The mobile revolution changing the Wi-Fi® technology adoption cycle
June 24, 2013 by Rolf de Vegt
The way we interact with technology is changing. The mobile market is experiencing incredible growth as it begins to overtake other segments, and mobile data usage is skyrocketing to levels that could exceed the capability of wireless operators—fortunately something Wi-Fi® can help ease. As this surge in mobile continues, the way new Wi-Fi technology is being adopted is changing with it. Network operators and smartphone OEMs are starting to incorporate new technology far earlier than they ever had before. Smartphones are poised to benefit greatly from the latest in Wi-Fi, and they are also set to become one of the main drivers of 802.11ac.
Every three or four years, Wi-Fi experiences a major generational upgrade of its core underlying networking technology. We have seen this during the move from 802.11b to .11g and then on toward .11n, and that process is happening once again with 802.11ac. Thanks to Wi-Fi Alliance®, these generational upgrades have been mostly smooth experiences, even when Wi-Fi certification programs have been rolled out prior to the finalization of the .11 standard, and in part due to maintaining backward compatibility with previous generations.
We have also all seen how the typical adoption cycle has played out for Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Usually retail networking solutions, such as APs, broadband gateways and adapters, are the first to upgrade to the new generation. PCs follow, with enterprise and fixed CE coming next. Mobile handheld devices have historically been among the last to receive the new technology. This is due to the relatively conservative nature of network operators, who play a role in specifying technologies in smartphones, and the more stringent qualification cycles of smartphone OEMs.
However, as the market shifts, so too does the adoption cycle. With some very compelling uses for mobile devices, such as Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Miracast™, and with fierce competition for technology leadership in the smartphone market, this dynamic is changing. We are already seeing smartphones, such as the ZTE Grand Memo, shipping with 802.11ac at the same time, or even ahead of, many other product segments.
With the new Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ ac certification program, Wi-Fi Alliance will play a key role in ensuring the interoperability of mobile devices with APs and other 802.11ac devices. With the mobile segment adopting the latest Wi-Fi technology so much earlier than ever before, they will not be the ones adapting to the ecosystem. Rather, smartphones will be among the forefront of the new generation.
Smartphones have already become the driver of innovation in technology worldwide and Wi-Fi is no exception. Wi-Fi is a clear area where the immense impact of mobile on the high-tech industry can be seen, and mobile’s importance will only grow over time.
Rolf de Vegt
Rolf de Vegt is currently VP of Technical Standards at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. With over 26 years of telecommunication and semiconductor industry experience, he leads technology standards development and integration for the connectivity semiconductor business unit and leads Qualcomm Technologies participation in IEEE802.11 standardization. He is also an active Board Member and Treasurer of the Wi-Fi Alliance and has led marketing task groups for their major MAC/PHY programs such as Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), and Wi-Fi 6, to name a few.