Waves of WiFi

All-pervasive WiFi connectivity gains momentum as Wave 2's multi-user MIMO technology enhances network efficiency.

Read time 4min 10sec

There has been considerable emphasis in the belief that 2015 will be "the year of WiFi connectivity". Whether this will manifest in SA is debatable, but it's hard to argue against the global trend towards ubiquitous, all-pervasive WiFi connectivity.

A number of factors are underpinning this trend. For instance, many new-generation consumer and enterprise devices, including smartphones and laptops, no longer come equipped with Ethernet ports, negating a wired connectivity option. Companies need to deliver the data speeds demanded by these devices through WiFi alone.

Importantly, the focus of WiFi connectivity today is no longer on the devices themselves, but on the new and innovative applications (apps) that increasingly appear for smartphones, tablets and wearables.

Driving the expected global uptake in WiFi connectivity is the rapid maturity of the technology. The market can expect more deployments based on the latest IEEE 802.11ac Wave 2 wireless networking standard, which delivers higher data throughput benefits.

Seen as a 'game-changer' by many industry watchers, the new Wave 2 specification is an addendum to the 802.11ac wireless specification that increases the theoretical maximum wireless speeds from 3.47Gbps (Gigabits per second) to nearly 7Gbps.

Apart from speed, Wave 2's key differentiator is multi-user MIMO technology. Thanks to dedicated per-user bandwidth, it enhances the efficiency of WiFi networks, ensuring a better, almost degradation-free wireless experience for as many users who connect to an access point.

Who will benefit?

It will have an immediate impact on the medical profession, for example, allowing ultra-high resolution images and files to be sent to a tablet without degrading the network as a whole. Similar advances would be made in mining or industrial environments, where data-intensive files could be transferred over a WiFi network without compromising the infrastructure for other users.

While SA has lagged some way behind the international curve, there are encouraging signs pointing to a gentle upswing in 'home-grown' app development. Interestingly, one of the more popular to reach the mass market this year calculates the lobola price for a bride. Historically, lobola was traditionally paid in livestock, but today it can include other goods and money.

Publicised by such apps, could WiFi connectivity gain a secure foothold in sub-Saharan Africa and help ensure the success of developing businesses in the region? By giving their customers engagement at any time and from anywhere, local business owners could see the combination of WiFi connectivity and an innovative app or two as a package capable of delivering an essential boost to their businesses, keeping them ahead of the competition.

Coffee time

There are many good examples to copy, such as the Starbucks app. It helps coffee lovers the world over find their nearest caffeine 'fix' and even enable it to be pre-ordered exactly as preferred. Afterwards, customers can rate the quality of the beverage or food consumed and the level of the service with which it was delivered.

Apps such as this add to the overall experience offered to customers by retailers that can confidently expect loyalty from those whose experiences are positive.

More good news for the local market is that app development encouraged by major retailers - particularly the larger organisations - is expected to mirror international thinking. This will significantly enhance the levels of WiFi connectivity in SA.

One of the more popular [apps] to reach the mass market this year calculates the lobola price for a bride.

As customers become aware of the benefits of being able to scan a product's bar code and get detailed information about it on their phones, together with alternative offers, user reviews and other pertinent data, so the promise of ubiquitous WiFi communications will eventually be realised.

Hopefully, business managers will soon accept that gaining a competitive edge via WiFi connectivity and a mobile app is relatively easily achieved and quickly delivered.

Looking to the future, South Africans can confidently anticipate the appearance of apps focusing on power saving - thanks to the country's ongoing electricity crisis.

Basic apps that automatically turn lights on or off, or programme-selected devices to function only at appropriate times, will gain in popularity. This could lead naturally to apps that give customers detailed information about their electricity usage - down to per-device data - and warn of high consumption spikes, enabling home owners and industrial bosses alike to turn off power-hungry devices during peak billing times.

The need to be connected to the grid, and to become a lot smarter as a consumer, will spark significant investment opportunities for local businesses and a chance for the South African IT industry to benefit by gearing up now to address this demand.

Andy Robb

Technology specialist at Duxbury Networking.

In his role as CTO, Andy Robb is Duxbury Networking's chief technologist and technical advisor, responsible for the company's strategic technical direction. Robb oversees quality of service delivery and product management. He holds a number of industry product-related qualifications as well as continuing with further tertiary qualifications. Prior to becoming CTO, Robb held a variety of positions at Duxbury Networking, including technical manager, product manager and senior systems engineer. He has been with Duxbury Networking since 2000.

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