Wi-Fi 2.0 Final Thoughts
Radio waves are pesky things. For close to a hundred years, humans have been fiddling with radio antennas, trying to get better reception. In the early days of radio, it was called “The Wireless”. One, or maybe two, duly appointed members of the household were tasked with adjusting the Rube Goldberg contraption of wires, bars, poles and clips, until the receiver locked in on the local signal for a while, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief as their favorite syndicated show came on the air. Television brought new challenges – rabbit ears and tin foil were the weapons of choice against the random onslaught of snow. Listening to static was bad enough, now we had to watch it, too.
Today, we see cell phone nomads wandering around from window to window in their steel-encased buildings, trying to get a clear signal and avoid dropping their call. Then, we get to the biggest RF data feed of all time, the internets. Users are increasingly accessing the web via Wi-Fi. Blame the Tablets… Blame the cellular service providers, who envisioned turning their mountains of gold into platinum, and priced their 4G data packages out of reach. Whoever you want to blame, the Wi-Fi versions of tablets are flying off the shelves 5 times faster than the ones with cellular modems built in. The number of Wi-Fi access points is doubling approximately every three years. There are over 3 million Wi-Fi Hotspots in the USA today, and that number will also double by the year 2016. It’s almost enough to make me want to go out and buy a Chromebook.
What’s the number one thing people are accessing on their mobile screens? VIDEO. Never mind how many devices there are, and their exponential growth rate, the typical data rates for each content creator and content consumer are also growing exponentially. Don’t worry, x2 times x2 is only x4….!! The importance of Wi-Fi in the mobile communications landscape is underrated by most consumers. We all think we’re going to continue getting our mobile data from 4G cellular providers, but the fact is they can’t keep up with demand. Then there’s that ugly little economics theory of “Supply and Demand” that’s going to make its presence felt, long before we actually hit any technology limits. So, as quaint and 1990’s as it seems, Wi-Fi hotspots are going to continue to be a big part of our mobile data supply chain.
Just so you don’t get the future confused with the past (…oh, those clothes!!), the Wi-Fi hotspots that are on the horizon are called Hotspot 2.0. Yeah, let’s hope the technology is more original than the name… There is already an IEEE standard for it (802.11u), and the basic idea is to make Wi-Fi hotspots behave more like a cellular network. You don’t have to log in to a new network every time your phone moves out of range of one cell tower and within range of another, it all happens automatically and is completely transparent to the user. Hotspot 2.0 is an industry initiative that uses 802.11u as a fundamental building block, and provides for seamless Wi-Fi authentication and handoff. The network discovery, registration, and authentication steps a Wi-Fi user performs manually today will all be automated with Hotspot 2.0.
Today’s new 5th generation Wi-Fi hardware is just one more step in a long history of communication technologies that have transformed the world. More change is on the way; in the meantime enjoy what we currently have at our disposal.