New Delhi: In October 2018, the government freed up more spectrum in the 5GHz band from licensing for WiFi services. They also want the industry to set up 1 million WiFi access points by the end of 2019. Clearly, there is a lot of emphasis on making WiFi as the primary mode of accessing Internet in India. The initiatives couldn’t have come at a better time, as WiFi Alliance, the non-profit global consortium responsible for the development and pushing adoption of WiFi technology, also announced the new WiFi 6 standard early this year. Devices supporting the new standard will start rolling out in a few months time. In a telephonic interaction with Mint, Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of WiFi Alliance, speaks at length on the relevance of WiFi 6 in the IoT era, the impact of freeing up spectrum for WiFi and why the future of WiFi is going to be secure.
WiFi adoption in India has been limited. Also, most public WiFi networks are too slow. Do you see any major change happening in this?
WiFi networks in India are very congested. It is the reason which led the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to update the regulations on 5GHz to allow more spectrum for WiFi use. This means now, Indians have more spectrum available in the 5GHz band than Japan, the US or Europe. And since WiFi 6 supports that spectrum already, it will only improve the experience further. Also, there are several public WiFi projects taking off in India. We do believe that in companies, homes and public environments, there is a growing trend of using WiFi.
In the local market, we also have a number of multinationals that develop WiFi equipment in India. And also there are some Indian companies such as Micromax that are developing WiFi solutions here.
How important is WiFi 6 in the IoT era as the number of connected devices on WiFi networks are set to grow. What kind of experience upgrade can we expect?
We think that’s exactly why we needed WiFi 6, because we are trying to stay ahead of the demand, and be ready for an explosion of devices that need to get connected. Today, the average is 10 devices on a WiFi network. But, you know, with more IoT devices, we are expecting that could quickly turn to hundreds of devices connected on one network. WiFi 6 was built for an era of hundreds of devices, connecting to a single WiFi network, yet allowing every device in the network to achieve peak performance. It’s going to increase the performance or speeds up to four times what you would get with today’s version of WiFi. WiFi 6 also has a mechanism for IoT applications that will allow devices to save battery tremendously.
The WiFi range has always been a bottleneck. Even in a household the network can be patchy. How does WiFi 6 resolve those issues?
WiFi 6 comes with several enhancements to address these issues. The service area (range) will be 50% larger than the current version. Also, devices that are very far from the access point will see much better performance, because there are mechanisms in WiFi 6 that allow the network to allocate resources to them.
The other enhancement is that users can stream videos on multiple screens (devices) simultaneously without any WiFi sinks. WiFi 6 has a multi-user technology Mu-Mimo, which allows the network to serve up all of the devices, potentially at the same time.
There have been new advances in the field of wireless communication. New technologies like Lora, offers wider network coverage and work even outside of the homes. Do you see them replacing WiFi in the future?
Technologies such as Lora operate in different spectrum and are targeting specific applications in IoT. Whereas, WiFi is catering to a range of different applications such as mission critical finance, governance, military applications; video and things that require high capacity and low latency; and IoT. There is going to be a range of different wireless technologies that consumers can pick from. However, WiFi just happens to be more universal and carries majority of the Internet traffic.
It is not just the open WiFi networks that are vulnerable to attacks, there have been instances where cybercriminals have manipulated password-protected networks as well. How has WiFi Alliance geared up for the evolving threat landscape?
At present, we are recommending that networks enable WPA 3, the latest version of WiFi security protocol. If devices incorporate WPA 3 correctly, there’s nothing that consumers need to worry about. The good news is that it is going to be included with every WiFi 6 ready device. In India, in particular, for the local market here we have a lab already. Wipro is one of our partners that we have been working with since the early 2000s. They have been certifying equipment here locally. For public networks, we also have a solution called Enhanced Open, in which even if the network doesn’t have encryption, every link from the endpoint device to access points will still be encrypted. That makes it resistant to snooping or sniffing.