My Reflections on Some Wi-Fi Milestones

Twenty is a big number right now in the Wi-Fi world. This year marks the 20th anniversary of two milestones: Wi-Fi’s introduction for home use and the Wi-Fi Alliance’s formation as a trade association to hold the Wi-Fi trademark. And Thursday June 20 is World Wi-Fi Day, a global initiative sponsored by the Wireless Broadband Alliance to call attention to the digital divide and the need for more affordable internet via public Wi-Fi networks.

In these last 20 years, Wi-Fi has become become the dominant internet access technology in our personal and business lives, with an installed base of more than 13 billion devices and an annual global economic value of nearly $2 trillion, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.

And yet while Wi-Fi has moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have technology over the last 20 years, 1.75 billion citizens in the world’s eight richest countries remain unconnected. We applaud the World Wi-Fi Day initiative for encouraging cities and governments, operators, service providers, and technology vendors to bring high-speed mobile internet connectivity

All of this has me thinking about the big changes we’ve seen in Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity over the years and what the future might hold – for businesses, consumers and the underserved alike. Looking into my crystal ball, here are five key trends that will define Wi-Fi in the coming years.

1. Organizations will continue moving beyond merely providing Wi-Fi to putting critical services on their wireless networks.

In today’s mobile-first world, it is no longer good enough for an enterprise to know if the access point is up and running. Enterprise businesses need to know if their guests and critical devices have a great end-to-end internet connection. People want and need to be able to access the applications they need, from any device, with optimal speed and performance. That’s why increasing numbers of companies, universities, hospitals, hotels, banks, and others are recognizing the need to provide extremely reliable, scalable, and pervasive wireless connectivity to deliver great mobile experiences.

But to do that, they know they can no longer rely on legacy WLAN platforms developed in the early 2000s and are hindered by slow, cumbersome, labor-intensive, and reactive architectures. These are inadequate in an app-driven world where wireless performance must be real time, more predictable, measurable, and easily managed than ever.

Which leads to trend No. 2…

2. Wireless networks will keep getting smarter.

If there is any doubt that AI/ML is more than marketing buzz you just need to look at what is happening in the world around you. Doctors are using ML to make more accurate diagnosis. Self-driving buses are real. And Mist is in the vanguard of bringing AI/ML to networking in building a solution that can answer questions on par with network domain experts — a stepping stone to a self-driving network, giving businesses the confidence they need to put critical services on their wireless networks.

In the coming years, AI/ML will impact all aspects of society and businesses. And in networking, legacy networks will disappear at an astonishing rate and be replaced by AI/ML solutions built on top of modern cloud stacks.

3. Increasing adoption of Passpoint / HS2.0 will benefit the mobile ecosystem.

Passpoint / HS2.0 (a standard I drove while at Cisco in the early 2010s) will see growing adoption as mobile users come to expect a seamless secure internet connectivity experience between their outdoor cellular and indoor Wi-Fi worlds.

Passpoint / HS2.0 will see more traction not only because of users’ expectations of smoother Wi-Fi connectivity but because the soaring number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices need a way to roam among Wi-Fi and mobile networks, automatically and at scale.

4. Indoor location…nice-to-have to must-have.

Over the last 20 years, Wi-Fi went from a nice-to-have to a must in our lives.
Indoor location and BLE reminds me of the early days of Wi-Fi. When Intel and Apple embraced Wi-Fi as a connectivity standard in our mobile devices, it was a catalyst for Wi-Fi. Similarly, mobile device vendors are now embracing BLE as the proximity/location technology standard in our mobile devices.

And similar to Wi-Fi, the ecosystem of BLE vendors and services is reaching critical mass. And with Mist’s virtualization of battery beacons, convergence of Wi-Fi/BLE, and machine learning to eliminate calibration surveys, it seems inevitable that indoor location is moving from a nice to have to a must-have.

In the coming years, we can expect indoor location to become much more common to receive contextual, location-based information such as turn-by-turn directions inside a large resort or special promotions at nearby retailers.

5. Community hotspots will increase to ameliorate the digital divide.

It is estimated that the amount of IP traffic carried by Wi-Fi and mobile networks is about to exceed 71 percent. Wi-Fi has become the workhorse of internet traffic. And a combination of cloud technology and improvements in access points has made it easier than ever for cities, libraries, malls, and other public facilities to provide internet connectivity to all. I hope more and more municipalities take advantage of this to provide increased internet access to the disadvantaged and help bridge the digital divide.

Here’s to World Wi-Fi Day and all the amazing developments to come in our ever-increasing mobile life.