Wi-Fi 6 is set to change the future of IoT—Here’s why
July 24, 2020 by Richard Edgar
Wi-Fi® is more than an internet gateway for phones, tablets, and computers. It can be used to connect virtually every item imaginable. And with Wi-Fi 6, the true potential of the IoT can be fully realized.
This article appeared in Electronic Design and has been published here with permission.
Wi-Fi is easily one of the most widespread technologies ever invented, allowing for unprecedented connectivity across a near endless list of devices. With more than 450 million Wi-Fi hotspots expected to be deployed in 2020 and an installed base of more than 13 billion Wi-Fi devices, the technology is a global success story.
Its potential to transform industries is even greater than most realize. Wi-Fi is more than an internet gateway for phones, tablets and computers – it can be used to connect virtually every item imaginable. From household appliances to traffic signals and beyond, Wi-Fi is also building a path to the Internet of Things (IoT), which has evolved to allow for more robust applications. IoT is now capable of monitoring equipment to search for indications of failure. It can analyze the temperature of commercial refrigerators to prevent food from spoiling at restaurants and grocery stores. And it can keep a close eye on carbon-monoxide levels to ensure we aren’t at risk for CO poisoning.
These are all vital features that will shape the future of IoT, with many more benefits sure to follow. For example, HVAC units could be equipped with sensors to alert both commercial and residential users of problems that would otherwise go unnoticed. A good example involves what happens if the air-conditioning unit leaks refrigerant. More often than not, users will be unaware until the HVAC stops blowing cold air.
Similarly, if the pilot light goes out, users may not even know until they need heat. When equipped with the right sensors, these and other issues can be detected as soon as they materialize, paving the way for faster repairs.
This same technology can be applied to virtually any item: water heaters, pipes, gas lines, power lines—you name it and IoT-enabled sensors can be there to sound the alarm when something goes wrong. Most of those sensors will be battery-powered, though, which can be challenging when they’re attached to appliances that last for many years. Users can’t be expected to constantly monitor the battery life of their sensors, so they must be energy-efficient. With Wi-Fi 6 (the new IEEE 802.11ax standard), this is no longer a concern.
Wi-Fi 6 reinforces our belief that the technology is the premier option for IoT connectivity. Featuring data rates up to 10 Gbps with eight antennas, 160-MHz bandwidth, and 1024 QAM, the technology can serve power-hungry devices with large batteries, such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. It’s fast and reliable without draining too much power. But it can also serve reduced spec devices, such as those reaching 230 Mbps with only one antenna, 40 MHz, and 256 QAM. This allows for smaller, lower-powered devices to also enjoy the benefits of Wi-Fi 6.
And by operating at 5 GHz, Wi-Fi 6 avoids the highly congested 2.4 GHz frequency band. It was designed from the ground up to improve data throughput, increase robustness, and reduce power consumption without hindering performance.
Consistent throughput is crucial
A lot of hype has surrounded Basic Service Set (BSS) Coloring, and for good reason. This feature can alleviate the challenge of delivering consistent throughput in areas where there are multiple access points. Once we get back to having conferences, for example, large crowds of people may be trying to access the same network. This is very likely to reduce internet speeds – or worse, prevent users from connecting altogether – as data from different access points overlap, causing contention and interference.
Wi-Fi 6 uses the new BSS Coloring feature to colorize data from each access point, allowing clients to identify which one is transmitting. This results in improved network performance and much happier users.
No need to wake up early
Consumer devices have relied on “standby” and “sleep” functions to reduce battery consumption when not in use, and sensors should be no different. Wi-Fi 6 introduces a new feature called Target Wait Time (TWT) that allows access points to negotiate with attached devices to agree when they should wake up to transmit data.
As a result, devices can sit quietly in a deep sleep for long periods of time, significantly reducing current consumption, which in turn increases battery life. This could extend the battery’s lifespan to multiple years, allowing sensors to collect data in the field for much longer periods.
More features for superior performance
Wi-Fi 6 also comes equipped with orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), which improves performance in high-density environments. It enables bandwidth within channels to be segmented, enabling multiple devices to receive data in the same time frame.
Like other Wi-Fi 6 features, OFDMA reduces power consumption. The benefits here are twofold. With lower power consumption, developers can create smaller sensors with even smaller batteries. Alternatively, they could simply choose to keep the battery as is while benefiting from the reduction in power consumption, improving the sensor’s longevity. As IoT expands and more sensors are deployed (think automotive and other widespread applications), the tech would be impossible to maintain if the batteries needed to be changed every month.
Your future, more connected than ever
These are just some of the reasons why we’re convinced that Wi-Fi 6 will be the future of IoT device connectivity. By improving both energy efficiency and data throughput, it will be imperative to the industry – and a key technology to watch in 2020.
Richard Edgar joined Imagination in 2011 as Director of Communications Technology, responsible for developing the strategy and roadmap for the company’s Ensigma communications IP portfolio. Mr. Edgar previously spent six years at CSR where he drove the development of the company’s Wi-Fi technology for its short-range wireless ICs and was responsible for the development of multiple advanced wireless technologies as part of the CTO’s office.
Before that, Mr Edgar managed 3Com’s enterprise wireless product portfolio, and prior to that was Product Manager for Wi-Fi chipsets at Lucent (later Agere Systems). He was part of the team at Buffalo Technologies that introduced Wi-Fi into Europe in 1998. He is a senior member of the IEEE and has held multiple leadership positions in the development of Wi-Fi Alliance Certification Programs. Mr Edgar holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree from Coventry University, UK.