What does the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 and 5G mean, what will each of them do, and how will each impact the convention industry? Continue reading for a primer on these technologies and what to expect in the years to come.
Bandwidth is of the utmost importance for wireless connection during an event. It is the way in which smartphones, computers, and other IoT devices can transfer data, at optimal speed, via an internet connection. In the convention industry, more bandwidth means more people are doing more things online at ever increasing speeds. The demand for faster data transfer has skyrocketed due to the addition of video streaming, social media, mobile conferences, virtual reality, augmented reality, and webcasting to name a few. In recent years, we have been able to witness incredible advancements in Wi-Fi technology with the latest looming on the horizon; 802.11ax (newly named Wi-Fi 6 by the Wi-Fi Alliance) and 5G. The promise of these new technologies is significant but there is also a lot of confusion – and hype – encompassing them.
What is Wi-Fi 6?
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has developed the new Wi-Fi 6 standard, with the goal of increasing the efficiency of wireless communications over the current standard of 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5). The new standard will deliver an enormous boost from existing speeds and includes orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) channel sharing to increase a router’s spectral efficiency, reduce latency and congestion by a real-world possibility of 4 times (with a theoretical max of up 10 times). Ideally, range will increase slightly as well as an increase in reliability due to the inclusion of OFDMA, freeing up airwaves for other connections. So, what does that mean? Existing Wi- Fi systems limit device communication to one at a time, similar to a cashier checking out a patron at a grocery store. Wi-Fi 6, with the inclusion of OFDMA and its accompanying sub-channels, will allow multiple devices to transmit simultaneously. Wi-Fi 6 will add the speed and needed resources to better support high density environments such as conventions, tradeshows, and sporting events, paving the way for technologies such as IoT to be more effective.
There are currently companies in the process of supplying Wi-Fi 6 compliant wireless access points with many more companies to follow suit in 2019. A Wi-Fi 6 access point will be able to provide at least eight data streams both up and down, perfect if you have a lot of devices.
What is the reality of 5G?
The G in 5G simply means it’s a “generation” of broadband cellular network technology. We define these generations (1G, 2G, 3G, 4G…) by their data transmission speeds but more specifically there is a break in their encoding methods, making them incompatible with previous generations. 5G promises to provide greater speeds, lower latency, and the ability to connect many devices at once, much like Wi-Fi 6. It utilizes a system of many cell sites, rather than huge towers that sends the encoded data through short radio waves at varying frequencies. The idea is that the more cells you have, the more data you can get into the network. Given the relatively short, fragile nature of 5G frequencies, there will have to be a newly configured network of hardware clustered in sites like rooftops and street poles that can withstand the impacts of Mother Nature.
A few large cellular providers are in the testing phase of 5G, and some are beginning to launch 5G networks in several cities by the end of this year. These rollouts could be slowed by the lack of compatible 5G phones and IoT devices before 2019 and potentially delay a practical timeline rollout beyond 2020.
What are the big-picture ramifications for 5G and the convention industry?
The use of wireless devices as well as exhibitor demands for in-booth connections to the Internet, facility data and Wi-Fi infrastructure capabilities, are concerns for show organizers and venue managers alike. As previously discussed, 5G technology is moving ahead within the next five years, however, assuring 100% signal coverage requires improving or adding a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) at large venues and convention centers, which could prove to be difficult and costly. While waiting for 5G to be perfected, exhibition organizers want to be assured that venues will have the appropriate bandwidth and throughput capabilities to meet the current needs of their attendees and exhibitors.
What can Wi-Fi provide that DAS cannot?
Data is king, and unfortunately, because cellular networks are really just passive networks that are connected directly back to the carriers, the client and venue will never own or have access to the data on those networks. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is a tremendous opportunity for clients and venues to understand who their attendees are visiting, what those attendees are doing, and further allowing them to present a more targeted client experience. Providers of Wi-Fi can capture important metrics and analysis that allow event organizers to understand what their users are doing on the system and the impact technology has on their event.
The bottom line…
Wi-Fi and cellular networks will continue to grow in capacity and resources to support the increased demand of the advanced devices that exhibitors and attendees will be bringing into a convention facility in the very near future. The Cisco Visual Networking Index predicts by 2021 that 5G connections will be less than 1% of total mobile (cellular) connections, and 63% of cellular data will be offloaded to Wi- Fi networks (Cisco, 2018). Since the bandwidth for both Wi-Fi from mobile devices and mobile data both have a Compacted Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of over 50% (Cisco, 2017), the real trick for technology providers in convention and meetings venues will be to have sufficient resources in both licensed (cellular) and unlicensed (Wi-Fi) spectrum to meet the advanced processing needs of those devices sooner rather than later.
IP Traffic by Access Technology (Cisco, 2017)
Cisco (2018) Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, 2016–2021 Q&A. Retrieved from https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/s ervice-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/vni- forecast-qa.html
Cisco (2017) Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2016–2021 White Paper. Retrieved from https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/s ervice-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/mobile- white-paper-c11-520862.html