This blog is the first in a series highlighting how Wi-Fi 6 impacts different industry segments and verticals. First we focus on carriers.

With Wi-Fi 6, the new common name for the IEEE 802.11ax standard, expected later this year, what should operators and network providers expect and how will it impact their technology roadmaps and business? We’re starting to see attention-grabbing headlines like “5G vs Wi-Fi 6”, so operators would be forgiven for not knowing whether Wi-Fi 6 was even a friend or foe. In this article, we aim to lay some of this hyperbole to rest and explain the impact and opportunities Wi-Fi 6 will generate for carriers.

First of all, let’s take a look at what’s new with Wi-Fi 6. It will be faster, with theoretical data speeds of up to 9.6 Gigabits per second. It will have better range and will also include a “beamforming” capability, as with 5G, meaning less “dead zones” in the home or office environment. There will be better battery life for IOT devices connected to it, thanks to a new power-saving feature called Target Wake Time (TWT). Arguably one of the major headline capabilities is OFDMA which enables a router to manage traffic more efficiently by using smaller channel slices allowing more devices to share the same airtime, which means more devices are able to utilize the network and increases capacity by up to 4 times – very useful in many settings from the home to sports arenas. It also increases noise tolerance allowing for a larger coverage area for low bit rate clients such as IoT.

For more information on the benefits and applications of Wi-Fi 6 check out the WBA 802.11ax: Decoded Paper and also the Network Slicing Paper.

And what about the timeline? The IEEE is expected to officially ratify the standard later this year or early next year, though few people expect any major changes by this point, as the standard is already well- baked. This has meant that we have already seen a number of pre-standard Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices come into the market. Wi-Fi 6 compatible routers are already available from the likes of Cisco, Commscope, HPE Aruba and many more. On the device side, the most notable compatible device is the Samsung Galaxy S10. The Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ from Wi-Fi Alliance is expected to be ready in Q4 2019. What is now a trickle will likely become a flood over the coming months.

So isn’t this a threat to operators? To quote the holographic character Alfred Lanning in the 2004 blockbuster “I, Robot”, “you must ask the right questions.” Wi-Fi is the most ubiquitous wireless technology in human history and Wi-Fi 6 is happening, so there is no stopping this particular juggernaut. The better question is “How can carriers harness the technology to further develop their business?”