The WBA Wireless Global Congress: Synthesis and Summary
This summer the WBA Wireless Global Congress was held virtually. I attended each session. The following post synthesizes some key ideas from the sessions. It is not exhaustive. A full list of presentations and a link to downloads is provided at the end of this post for those who want to explore sessions or ideas in more depth.
WBA Wireless Global Congress: An introduction
Wireless technology, as pervasive and seemingly omnipresent as it appears, remains immature. Several major use cases remain struggles for even the biggest names associated with Wi-Fi. Over the summer I spend several mornings with the Wireless Broadband Alliance sitting through presentations on technology challenges, and technology solutions. This post will focus on the challenges facing the market, and key investments being made in smart homes, hospitality, multi-family dwellings, and connected vehicle.
Major factors influencing change
Several issues and market desires converge to drive initiatives like those run by the WBA and the Wi-Fi Alliance. These include:
Hot spot growth
Convergence & Spectrum
Home Automation, The Internet of Things
Emerging technology, including new forms of video streaming, cryptocurrency, and telemedicine.
No technology report would be complete without recognizing the impact of COVID-19 and the realignments of the workforce, including where, when, and how people work. With somewhere around 30% of people working from home, personal Internet connections rise in importance. But the issue isn’t just connecting to work. E-commerce emerged as the lifeline for many, driven by connectivity. On the downside of an already dire situation, COVID-19-driven digital footprints spawned opportunistic criminal activity focused on fraud and identity theft.
The fundamental questions at the heart of today’s wireless user experience prove pretty simple.
How can I be sure my Wi-Fi is secure?
How easily connect to Wi-Fi?
How do I make sure my Wi-Fi quality is good enough?
How good is our coverage? How do we know there is enough capacity for our use case?
Each question applies as much to business as to consumers.
Maravedis shared the results of a connectivity service call study that reinforced the four fundamental questions, including items like slow Wi-Fi, connectivity, forgotten passwords, and unstable connections.
The tiny annoyances that most of us face day-today manifest across the entire spectrum of wireless use. Even within the home, AirTies reported that only 55% of homes report sufficient coverage with a basic gateway. The remainder require 1-3 mesh extenders for complete coverage, with the majority (37%) requiring only one.
Network software developers and hardware manufacturers are certainly aimed at loyalty, customer satisfaction, and customer safety, but they are also thinking about their monetization models, including how to increase their value through data and analytics that will lead to a better understanding of customers, as well as offer insights for public sector planning and management, and improved engagement from more targeted, opt-in options for advertisements and promotions.
WBA Wireless Global Congress: Edges cases
Connectivity is crucial to almost every person and every business, even if they don’t know it. But most people have some idea of the role Wi-Fi plays in their lives. Some of the cases, however, like multitenant dwellings, smart homes, and connected vehicles offer complexities beyond the experience of most connected users.
A single-family home can find its way to a workable configuration, although a note somewhere in the kitchen probably sits ready to convey the network ID and password to guests. Multitenant dwelling unites (MDUs), however, offer a variety of connectivity challenges ranging from high-turnover, different access credentials for personal and shared spaces, and landlord access to shared services within a unit.
MDUs differ from single-family homes because they have shared spaces and common areas controlled by property managers, privacy, and performance concerns in a dense network, and the need for a robust audit trail. Unlike single-family homes, vacant units may still require control. Property managers will also need to offer access before any resident network is up and running. And they need to easily bring new tenants into the shared network, and offer service to those who decide not to bring Wi-Fi into their homes, rather relying on 5G or other services.
Property managers and residents require recognition, and solutions, for other issues like interference from other residents and nearby businesses, bandwidth capable of handling the increase of video streaming for entertainment and surveillance, and the large number of devices connecting to the network as smart homes and IoT become more common.
Owners of multitenant dwellings see a number of needs and motivations related to wireless connectivity within their properties, these include:
Improved loyalty based on occupancy and renewal rates
The marketing advantage of “smart” properties associated with their brand
Attracting younger tenants with cool features
Offering secure access for services like dog walking, in-home deliveries, and in-home care services, such as cleaning and plant care.
Lower heating and cooling cost through smart thermostats and monitoring
Reduced cost of tenant transitions, lockouts, and rekeying
Extendible access for friends and family
Potential for higher Net Operating Income (NOI) from higher rents or amenity fees.
Owners, property managers, and residents all benefit from a good Wi-Fi solution.
Boingo and Comcast’s Xfinity are two companies working toward solutions for multitenant dwellings that will eventually include:
Pre-provisioned services for instant access on move-in
Seamless Wi-Fi across personal and shared spaces
IoT for in-home and property owners
Optionally, service providers may choose to include their other services, such as global hotspots to provide access to existing customers bundled, or as an add-on, to MDU wireless services.
Owners and property managers also gain the ability to own the management of the environment, including provisioning and key performance indicators, without the need for provider intervention.
