is a security camera at the edge of a yard or border of a factory. Wi-Fi HaLow can support this scenario, whereas many other IoT technologies cannot. They don't have the performance capabilities, according to Robinson.
Addressing the network impact of emerging use cases
There are new strains on networks and their administrators as the number of new Wi-Fi-connected devices multiples and more users rely on video conferencing, voice-over-IP services, augmented and virtual reality applications, and high-definition streaming at home and in the enterprise.
Wi-Fi CERTIFIED network optimization technologies try to address these issues. Some of these certifications include:
Other optimizations try to address the management burden when many devices are added or used on a home or corporate network. An example is Wi-Fi CERTIFIED EasyMesh, which enables more secure, smart, and efficient Wi-Fi home networks.
Another such optimization is Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Easy Connect, which introduces standardized mechanisms to simplify the provisioning and configuration of Wi-Fi devices. It enables the scanning of the product quick response (QR) code, NFC tag, or downloading device information from the cloud to enable zero-touch connection to a Wi-Fi network. Some of the enterprise benefits of using devices that are Easy Connect-certified include:
- Allows the replacement of APs without the need to re-enroll all devices to the new AP
- Allows multiple devices to be simultaneously configured prior to deployment on a Wi-Fi network using presence announcement
- Supports enterprise provisioning, making use of WPA3-Enterprise security.
A final word
Wi-Fi 6, which isbased on the IEEE 802.11ax standard, provides the capacity, efficiency, coverage, and performance required by users today in the most demanding Wi-Fi environments. Its benefits over previous generations of Wi-Fi include higher data rates, increased capacity, better performance in environments with many connected devices, and improved power efficiency.
Many of these capabilities and features will be in growing demand this year and beyond as more and more smart devices are used in the home, in corporations, and in industrial settings.