By Claus Hetting, Wi- Fi NOW CEO & Chairman
The year 2020 was pivotal for the Wi-Fi industry – so what can we expect from 2021? The short answer is that if 2020 was the preparation for a paradigm shift in wireless connectivity then 2021 will be the year when it all happens. It’s all about Wi-Fi 6 and particularly about 6E, of course. Here’s our take.
Right now: What we expect will happen at CES
Next week the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is once again happening – in its virtual format, of course – and although it’s a far cry from the hype, glitz, and glamour of Las Vegas, it’s still a preferred occasion for launching a slew of new gadgets including lots of new Wi-Fi gear.
This year we expect the first mainstream consumer and SMB-grade Wi-Fi 6E products to be released (for the US market) and the focus will be on using 6 GHz for mesh backhaul. Add to this that we expect the first 6E-capable phone to be launched – and as previously hinted at, it will likely be from Samsung. Also keep an eye out for announcements from the Wi-Fi Alliance, Intel, Qualcomm, and many others as we cover all the latest Wi-Fi news from CES right here starting late this week.
Big items to watch out for in 6 GHz (Wi-Fi 6E)
This year the adoption of 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi (meaning among the regulators of the world) will truly go global. Probably the biggest regulatory event of the year will be the European Commission’s release of 480 MHz of new 6 GHz spectrum. We expect that this will happen in early Q2, possibly already in April or May – and by the way, also keep an eye out for a major Wi-Fi World Congress event for Europe that we will be conducting within this time frame (will be announced soon).
Meanwhile, exciting things are happening in the South and Central America regions: Brazil is well on track to release the full 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi and we’ll be covering this in detail during our 6 GH Wi-Fi for Brazil Special Event scheduled for February 9-10 – don’t miss it! We also expect the 6 GHz spectrum release to expand into Asia and the Middle East in short order and we hope to bring you more good news – for example from India – during the year.
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In general we expect dozens of countries to join the Wi-Fi 6E revolution in 2021 – and thankfully many of them will release the full 6 GHz to Wi-Fi. During the year we’ll also have much more to say expediting the next steps for releasing the upper 6 GHz band within Europe.
An incredibly important component of the 6 GHz story – and something that has hardly been covered by the tech media at all – is a new class of portable Wi-Fi devices that will emerge under new ‘VLP’ (Very Low Power) rules. Think of VLP Wi-Fi as ‘Bluetooth on steroids’. The FCC has done most of the preparatory work on VLP but the final rules still need to be issued (we’re still wondering why this has not already been done). In Europe, regulation for the VLP device class is already approved and will be included in the EC’s final 6 GHz decision slated for 2Q2021.
Industry megatrends: Enterprization of the home & more
For fairly obvious reasons Wi-Fi in 2021 will be (from the point of view of most of the West) all about the home – specifically about the ‘enterprization of the home’. We’ve already seen chipset leaders seeding the ground for the next generation in home networking with big platform releases in late 2020. A lot of the Wi-Fi technology work going on will be focused on making home Wi-Fi better in every way to accommodate a big hike in traffic and devices.
According to Wi-Fi NOW Partner ASSIA, low-quality Wi-Fi in the home is no longer an option and ISPs everywhere will be required to invest in new solutions. So keep an eye out for lots of new WFH platforms – including this one from ASSIA – as well as plenty of new consumer kit, optimisation solutions (such as this one from our partner Network Smartware), and more.
We’re also super excited about the great progress in 60 GHz enterprise networking – ‘the all-wireless enterprise’ – conducted by our award-winning Wi-Fi NOW partner Airvine and we’re hopeful that 2021 may finally be the year where Wi-Fi HaLow (sub-GHz IoT) shows its potential. Last but not least keep a close eye on (probably) the world’s fastest-growing smart home services company Plume as well as our innovative new service provider Wi-Fi partner Calix.
In the US we expect to see outdoor 6 GHz Wi-Fi to begin to take form through the application of AFC services. The potential for expansion of wireless ISP services with outdoor 6 GHz unlicensed radio is here and it is massive.
Will enterprise and public Wi-Fi bounce back?
As the world – we hope – returns to normality in 2021 expect the world of enterprise and public Wi-Fi to bounce back. With normal living conditions having returned to Asia in large part, we expect at least a regional rebound of these markets driven of course especially by new Wi-Fi 6 and 6E technology upgrades (remember also that South Korea has already released the full 6 GHz to Wi-Fi).
One project that we’re keeping our eyes on is India’s potentially massive ‘PM-WANI’ national public Wi-Fi rollout. Our first Indian Wi-Fi NOW Partner IO Networks by HFCL is already deeply involved in this historic opportunity to get tens or hundreds of millions of Indians connected for the first time. Closer to home we’re keeping an eye on Google’s recently launched Orion WiFi ‘offload’ project for venues – we wish Google a ton of success in finally getting mass market ‘offload’ off the ground.
In general we’re excited about the near-term opportunity to apply Wi-Fi 6 and especially 6E to new use cases within specific verticals, including industrial automation, MDUs, health care, and more. We’re banking on bringing you lots of new thought-leadership insights into this and much more during 2021 – so keep your eyes on Wi-Fi NOW and remember to subscribe to our news service.