Hospitality functions in much the same way as multitenant dwellings, with the exception that residents rarely stay long enough to bring their own networks, save whatever mobile technology they stuff in their kit. But travelers find Wi-Fi an essential, with JD Power siting it as the number one amenity for all but a small fraction of travelers (2010 North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study by J.D. Power and Associates).
Like MDUs, hotels, cruise ships, and destinations require technology that not only provides for the needs of the guest, but also for improved management of the venue, such as key management, remote power management, and provisions for shared spaces.
Ideas like Traffic Revenue Generation will appeal to the hospitality industry. They can leverage owned networks through their authenticated users to provide offers and advertising that can’t as easily obtained in-home or in public spaces due to restrictions created by fraud and third-party cookie limits in Apple’s Safari and the Firefox browser.
Smart homes suffer from many of the same ailments that plague other wireless connectivity scenarios with one very important difference: they lack a user interface. Most smart home devices fall into the headless category, meaning they do not include a display, keyboard, or multi-function input mechanism. A Wi-Fi switch may include a set-up button and a manual on-off switch, but little else.
Smart homes rely on other wireless devices for set-up. This usually requires turning on the device, connecting to its Wi-Fi network and transferring credentials from a phone or a tablet and then switching the controlling device back to the home Wi-Fi. And each device brand typically requires its own account from the app. Devices with Zigbee or ZWave may be easier, but they too often require apps—and most of them need a hub, be it something like a SmartThings hub from Samsung or an Amazon Alexa with a built-in smart home hub. Wi-Fi only IoT all require their own apps, and only hubs like Amazon’s Alexa consolidate disparate apps.
Plume IoT Device Security Stats
While many have adopted smart home technology, the ROI remains vague. The lack of universal feedback from IoT makes it hard to measure changes in heating or cooling costs, or general electrical use. Convenience and coolness currently dominate the narrative. Standards will help make it easier to consolidate data as well as control.
Beyond the general issues of set-up, smart home devices vary greatly in their needs. Some focus on audio, others on gaming, still others on video, an increasing number on home automation. Each use case differs in bandwidth and latency needs. Home network must recognize those needs and manage packets accordingly.
Companies like Aptilo are working with IoT device makers to integrate technologies like Zero-Touch into devices to reduce the burden of smart home set-up. That is a start, but the solution to the smart home not only requires seamless connections, but also the quality of service (QoS) management, integration with 5G, and the deployment of Wi-Fi 6E with intelligent channel management to account for legacy devices.
Connected vehicles bring with them multitudes of connectivity issues. Any vehicle may be considered a hotspot, may connect to hotspots, and may need to manage multiple hotspots, such as devices in the vehicle offering connectivity to other devices.
But the complexity does not stop there. Connected vehicles also form the primary impetus for smart cities, and will eventually become primary recipients of information from smart city infrastructure, and act as remote sensors to for that same infrastructure and the algorithms interpreting the incoming data, and taking action in the real world for traffic congestion mitigation and safety, including emergency vehicle prioritization.
Connected vehicles require the same seamless, fast, secure connections as other devices. They benefit from converged networks, such as easy switching between Wi-Fi and 5G. And as a hotspot, they need to offer the same services to those connecting to the vehicle. For other hotspots, they need to help manage QoS, redundancy, safety, and coexistence.
The concept of connected vehicles goes far beyond the family car, to embrace public buses, trains, trollies, and ferries. Each one offers its own user experience, while the vehicle itself benefits from improved performance and maintenance. The vehicle makers and owners will receive better information about where vehicles go and how long they sit in traffic. And if they are lucky, they will figure out how to monetize their data further by selling it to third-parties.
WBA Wireless Global Congress: Wi-Fi 2021 and beyond
Wi-Fi will continue to evolve. Before it becomes seamless, a lot of work on acronym laden technologies will need to come to fruition, and play well with other emerging protocols, standards, and business models. Here is a sample of those technologies.
MAC randomization was introduced to help thwart unauthorized location tracking, introduced its own issues for networking hardware, including clients with the same MAC address, capacity issues with storing old MAC addresses, suboptimal performance because algorithms assume a fixed physical MAC address. The uniqueness of the 48-bit identifier is also being used beyond what the industry refers to as Layer 2 (machine-to-machine layer for knowing where to send and receive packets of information). The use of MAC randomization needs to be rationalized and constrained.
Reliving congested cellular networks with unused capacity within the Wi-Fi spectrum.
Intelligent network discovery, selection, and management
The next generation of Wi-Fi, fast speeds, and improved device management.
Linking networks into parallel streams to increase throughput.
Captive Portal Editor
Standardized interface to the network authentication page.
Voice over Wi-Fi. Implemented by most carriers, this feature offloads cellular networks to Wi-Fi or acts as the primary connectivity model in remote areas.
WAGs combine the functions of a wireless access point, a router, and often provide firewall functions. In addition, they provide network address translation (NAT) functionality and dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP), which allows multiple users to connect to the internet with a single public IP and to automatically assign IPs to devices connected to a network. (via Benu Networks).
