Images: 1. HFCL has launched WiFi7 Access Points. 2. A WiFi6E home router from Netgear. 3. Jio has launched Air Fiber routers for home hotspots, fed by wireless 5G
October 25, 2022: In a week when two India-born pioneers* were inducted into the Wireless Hall of Fame in the US, multiple avatars of WiFi were set for deployment in the land of their birth, which also saw a world-first deployment of WiFi7 access points
Jio pioneers WiFi powered by 5G
Reliance Jiohas rolled out the first implementation of a city-wide WiFi service powered by its recently acquired 5G wireless network – in the temple town of Nathdwara in Rajasthan. The company intends to go beyond mobile phone business with its 5G capability and is launching Jio True5G-fuelled WiFi services in high footfall areas like railway stations, bus stands, commercial centres and educational institutions. It will also offer home and office WiFi users the option of Air Fiber -- powering their wire-fed data links with wireless 5G – significantly reducing the hassle and logistics of accessing high speed Internet services.
Airtel has also announced its interest to serve this data market with its own 5G offering.
WiFi6 is here
Meanwhile, WiFi itself is undergoing a sharp upgrade: The WiFi standard 802.11ac – the most widely prevalent technology for home and office hotspots to be seen in India, is being upgraded to what is known as WiFi6 (or 802.11ax). (The older standard will henceforth be known as WiFi5)
This increases the number of streams of data that can simultaneously flow from the router to your home devices from 8 to 12 and can bump up the data speeds by up to 40 percent. This is where MIMO, the Paulraj invention kicks in: it allows multiple parallel channels to work side by side so that one device which is engaged in heavy data usage – like downloading a movie – does not slow down the data for other users of the hotspot with their own phones, laptops or PCs.
A quick search on Amazon, Flipkart or any other e-commerce site for WiFi home routers will throw up multiple WiFi6 options for home buyers in India from Asus, D-Link, Linksys, Netgear, TP-Link, UniFi etc. Prices start at Rs 3000. But two or three-unit combos called Mesh Routers which “illuminate” both upstairs and downstairs in a home could cost Rs 24,000 or more.
Beyond WiFi6: 6E and 7
There was a joke in the early days of home PCs, before online sales started, that by the time you bought your supposedly ‘latest’-model PC home from a computer shoppe, carted it home and set it up, the makers would have announced the next model, with a faster processor, or more memory or bigger storage. ‘If it works, it’s obsolete’ said media guru Marshall McLuhan once, highlighting the speed of new innovations.
After a long gap, such things are seen again. Consider what is happening in WiFi:
Almost three years after WiFi 6 routers and accessories became available, they have just become reasonably priced and are replacing earlier versions in the consumer market. Meanwhile the industry is already shifting to WiFi6E or Extended. In addition to the two wireless bands that are harnessed by your home WiFi router – 2.4GHz and 5 GHz – a third band – 6 GHz – will now be used as an extension.
This extra band has one advantage: only WiFi6e devices can use it, which means your data link will not suddenly go wonky because someone at home switched on a microwave oven. The 12 or so channels of information in WiFi 6 are wider in 6E which means heavy applications like downloading an ultra-high definition -- 4K or 8K – video will run smoothly.
There are already a few WiFi6E consumer routers in the India market from TP-Link, Linksys Asus etc, but they are still pricey – in the range of Rs 30,00—Rs 1,00,000.
The difference between a WiFi6 router and a 6E may not be immediately perceptible, because many of your personal computing devices like laptops or all-in-one PCs will not be 6E-ready, with the ability to exploit the additional 6 GHz band. But if you are planning to upgrade from any router that you have been using for 3-4 years, it will be a good idea to skip the 6 generation and go for a 6E product…..because, sorry to break the news: WiFi 7 is already around the corner!
World-first Open Source WiFi-7 access point
An Indian telecom player HFCL, launched the world’s first WiFi-7 enterprises hardware working on OpenSource software in collaboration with Qualcomm, at the recently concluded India Mobile Congress in Delhi. It is not yet into WiFi7 consumer products, but has unveiled WiFi7 Access Points used by enterprises to create public or private WiFi hotspots. WiFi7 is rated to enable top data rates of up to 10 GBPS which is double that of WiFi6/6E.
This will nicely complement the launch of 5G cellular phone services in India since the two will be capable of speeds in the same ballpark.
The global leadership in rolling out WiFi7 hardware; the interesting use cases where 5G phone networks are being used to fuel home and office WiFi networks and the recognition in the US this week*, that some of the world’s top thought leaders and innovators in wireless have India in their DNA, all portend well for India’s place on the communication highway to the future.
Read our story on India-born wireless pioneers here