Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and telecom analysts are publishing their predictions for 2023. For the world economy, 2022 has been a tough year. The combined hits from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s COVID-19 lockdowns, and high inflation have deeply impacted consumers and businesses. However, 2022 has been a good year for Wi-Fi with more innovation, spectrum, and momentum. Let’s take a look at our top ten predictions for Wi-Fi in 2023.
Top Predictions for Wi-Fi 2023
#1: Wi-Fi 6/6E Continues
Growing to a 500 million device ecosystem in just two years, Wi-Fi 6 was the fastest and most successful launch in Wi-Fi history. There can be no question that Wi-Fi 6 delivers significant KPI improvements, particularly high throughput, reduced latency, and better performance in crowded environments.
The great adoption of Wi-Fi 6/6E will continue despite the gloomy economic environment, driven by many features of the standard and its ability to access additional spectrum in the 6 GHz band via the 6E extension. Today, 55 countries—including those of the EU—have opened up (at least partially) the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, and six additional countries are currently considering it. Further, others who have already adopted 6 GHz are considering extending the range to the entire band.
The huge increase in video-heavy traffic puts new burdens on capabilities that are required of a commercial Wi-Fi network, and that will drive investment in new technologies. Fiber broadband deployments will continue to expand in most developed and developing markets, creating a need for the upgrade of home Wi-Fi networks to pass on the increased bandwidth all the way to the device.
#2: Wi-Fi 7 Earlier Than Expected
Wi-Fi 7 is designed to use all of this newly available bandwidth, with features including 320 MHz wide channels, true multi-band/multi-radio Layer 2 carrier aggregation, and multi-AP coordination. In terms of the timeline, the IEEE expects board approval by May 2024, with official standardized Wi-Fi 7 devices entering the market from 2025 onwards. Chipsets for Wi-Fi 7 have been already available for several months, and routers will continue to be released during 2023 following TP-Link, H3C, and IO by HFCL 2022 releases. We can also expect Wi-Fi 7 phones to be released at the Mobile World Congress at the end of February 2023. In 2023, we will see early trials of Wi-Fi 7 in different live deployment environments, and the Wireless Broadband Alliance members will be some of the first to do so.
#3: Supply Chain Issues
With shorter backlogs, we still expect supply chain issues to remain for access points and switches that began during the pandemic. Global political unrest, a lack of raw materials, and rising fuel and energy costs are the top reasons supply chain challenges will continue in 2023. The recent lockdowns in China will also contribute to maintaining uncertainty in the IT supply chain. Despite these challenges, the backlog will decrease from 5-6 months to 2-3 months, and by the end of 2023 to 6 weeks—if no major new events occur to again disrupt the supply chain.
#4: OpenRoaming™ Momentum™
For the OpenRoaming initiative from the Wireless Broadband Alliance, 2022 has been a good year. By December 2023, the WBA anticipates OpenRoaming to reach 5-6 million hotspots—from 1 million in Q1 2022—spanning a wide variety of public venues and already involving 2,000 companies. Deployments of Passpoint/OpenRoaming continue to rise as more brands and identity providers recognize the value of the federation to enable seamless connectivity access across different networks.
The main barrier to implementing Passpoint or OpenRoaming will be the ongoing shortage of IT resources from these organizations. On the technical side, the WBA will issue Release 4 which will include federated onboarding service (profile management and interfaces), network real-time QoS, custom SLAs, membership service (analytics and reporting), compliance tooling and automation, and Capport (captive portal) user engagement.
#5: TIP OpenWiFi
As Meta cuts around 13 percent of its workforce and moves away from connectivity, the short-term impact on the TIP OpenWiFi roadmap will likely be negative. But in the long term, the rest of the community will take a more active role. TIP OpenWiFi has a new leader: Jack Raynor from Meta who said, “Meta continues to support OpenWiFi and is assisting the project with the transition to the community. Because of this, and the fact that all of the core development and testing resources remain committed, OpenWiFi will not lose a step from a code release and testing perspective.” While many questions remain about the level of support Meta will continue to provide, testing and R&D are still ongoing.
