Facing the 1000x data challenge with WiFi

With industry predicting massive growth in mobile data traffic down the line, can WiFi provide the solution to this 1000x data challenge?

Current growth figures for mobile data traffic are huge, and in recent years have been skyrocketing. This rapid growth, and the future projections based on it, have led many industry commentators to predict a ‘1000x data challenge’ – a situation where, through higher efficiency and device/technology evolution, mobile traffic volume data will be growing by 1000x (i.e. growth doubles ten times or more). To put this in perspective, global data volume traffic grew by ~2x between 2010 and 2011.

Behind this explosive growth in data traffic is the richer, heavier content – most notably HD videos, but also more sophisticated mobile applications and games, as well as photo and sharing and music streaming. Added to this is the mass proliferation of mobile and connected devices, with 90% of the world’s population aged over six-years-old expected to own a smartphone and 33 billion connected devices predicted by 2020.

Facing the 1000x data challenge: how WiFi holds the aces

Daunting as a 1000x mobile traffic increase may seem to the industry, WiFi holds a number of aces in rising to the challenge.

802.11ac and 802.11ah

802.11ac is the latest enhancement of the 802.11 protocol, providing 3x more throughput and higher data rates at all ranges to its predecessor (802.11n), with:

  • Wider bandwidth
  • Dynamic bandwidth management (with improved interference detection/avoidance)
  • Multi-user MIMO (see below)

802.11ah (expected 2016) is set to offer significantly lower energy consumption, allowing the creation of large groups of stations or sensors to cooperate and share signals, and the prospect of connecting thousands of devices under a single WiFi access point.

Multi-user (MU) MIMO

Provides more aggregate throughput to 802.11ac by reusing resources to serve multiple devices at the same time. MU-MIMO was launched as an optional feature of 802.11ac, but is currently included in very few routers, so has huge un-utilised potential to aid capacity in the future.

Passpoint™ / Hotspot 2.0

With the ability to enable seamless roaming (without the need for user intervention) between WiFi, 3G and 4G, WiFi Alliance-certified Passpoint™ (also known as Hotspot 2.0) has the potential to revolutionise the handling of mobile traffic as cellular and wireless networks converge in the future – supporting data offload with instant network detection, selection, and authentication.

The mobile device industry is vast and diverse, and the prospect of the 1000x challenge is not to be taken likely.

Clearly, then, WiFi will not be the only solution. But it will be the central one. Without a one-size-fits-all solution, the industry needs an enabling technology it can trust to build upon. As the long-standing networking technology of choice, WiFi is a trusted, standardised connectivity stalwart. It’s security and longstanding commitment to legacy interoperability make it the ideal platform for innovation.

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