Wireless Broadband Alliance CEO Sees a Big Reason to Sustain Wi-Fi

While the industry’s focus has understandably been on the rollout of 5G and its myriad benefits, Wi-Fi will continue to be the backbone of tomorrow’s connected world. That’s according to Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance.

As part of a line-up of innovators and next-generation thinkers in the latest 4Front podcast, Rodrigues put forward a convincing case for Wi-Fi being the go-to connection of choice for internet users worldwide for decades to come. A Lisbon native, Rodrigues’s résumé began with stints in pricing analysis and regulatory affairs at Portugal Telecom Group, but he found his wireless calling when he started running the telecom’s Wi-Fi unit. That connection was further strengthened in 2011 when he joined WBA team, and most recently as its CEO. Since then, he’s watched Wi-Fi evolve from an operator-centric wireless technology to a consumer-friendly, user-centric Internet utility.

Wi-Fi continues to evolve with 802.11ax, the latest update to the global standard, approved in 2019. Marketed as “Wi-Fi 6,” it offers not only speed increases but also critical optimization and performance upgrades. “The antennas in Wi-Fi 6 devices will perform much better—up to four times better when compared with the previous version,” Rodrigues explains. “And this will be particularly important in very dense environments.”

Wi-Fi 6 also improves device communications. “For whatever streaming that I’m doing,” Rodrigues says, “the router and the device will be communicating more quickly, so the performance of the service or the application that I’m using will be enhanced.”

Industry analysts also see Wi-Fi 6 as a growth driver for the technology. According to Cisco’s latest Annual Internet Report, Wi-Fi speeds globally will triple by 2023—from 30.3 Mbps in 2018 to 92 Mbps. At the same time, Wi-Fi hotspots will proliferate, rising from 169 million public hotspots in 2018 to 628 million in 2023. The report also projects that the number of Wi-Fi 6 hotspots will boom, growing 13-fold in the next three years to claim 11 percent of all public hotspots by 2023.

Today, the process of logging onto hotspots while trying to roam around a town or city is “a very painful experience,” Rodrigues says. “If I go to Starbucks or McDonald’s or any retail store, there is some friction when I want to connect with Wi-Fi. I need to manually connect, or I need to register.”

These inconvenient barriers may well be a thing of the past with the WBA’s own OpenRoaming platform going from strength to strength. Open Roaming’s Global Federation is a new initiative with the goal of offering frictionless public Wi-Fi access that allows users to migrate seamlessly from one hotspot to the next without having to constantly log-in or re-verify their credentials. This enhanced experience also comes with a gold standard for security and ensures the privacy of the user. The federation already includes members such as Cisco, Google, Samsung and more, and is already being hailed as an important piece in the public-guest Wi-Fi puzzle of the future.


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