TIP OpenWiFi will focus its R&D on a number of areas in 2023, such as production deployments of existing Open WiFI 6E devices, OpenAFC integrations, BLE/IoT support for new Matter interfaces, and much more. There are currently thirty-five ongoing customer trials at various stages, and we expect some of them to turn into large commercial deployments in Q1 2023. The challenges with the supply chain from the traditional AP suppliers represent another driver for TIP OpenWiFi interoperable AP providers.
A spectrum database solution, “automatic frequency coordinator” (AFC), is required for 6GHz outdoor and high-power indoor applications. The adoption of the 6GHz band for unlicensed use will continue to grow across the world, and more regulators will initiate their AFC processes. At the time of writing, the Federal Communications Commission had already approved 13 organizations to operate AFC services, and the number of commercially available Wi-Fi-6E-capable devices had reached 1,095. We expect AFC to continue its momentum in 2023 with many more access points and devices supporting 6E. The expectation is that regulators in some countries—such as the U.S. and perhaps Canada—will approve initial AFC operators, and the first few standard power access points will ship in the market.
Other countries, such as Brazil and Europe, will continue to make progress in developing regulatory rules for AFC system operation. The Open AFC Software Group is a dedicated, open-source community for the design, development, testing, and potential certification of AFC software for unlicensed services.
#7: Convergence Between Wi-Fi & 5G
Convergence and coexistence are always on our radar as use cases emerge that work optimally over multiple types of connectivity. The convergence between licensed and unlicensed technologies will continue to play a critical role in service providers’ current and future strategies. There is a particular agreement and focus on convergence in enterprise settings, where many stakeholders believe Wi-Fi and 5G will coexist to support enhanced flexibility for enterprise services.
The year 2023 will continue to see the deployment of Wi-Fi 6 and 6E in enterprise campuses as well as more pilot projects in industrial environments in coexistence with some private 5G networks. Wi-Fi 6/6E and OpenRoaming, together with QoS and policies with ATSSS, will open opportunities for further HetNet convergence from carriers with 5G, private cellular, and Wi-Fi.
HaLow is a technology using the IEEE 802.11ah standard. The Wi-Fi Alliance refers to it as “Wi-Fi HaLow.” HaLow has the advantage of operating in the sub-GHz radio frequency range (902MHz–926MHz)—much lower than traditional Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz)—and uses narrower channels than traditional Wi-Fi.
The WiFi Alliance only certified the Wi-Fi HaLow standard in October of 2021, despite the technology having been in development for six years by then. Morse Micro, Newracom, and Taixan Semiconductor currently offer HaLow chips. Morse Micro has received AUD 140m (U.S.$94.4m) in Series B funding which should give it a much-needed financial boost in a very competitive IoT wireless market. HaLow looks better placed indoors (smart homes) and perhaps for campus coverage where the other flavors of Wi-Fi are already well entrenched. It remains to be seen if it can challenge those LPWAN protocols for outdoor applications that require only low bit rates, such as smart metering and environmental monitoring.
Given that most of the metaverse will occur indoors, Wi-Fi will have an important role to play, underlining the importance of the 6 GHz spectrum and driving demand for Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 7, and beyond. The metaverse requires a predictable and consistent low level of latency, low jitter, and very high throughputs to support the rendering at both the local and wireless levels—capabilities that next-generation Wi-Fi delivers. Various analysts predict 2030 to be the year of the metaverse. There is no doubt that more operators will formulate a metaverse strategy in 2023 with AR/VR devices and applications continuing to penetrate our everyday lives.
#10: Wi-Fi Monetization
All the data traffic and innovations need to be monetized effectively. Recent years have seen more operators succeed in adopting multiple monetization strategies based on the same networks and traffic flows. The top three monetization strategies that will be prominent in the coming year will be marketing and analytics, cellular traffic offloading services, and location-based services. However, the availability of devices and integration with licensed spectrum networks will remain key barriers.