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The potential for unlocked Wi-Fi

Posted by Todd Mersch on 6 September 2017

We know from our own research that Wi-Fi doesn’t make full use of the spectrum available. As Wi-Fi access points become denser in an area, they will interfere with each other and lower performance. This isn’t just a small drop-off either: In an average area, the capacity unavailable thanks to these inefficiencies is enough to stream another 25 high-definition videos.

The use of Wi-Fi is now so popular the methods used to make sure sharing spectrum is fair are no longer effective, wasting capacity. XCellAir’s technology can make this capacity available — but what does making this capacity available actually mean? What is it good for?

While streaming video is increasingly popular and unlocking this potential will mean more people can watch Netflix in the same home at the same time, there are other applications that can make use of this Wi-Fi.

The most obvious application is not just more video, but better video. 4K video isn’t quite mainstream yet, but it’s definitely on the way. Video game enthusiasts, who embraced HD before it was the norm, are moving to 4K monitors and the hardware to support them, while the newest consoles — the Xbox One X and Playstation 4 Pro —support 4K and have a handful of games that support this feature. 4K TVs are falling in price and entry level models aren’t much more expensive than their HD counterparts. Unlike 3D and curved screens, 4K looks less like a fad and more like the future.

4K streaming is also gaining ground. Netflix, Amazon and Youtube all offer 4K streaming, but the capacity needed to stream these is considerable. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said that a spare 15-20Mbps of bandwidth is needed to enjoy a smooth 4K stream. If it dips below that, due to interference, get ready for some buffering. But with Wi-Fi potential unlocked, 4K streaming over Wi-Fi becomes much more practical. And 4K won’t be the last iteration of TV resolution. 8K TVs are already available, albeit out of the reach of the average consumer for some time to come. 16K TVs are only a concept right now, but you can bet they won’t remain so for long.

Better wireless technology can mean just that: fewer wires. Unlicensed spectrum technology, like Wi-Fi and its cousin WiGig, doesn’t just have to be how the video data gets from the streaming service to the TV, it can be the connection between Blu-ray players and set-top boxes and home servers with the TV too. The first commercial TVs were built as pieces of furniture, boxes of wood and bakelite. They have now morphed into sleek flat slabs more in keeping with a modern minimalist aesthetic. But into these screens we plug all manner of cables to attach our streaming devices, consoles, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes, ruining the effect.

Unlicensed spectrum wireless, once bandwidth has been unlocked to its full potential, would be able to support wireless connections between all of our devices. Not just the wires between the router and the device can be replaced, but the wires between devices can disappear, creating the desired aesthetic without the need to hide cables.

This could also make VR more viable. At the moment, enjoying VR is tempered by the headset being connected to the PC or console, limiting movement. Moving around too much can result in pulling expensive equipment to the floor, or getting tangled up in wiring.

Latency is a big issue for VR and the main reason it’s taken so long to come to market. If the delay between someone moving and this being registered on the VR headset is too long, then people get nauseated — our bodies assume that this confusion between movement and visuals is due to being poisoned, and immediately we feel sick. That’s good if you have been poisoned, less so if you’re trying to enjoy a virtual experience in your home. Unlocked Wi-Fi could solve this problem by providing enough bandwidth and low enough latency to allow VR headsets to cut the cord.

The devices that we won’t directly interact with could also benefit from unlocked Wi-Fi. Gartner predicts that 8.4 billion “Things” will be online by 2020 and that more than half of these will be consumer devices. The question is, how are these are going to be connected? LoRa, Sigfox, and LTE-M have all been mooted as technologies than can support IoT, but the unlocking of Wi-Fi potential could mean that it will carry the majority of IoT traffic. Wi-Fi has the advantage of being a well-known standard, in use everywhere, and with the technology to connect easily available. In fact, the majority of IoT devices in use in the home today rely on Wi-Fi. Betting on a competing technology means taking a risk that it will gain popularity and stay in use. Wi-Fi is far too popular and universal to face this issue, and if unlocked, won’t face bandwidth or reliability issues.

The applications for connected devices are many, and the interplay between them also creates intriguing use cases. A connected doorbell means you won’t miss a visitor while using VR. Sensors detect where you are in the home and stream 4K video to wherever you are. And these applications can be made possible without new connection technologies or additional bandwidth. All it takes is unlocking the potential of Wi-Fi that’s already there.

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