The Beacon

Participating in standards process means influence, and business

Adrian Stephens

This year marks a quarter century of innovation that has taken IEEE 802.11™ Standard and its many incarnations – the standards on which Wi-Fi® is based – from the lab to a nearly ubiquitous global market presence. The occasion is worth remarking upon, and the payoffs worth considering.

It is rare, in my experience, for a standard to so thoroughly insinuate itself into our daily lives, affecting our individual behaviors and reshaping our social fabric. We have come to expect an environment of low-cost or no-cost, always-on connectivity wherever we go, at home, at work, even flying at 35,000 feet.

Wi-Fi connectivity has empowered us as individuals and enterprises and enabled a social network we couldn’t have dreamed of when the IEEE 802.11 development process began 25 years ago. Devices using the standard are so interoperable and ubiquitous that we’re continuously seeing new and creative ways wireless devices connect to the Internet. The process is critical to success, so let’s use this occasion to review how it all works.  

The existence of Wi-Fi Alliance®, for instance, has been critical to the success of the IEEE 802.11 standard. We in the IEEE 802.11 working group often view Wi-Fi Alliance as our market intelligence. When we start a project we will send a formal document to Wi-Fi Alliance, saying “Please tell us what you think are the important usage models for this technology.”  

With the economic benefits in mind, companies with roles across much of the Wi-Fi ecosystem such as semiconductor manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and end product manufacturers send their people to participate in the IEEE standards development process to generate the standards that bring economies of scale and grow markets. The end uses envisioned by these participants help drive new features into a standard, which eventually end up in products, which drive revenue throughout this food-chain, which in turn pays for the people to contribute to the standards process – the classic virtuous cycle.

Open standards

Wi-Fi Alliance’s goals are supported by the deliberate process of open, transparent standards development. IEEE 802 in general, and IEEE 802.11 in particular, are role models for OpenStand principles. Anybody can attend our meetings and their voice will be heard. All of our documentation is in the public domain. (An exception: draft amendments or standards are available as a privilege of membership). Hundreds of people comment in detail on our documents and sometimes we must consider thousands of comments. Any individual comment could point out a fatal bug or contain a gem to significantly improve the standard, so we consider each in detail.

An open process means that participation – and thus influence – is open as well. An industry-recognized standard with general consensus and support is, as we’ve seen with IEEE 802.11, the path to greatest market success. Think of this process in another way: Competition alone means everyone is looking for a bigger slice of the same pie. Collaboration through the standards process makes the pie bigger for everybody.

In fact, today, that cooperative process continues apace on various enhancements to IEEE 802.11. When work on IEEE 802.11’s development began in 1990, the goal was to bring together forward-thinking technology leaders to develop interoperable wireless standards reaching a data rate of over 1 megabit per second (Mb/s). Twenty five years later, the IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN Working Group is crafting a series of IEEE 802.11 enhancements.

These enhancements include:

  • IEEE P802.11ax™, which is an effort to meet challenges posed by dense wireless LAN deployments, including stadiums, shopping malls and other densely populated locales. This evolutionary enhancement aims to provide a more than 10,000-fold increase in data rates over the standard’s humble beginnings.
  • We’re creating a special regional extension for China to meet their regulatory requirements for short-range radio equipment in the 45 GHz and 60 GHz bands.
  • Our “Next Generation Positioning” project will improve the accuracy and capability of location/positioning. This means that IEEE 802.11 now provides a new standardized service – location – in addition to carrying data. This development will enable new Wi-Fi applications and create significant new value propositions.
  • Work on IEEE P802.11ay, also known as “Next-Generation 60 GHz,” seeks to push data rates to as much as 100 gigabits per second, improve spatial re-use and potentially enable back-haul applications.
  • We have another current project directed at the Internet of Things called IEEE P802.11ah, also known as Extended Range, that will, in addition to extending range, address requirements of short message efficiency and low-power devices in the 900 MHz unlicensed band.

Thanks to the IEEE 802.11 working group and Wi-Fi Alliance, innovation on this standard continues. I applaud all parties’ efforts in this amazing success story. Let’s celebrate our achievements even as we continue to work on enhancements. 

Be part of the conversation and share your IEEE 802.11 experience on twitter using #IEEE802.11.

The statements and opinions by each Wi-Fi Alliance member and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions or views of Wi-Fi Alliance or any other member. Wi-Fi Alliance is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by any member in posting to or commenting on this blog. Concerns should be directed to

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Adrian Stephens

Adrian Stephens is a Senior Principal Engineer in Intel's Next Generation & Standards group (part of the Platform Engineering Group) where he is focused on developing IEEE 802.11 standards. Adrian is Chair of IEEE 802.11 and serves as its technical editor. He is a member of IEEE-SA RevCom, AudCom and the Standards Board. He coordinated (internally and externally) Intel's MAC proposal for IEEE 802.11n; and managed an industry group that successfully proposed an initial draft for the IEEE 802.11ac amendment.

Adrian has over 20 years of product development and research experience working for industry and government. Adrian received a B.A. ('77) and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He is a senior member of the IEEE.