2020’s perfect storm: Wi-Fi 6, BLE, and AI?

May 05, 2020 //By Richard Edgar
Wi-Fi 6
The debut of Wi-Fi 6 and the explosion of AI hardware, networks, and tools will open new markets and spur future technology trends.

The innovations of connectivity and AI are about to shift into full gear as new advances—edge computing, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) v5.2, to name a few—arrive in full force. These developments are quite significant. Wi-Fi 6 will improve robustness and performance, while Bluetooth audio sharing will make it possible for multiple consumers to personally enjoy the audio of a single device. In addition, edge computing will give a significant boost to the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AioT).

This is a win-win for those wishing to utilize these technologies, but not everyone will feel like a winner in 2020. The year could bring hardship to AI hardware startups that have risen up after years of long-term and highly intensive R&D. In many ways, this process has led to incredible results, including complex, high-value products. But those products also bring forth a strong patent portfolio, which can act as landmines to competitors. Many firms have failed to keep up, inevitably leading to a decline—and soon, a contraction—within the space.

Let’s take a closer look at these and other notable innovations to watch for as 2020 unfolds.


The power of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi has changed the world as we know it, but the biggest criticisms are that it often doesn’t work or it’s too slow. Networks are often strained by the number of users on board, a pain point that’s particularly prevalent at airports and other public venues or events. Even the 2012 Olympic Games in London was bogged down by internet access of just 100 kB/s at the opening ceremony. This was on a network that was supposed to offer several hundred megabits per second! But when overloaded, the network failed to deliver a quality experience.

One of the key challenges is simply the way Wi-Fi works. When a mobile device connects to your router at home, for example, it does something called association. The access point sends out messages every few seconds. In the case of the Olympic Games opening ceremony, the devices were in fact “talking” to the access points, saying, “I’m here and I want to send.” However, nothing could actually send, since so many people were on the network simultaneously.

Thus, the most exciting part of Wi-Fi 6 is that it will eliminate this pain point. It will effectively improve robustness and performance with two techniques: colors and orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA). The former involves the use of different access points, which are a problem with current Wi-Fi. Now it’s possible to have different Basic Service Set (BSS) “colors,” or numbers between 0 and 7 that will allow devices to ignore signals from the AP it’s not associated with. In other words, if you’re in an apartment in New York City, your devices will be able to ignore what your neighbors are doing next door and provide a stronger signal. OFDMA helps speed up our connectivity by breaking the spectrum into smaller chunks, enabling more devices to communicate.

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