By Dennis Jones
Anyone who’s remotely tuned into the wireless industry has heard of 5G, short for the fifth generation of cellular technology. 5G promises to be fast, I mean really fast, like 30 to 50 times faster than 4G. But while 5G may eventually live up to the hype, it’s not deploying any time soon.
At this point, release dates are all a guess. Some say 2021, while major carriers are piloting their 5G solutions in the next few years. The fact is no one knows for sure.
Moreover, the industry scramble to bring 5G to consumers as quickly as possible obscures one crucial fact; to paraphrase Wi-Fi evangelist, Claus Hetting, there’s already a fast, cost-effective, high-performing wireless solution on the market today. It’s Wi-Fi. And recently, Wi-Fi has only gotten better. Here’s how the Wi-Fi industry has changed.
- The advent of Wi-Fi HaLow. Let’s start at the beginning of last year, during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES,) when the Wi-Fi Alliance, the body that standardizes Wi-Fi standards, announced that it had approved its newest Wi-Fi standard, HaLow. Wi-Fi HaLow is a low-powered standard, instrumental for the viability of the IoT (Internet of Things,) because it reduces power consumption. Unsurprisingly, the Wi-Fi Alliance’s announcement was heralded as a game-changer for the IoT, even though HaLow-certified products are only expected to hit the market in 2018.
- The growth of public Wi-Fi. Unlike HaLow, the continued growth of public Wi-Fi hotspots isn’t really taking the industry by surprise. Nevertheless, there have been some important public Wi-Fi announcements recently, the biggest being the proposal European Union Commissioner, Jean-Claude Junker made to offer free Wi-Fi for everyone in the European Union. Yes, that’s some 500 million people on our count. The project, appropriately titled, WIFI4EU (Wi-Fi for Europeans,) will place open Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces, like parks, libraries and other public buildings, across EU member states. Although the European Commission is only funding the project to the tune of 15,000 euros per city, hardly sufficient to guarantee ubiquitous, premium Wi-Fi coverage across the Union, Junker is sending a strong message that the world’s largest trading bloc is serious about its digital innovation agenda, centered around the accessibility of high-quality Wi-Fi.
- Enhancements in inflight Wi-Fi. This story emerged big time in 2015, with Gogo’s announcement that it was rolling out its second-generation technology, Satellite 2Ku, in the winter. If you remember, 2Ku technology promises connection speeds up to 20 time faster than first-generation, air-to-ground technology. Just to cite one example: Southwest Airlines, which manages its own proprietary Wi-Fi system, adopted satellite-based technology years ago. It’s proven so popular that Southwest sent out proposals to in-flight providers to help upgrade its inflight service. Widespread deployments of satellite-based technology will continue apace, throughout this year and onward. The only thing that seems to be holding airlines back is the fact that some carriers are taking older planes out of rotation. Hence, they’re waiting for new planes to enter their fleets so as to forgo the cost of installing satellite-based technology on soon to be retired aircraft. But if recent history has shown us anything, it’s that consumers aren’t picking carriers based on which airline offers inflight Wi-Fi but which airline offers the best Wi-Fi.