Wi-Fi NOW Recap: What Does 2020 Hold for Wi-Fi?

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By Andrew Zignani | 4Q 2019 | IN-5679

The 2019 Wi-Fi NOW International Expo & Conference held in London in November was a timely event that focused on many key trends and challenges that are impacting the future of Wi-Fi. The event also serves as an excellent opportunity to reflect on 2019 and look ahead to some of the major innovations happening in the Wi-Fi industry today and what the Wi-Fi industry needs to do in order to take advantage of the anticipated market growth over the next few years.

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Wi-Fi World Congress 2019


The 2019 Wi-Fi NOW International Expo & Conference held in London in November was a timely event that focused on many key trends and challenges that are impacting the future of Wi-Fi. The event also serves as an excellent opportunity to reflect on 2019 and look ahead to some of the major innovations happening in the Wi-Fi industry today and what the Wi-Fi industry needs to do in order to take advantage of the anticipated market growth over the next few years.

Key Takeways from the Show


6 GHz Wi-Fi: One of the key themes of the conference was the expected imminent arrival of 6 Gigahertz (6 GHz) Wi-Fi and the benefits this technology could bring about. ABI Research believes this has the potential to be truly transformational for Wi-Fi thanks to the higher throughput, additional capacity, greater reliability, lower latency, and better quality of service it could provide, solving many of the key challenges that Wi-Fi is facing today. The following table shows the currently anticipated additional spectrum for the United States and the European Union from an additional channel perspective:

  Anticipated Additional Channel Availability  

6 GHz could enable guaranteed multi-gigabit throughput throughout the whole home by leveraging the band as the backhaul technology for Multiple Access Point (multi-AP) deployments. While it may take some time for 6 GHz clients to arrive, existing Wi-Fi devices could potentially take advantage of a 6 GHz backhaul throughout the home once 6 GHz networking equipment arrives. When providing throughput above 1Gbps, 160 MHz 6 GHz Wi-Fi 6 deployments could offer a much better cost performance ratio than alternatives such as ethernet. This could lead to multi-gigabit throughput coverage throughout the home and better User Experiences (UX) across a wide range of high-performance applications ranging from video streaming to low latency gaming and Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) devices. Networking devices could support a number of band configurations including tri-band 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz. However, much depends on the regulatory landscape around Low Power Indoor (LPI) mode and if Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) schemes are required.

Wi-Fi 6 for IoT: A number of presentations highlighted the opportunities for Wi-Fi 6 within IoT applications, drawing attention to key enhancements such as Target Wake Time (TWT) and Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) that improve power consumption, airtime usage, and coexistence in addition to simplifying client designs and extending range. However, in order for this market to scale, many more Wi-Fi solution providers need to develop more IoT-centric Wi-Fi 6 IoT chipsets to help increase the viability of Wi-Fi 6 for IoT applications. In addition, more education and awareness around Wi-Fi 6 for IoT applications also need to be developed. While there are likely to be some wearables and smart home products supporting the technology 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 System on Chips (SoCs) over the course of the next 12 months.

Industrial Wi-Fi: Some presentations focused on the viability for Wi-Fi for industrial applications. As ABI Research’s recent Application Analysis Report Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for Industrial Applications (AN-5124) highlighted, Wi-Fi will play a key role in enabling a number of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) use cases over the next decade and remain a key networking infrastructure technology and backbone network for a number of industrial use cases and the front-end interface to the enterprise Information Technology (IT) system. In addition, thanks to continued technological enhancements, such as Wi-Fi 6 and 6 GHz, Wi-Fi has the potential to be leveraged within a mixture of battery-sensitive applications, such as condition monitoring sensors and connected tools, alongside applications such as Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Augmented Reality (AR) applications that require greater mobility and lower latency. Wi-Fi will also continue to service traditional industrial wireless use cases, such as industrial 

Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) and computing devices, cable replacement, and bridging devices, as well as inventory scanners and video surveillance equipment, among others. However, the technology also faces a number of challenges, and while consumer and enterprise networking vendors are moving full steam ahead in promoting Wi-Fi 6 APs and devices, industrial markets are never the first to adopt the latest standards. There are still many industrial environments that are leveraging 802.11n, and many industrial wireless solution providers continue to promote this technology, with ruggedized form factors, and sometimes with additional proprietary features that target certain applications, such as AGVs. It is not a simple case that as Wi-Fi 6s has arrived there will prompt be an immediate rush to upgrade the industrial infrastructure. While some industrial wireless solution providers believe this will undoubtedly come in the future, there is a common desire to provide the right solution and not necessarily the newest solution on the market.

