WBA CEO: ‘Every new device will have Wi-Fi 6 in next three to six months’

As “the big players,” like Apple and Samsung continue to get involved, uptick in Wi-Fi 6 deployment expected

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) Los Angeles last week, RCR Wireless News caught up with the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s recently appointed CEO, Tiago Rodrigues, to discuss the current status of Wi-Fi 6 deployments as well as some of the alliance’s biggest priorities moving into next year.

When asked if he has seen the uptick in Wi-Fi 6 deployments expected after the Wi-Fi Alliance released the official Wi-Fi Certified 6 certification program in September, Rodrigues answered, “To be honest, no.”

However, as “the big players,” like Apple and Samsung continue to get involved, Rodrigues anticipates an uptick in deployment. “These guys are trend setters. When iPhone 11 comes with Wi-Fi 6 available, that is defining a trend. So I expect that in the next three to six months, every single new device will have Wi-Fi 6,” he added.

An area of focus for Rodrigues when he assumed the helm of WBA was the improvement of Wi-Fi roaming. Specifically, he wants to solve the “pain” of going to different locations and needing to ask for a new Wi-Fi password at each location. Why not be able to get one Wi-Fi credential that works in multiple locations?

“Why can’t they talk to each other somehow?” he said. “Why should it be up to the consumer to put in that effort to connect to all of these different networks?”

According to Rodrigues, the WBA is under the impression that in order to improve roaming, federations need to be established between entities that occupy the same vertical. “I don’t believe we can get there by talking one-on-one,” he elaborated, “so we need to almost create kind of verticals of all the hospitality guys and all of the retails guys, embracing federations between them and starting to interconnect.”

Using MWC Barcelona as a backdrop, WBA partnered with GSMA to set up a pilot on Wi-Fi Roaming across a series of hotspots in Barcelona last May. The pilot consisted of more than 2,200 hotspots and used Passpoint technology and WRIX standards to deliver a seamless roaming service between different networks and service providers, creating what WBA defines as a Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) network.

The coverage of the Wi-Fi/Passpoint/NGH network included the MWC Fira Exhibition Center, which housed MWC, transportation hubs like the airport and train stations and outdoor coverage in the city center. Passpoint technology was activated in all of these locations and a specific SSID was set up for the project to deliver to the end users a cellular-like experience over the Wi-Fi networks. The connection to these hotspots was fully automatic, requiring no manual intervention from the end users.

Rodrigues also provided an update on the alliance’s Wi-Fi 6 trial with Mettis Aerospace, a designer and manufacturer of precision-forged, machined and sub-assembled components.

“The Mettis trial is now on the phase of really doing the testing,” he explained. “Cisco has already deployed the network, we’ve got the devices from Samsung, we got a few laptops from Intel and now we have the iPhone 11 as well. The main test right now is for video and IoT sensors, but the big part of the testing that is not done yet is around maintenance using augmented reality.”

The idea is for a Mettis employee to take one of the smartphones and walk around the manufacturing plant, pointing the phone at a specific machine. Via augmented reality, the phone will display the machine’s status regarding things like temperature and vibration.

According to Rodrigues, this is a critical achievement for Mattis. “All the maintenance that they do it manual. There is someone that goes about three times a day to the machine and writes something on a piece of paper and then writes on the computer and then if something is wrong, someone else needs to be sent back out to the machine,” he said.

He added that the final results of the trial will be available late December or early January.

As for what’s next for WBA, Rodrigues said the alliance is currently working on other trials in India, the U.S. and Spain. One is on an educational campus and another focuses on establishing a rural case. “During November, you should get some more news about those trials,” he confirmed.

In addition, WBA will be directing its attention to residential Wi-Fi in the months to come, with the alliance planning trials in 2020.

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