Hotspot 2.0/ Passpoint®
An industry-wide solution to streamline network access in Wi-Fi hotspots and eliminate the need for users to find and authenticate a network each time they connect. In Wi-Fi networks that do not support Passpoint®, users must search for and choose a network, request the connection to the access point (AP), and re-enter authentication credentials each visit to gain access to a hotspot location, such as a restaurant, stadium, airport, or hotel. Passpoint automates the entire process, enabling a seamless connection between Wi-Fi hotspot networks and mobile devices, all while delivering enterprise-level security. (via Wi-Fi Alliance).
WBA OpenRoamingTM is a roaming federation service enabling an automatic and secure Wi-Fi experience globally. With WBA OpenRoamingTM, we are creating an open connectivity framework for all organizations in the wireless ecosystem to power new opportunities in the 5G era. (via WBA). See the Serious Insights analysis of OpenRoaming here.
STL did a good job of summarizing the value propositions embedded in these technologies, which include:
Seamless access and authentication
Improved customer experiences
An elevated digital experience
New revenue channel innovation
Reduced time to market
Network agnostic and vendor-neutral solutions (competition, no premium for the brand)
The industry knows its issues and most of the vulnerabilities. Through groups like the WBA, the industry gathers together diverse companies aiming at a shared horizon. The risk is that the alliances don’t align, and that proprietary solutions continue forward, complicating and confusing the market. Even if the various alliances do succeed, the future will still experience some level of frustration as the solution to one set of problems, often spawns a new set of issues. In the case of networking, new content will continue to push speed and capacity demand, as will security threats from the throngs of bad actors who will target even the most sophisticated foils with ever more innovative attacks.
The emerging solutions will keep growth moving forward. With the FCC cleaning the way for 6GHz spectrum, the industry estimates adding $154B in revenue by 2025. The future will be one of combined and complementary as organizations like WBA and Wi-Fi Alliance define how Wi-Fi 6 and 5G get along.
WBA Wireless Global Conference: Connected conclusions
Well-configured homes become comfortable. Wi-Fi usually works save for a power or provider outage.
But leave your home, and Wi-Fi becomes a hodgepodge of connectivity options: log into a retail location website, leverage existing connections from in-home providers or cellular carriers, or buy expensive access to proprietary networks—or use free networks at the peril of personal information theft, malware, and viruses. And that says nothing of uneven performance, unwanted advertising, or the annoyance of signing up for one-time services just to check e-mail.
Wi-Fi is not just the backbone for work and entertainment, it is also the connective tissue that integrates the Internet of Things, the cameras that track package delivery and unwanted guests, that turn on lights on a schedule, and empower deep monitoring of industrial equipment. And increasingly, it is a key technology that will enable cities to optimize traffic flow, provide parking guidance, and improve safety.
But much about wireless connectivity is broken—and if broken is too harsh a term, then inconvenient, risky, and inadequate. Bring into this mix the rise of 5G and the need to integrate it with other wireless solutions seamlessly, and the market becomes even more fraught with obstacles, but also ready for opportunities.
Many of the visions like smart homes, predictive maintenance, smart cities, and autonomous vehicles will require ubiquitous, continuous, low-latency wireless connectivity capable of handling variable loads from downloading a feature-length film in IMAX to sending an off signal to a light switch.
McDonald’s succinctly summarized what consumers and businesses ultimately want: frictionless, high-performing, and secure wireless connectivity. And they want it everywhere they work, live, and play. The WBA convenes the industry to help orchestrate this great migration from fractured, awkward, and sometimes inoperative connections so that people can better work, enjoy, buy, drive, manage infrastructure, and hundreds other activities without worrying about their Wi-Fi password, the name of an SSID, or opting into a service agreement to check a shopping list. The WBA Wireless Global Congress offered a glimpse into the challenges and the promises ahead. And as much as technology will play a role, so will business and user adoption of technologies that don’t simply serve personal interests, but also serve other people and the market.
A full list of WBA Wireless Global Congress presentations
Thank you to all the WBA Wireless Global Congress presenters. I may not have mentioned you by name as I synthesized information from across the webinars, but I list all of you here so our readers can find your companies and more information about your products and services.
Zero-touch Wi-Fi IoT CONNECTIVITY – Johan Terve, Aptilo Networks.
IoT In Everyday Consumer Goods – Mohamed Raad, SDATAWAY.
Automotive Wi-Fi – trends and challenges – Lakshmi Thanayankizil Ph.D., General Motors.
Wi-Fi for Industrial IoT – Bahar Sadeghi Ph.D.
Business Cases for IOT Applications: Making More IOT Projects Successful – Randall Schwartz, Wireless 20|20
Copies of the WBA Wireless Global Congress presentations can be found here and downloaded after registering with the WBA.
Illustrations from this post represent public information from various WBA Wireless Global Congress presenters. Sources referenced on-image or in the caption.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.