Fixed Wireless Access: Several presentations highlighted the opportunity for Wi-Fi within Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) applications, with Wi-Fi solutions being able to offer a much more cost-effective alternative to fiber deployments. These solutions can provide multi-gigabit wireless internet access that is easier and less costly to deploy, scale flexibly and incorporate additional endpoints over time, take advantage of existing street or rural infrastructure, and open up high speed internet access to areas where fiber infrastructure is not possible or simply too costly or complex to implement. 60 GHz 802.11ad and 802.11ay solutions, alongside 5 GHz 802.11 solutions, are leveraged today, with the potential for 6 GHz to be made available in the future. ABI Research expects both of these Wi-Fi technologies will be able to take advantage of growing opportunities in the coming years.

Motion Sensing, AI, and IoT Connectivity: A number of companies demonstrated innovative solutions that leverage inherent technical features of Wi-Fi to support sensing applications throughout the home. Celeno, for example, discussed its Wi-Fi Doppler Imaging technology, which leverages Wi-Fi radios to generate Doppler radar images in order to track the movement and location of people, pets, and objects. This can then be leveraged for safety, security, energy management, healthcare, entertainment analytics, and other value-added services. Likewise, Cognitive demonstrated its Wi-Fi Motion software, which enables APs and clients to become motion sensors through Radio Frequency (RF) signals generated by Wi-Fi devices, enabling elderly wellness monitoring, home monitoring, and home automation applications. Others demonstrated the need for integration with other IoT connectivity technologies, including 802.15.4 and Bluetooth, into APs in order to support more intelligent distributed networking throughout the home.

Challenges and Recommendations for Wi-Fi in 2020


Wi-Fi continues to evolve and the anticipated arrival of 6 GHz in the near future has the potential to make the technology stronger than ever before. However, there is still work to be done to ensure that Wi-Fi vendors can maximize the opportunities throughout 2020 and beyond. ABI Research’s recommendations include the following:

  • Networking product designers should combine the latest Wi-Fi standards with additional features and increasingly leverage multi-AP systems with AI features, smart home platform integration, motion sensing, and IoT connectivity technologies to provide the most compelling performance and value proposition.
  • Solution providers should also prepare for the availability of 6 GHz Wi-Fi and quickly educate the industry about the potential value this can bring about. Given the relatively short anticipated timeframe between spectrum release and devices to market, much work needs to be done to ensure this is not held back.
  • The Wi-Fi industry will also have to think hard about the second wave of Wi-Fi 6 and how to communicate when a device is capable of supporting 6 GHz Wi-Fi versus a dual-band solution.
  • Wi-Fi needs to proactively target markets such as industrial automation where 5G is gaining a foothold.
  • Last-mile infrastructure is a key challenge in enabling Wi-Fi networks to reach promised throughput and capacity. Improvements in connectivity to the home will be essential in allowing Wi-Fi 6 and 6 GHz to reach its full potential. 60 GHz 802.11ad and 802.11ay, and other Wi-Fi based FWA solutions, can play a key role here. 
  • HaLow vendors should heavily promote the potential interference, robustness, scalability, range, and flexibility benefits that their technology can provide versus alternative wireless technologies to help drive success in the next 12-18 months. Much work will need to be done to promote the technology, as industry awareness is still lagging behind the competition
  • The Wi-Fi industry should also not be afraid to show its roadmap earlier. Upcoming Wi-Fi innovations and enhancements are extremely exciting, and with long decision cycles in many IoT deployments for a number of different service types—from high performance mission critical applications to more accurate location services—early awareness and education around Wi-Fi’s key new enhancements, whether that be 6 GHz, next-generation 60 GHz, next-generation positioning, interference free light communications, or others, is critical if they are to gain traction. These technologies are extremely compelling and will allow Wi-Fi to stay relevant well into its 30th anniversary.



Companies Mentioned