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Auto Makers Double Down on Wi-Fi

Many new features in cars start as expensive options for luxury editions and evolve into standard features for all models. This certainly has been true with Wi-Fi. According to Car and Driver magazine, “Wi-Fi access has become a major selling point for buyers, especially for those who feel cut off from the world without Internet access. In fact, having a Wi-Fi hot spot is typically an expectation when considering a new vehicle.”

From its start as a simple way for our passengers to surf the Internet and watch movies while we’re driving, Wi-Fi’s utility has increased significantly, in part due to new features available in Wi-Fi 6. This article will trace how Wi-Fi is being used in cars and its evolution from an expensive option to an essential feature.

Why Wi-Fi?

Most smartphones can serve as hotspots, and we all have smartphones, so why do cars need Wi-Fi? Several reasons.


Honda - As any parent can tell you, keeping everyone connected is a big part of modern family happiness. With our new...4G LTE Wi-Fi, the new Odyssey is all about keeping everyone connected and comfortable.”


First, Wi-Fi installed in your car doesn’t consume your phone’s battery nor your mobile data plan. Also, as we’ll discuss later, Wi-Fi installed in your car enables features that you can’t get with phone-based Wi-Fi. Moreover, it guarantees you autonomy and a secured and reliable connection all the time: there might be public hotspots, but you don’t need to depend on them anymore - plus, Wi-Fi connection in your own car is generally safer than a Starbucks Wi-Fi!

It Started with Entertainment

When Wi-Fi first appeared in cars, passenger entertainment was a huge driver and differentiator. For example, when Honda added Wi-Fi to its 2018 Odyssey minivan, it enabled streaming video to its ceiling-mounted rear entertainment system. Regarding its utility, a Honda executive commented, “As any parent can tell you, keeping everyone connected is a big part of modern family happiness. With our new...4G LTE Wi-Fi, the new Odyssey is all about keeping everyone connected and comfortable.”

This functionality and sentiment have been echoed by many other carmakers. Here’s a blurb from Jaguar's website. “Wi-Fi Hotspot is all about keeping you connected. It allows you and your passengers to connect to the internet via a powerful in-car 4G hotspot. This means that up to eight devices can be connected to keep in touch with work, life, and entertainment while on the move.” Cadillac's website prompts potential buyers to “take ownership to the next level. Cadillac Connected Services helps make ownership more enjoyable and simplifies your life while on the go.”


Mercedes Benz - “One of the greatest technological innovations to be added to Mercedes-Benz vehicles in recent years is the ability to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot in your vehicle.


Mercedes Benz gushes, “One of the greatest technological innovations to be added to Mercedes-Benz vehicles in recent years is the ability to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot in your vehicle. This has a couple of benefits. For one, you can avoid overage charges with your cellphone carrier, which can just be annoying. And two, it allows devices like tablets or laptops that may not have 4G capability to easily connect to the Internet with a connection that is secure and fast.”

BMW touts the productivity-related benefits of Wi-Fi, “WiFi in the car...could soon revolutionize our workplace. Collaborative tools enable location-independent cooperative work, easy communication, and secure exchange of documents. Provided one has a stable internet connection, work can be done at home, in the park, in the café or on the beach, as well as on the train or in the car...For new car buyers, WiFi is increasingly becoming a key factor when it comes to making a purchase decision, if not a basic requirement.”

Regarding FordPass Connect, Ford’s website explains, “Up to 10 devices can connect at once, and you can use FordPass to keep track of your Wi-Fi data usage. You can access the hotspot up to 50 feet outside the vehicle. Now you can stay connected, even as you roam the highways.”


Ford - “Now you can stay connected, even as you roam the highways.”


Going Beyond Entertainment and Connectivity

For perspective, understand that although Wi-Fi’s range has extended significantly over previous generations, it’s essentially a local technology. Within a car, Wi-Fi (and often Bluetooth) is used to allow dozens of sensors and other devices to communicate with each other and the car’s CPU. When data is interchanged with services outside the car, this can be done via Wi-Fi if the external service is local--like a car on a dealer’s lot--or via cellular if more remote. In this fashion, Wi-Fi and cellular work together to keep your car connected.

Figure 1. Internal connectivity use cases for the connected car (Image credit EDN).

This technology collaboration enables features like location sharing, driving history, and crash response. Tesla goes far beyond this with remote diagnostics and over-the-air (OTA) software updates that can eliminate repair trips to the dealership. As described on Tesla’s website, “If your car requires attention, Tesla mobile technicians can complete most repairs wherever you park. If they can’t fix your issue on the spot, they can often identify and pre-diagnose repairs for faster service when you arrive at a Tesla Service Center.”

Where is all this going? The website Electrek, which tracks the transition from gas-powered cars to electric, predicts that “in a not-so-distant self-driving future, I can see your Tesla sending you a message asking if you need your car for a certain window of time, and if you don’t, it will drive by itself to the service center to get an issue fixed.” As traditional carmakers computerize more and more functions within their vehicles and launch new electric vehicles, many are also offering OTA updates. You can learn which companies offer OTA updates and how they work In this article, also on electrek.

The Promise of Wi-Fi 6

Meanwhile continued R&D investments by Wi-Fi contributors deliver new features that will enable newer versions of Wi-Fi, like Wi-Fi 6, to more efficiently serve in automobile-related applications. As detailed in EDN, “Wi-Fi 6 is expected to become the de-facto wireless interface for fully-connected cars. The most significant improvement over its predecessor is increased spectral efficiency, delivering an up-to-fourfold increase in channel capacity. This will either allow it to serve more clients per access point or enable new high-bandwidth use cases, for example streaming ultra-high-resolution video. Wi-Fi 6’s flexibility makes it better adapted to serve clients using smaller chunks of data, without reserving unnecessary overhead.

These improvements are elaborated upon in NXP’s article, 6 Reasons Why Automotive OEMs Are Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6, which lists less congestion, longer range, lower power, faster speeds, upload performance, and consumer satisfaction as the six reasons.

Figure 2. As predicted by BMW, autonomous driving will only make integrated Wi-Fi even more important to the automobile (Image credit - BMW).

The benefits that Wi-Fi delivers will only increase as autonomous driving becomes a reality. As summarized by BMW, “Permanently integrated WiFi, in particular, illustrates a change that vehicles are currently undergoing. Whereas we are currently using cars purely for locomotion, in the future autonomous driving will open up new possibilities: From the mobile office and entertainment to simple connectivity – WiFi in the car is one of the first steps towards achieving these goals.”


BMW - “From the mobile office and entertainment to simple connectivity – WiFi in the car is one of the first steps towards achieving these goals.”


Clearly, automakers are all in when it comes to Wi-Fi. For you, as consumers, this means ever-increasing convenience and safety.

Funding Innovation

Wi-Fi innovations come from multiple companies that invest hundreds of millions annually in R&D. Some recoup their investment largely via product sales, while others are research organizations that fund R&D with royalties from the companies that manufacture and sell products that utilize their technologies. As a patent pool administrator, Sisvel helps form and manage patent pools that provide efficient access to the technologies created by their patent owners.

A patent pool allows, by signing a single contract, to deliver access to multiple patented technologies, reducing overall administrative and licensing costs and accelerating time to market. Royalties paid by these licensees enable additional R&D to ensure that Wi-Fi and other technologies continue to meet and anticipate the future needs of current and new users.

Think about this innovation cycle the next time your passengers surf the Internet or watch high-quality movies while you’re driving, or you get an email from your car telling you that your engine is overheating and needs checking. Without the advancements funded by royalties, none of this would be happening.
Head image credit IEEE SA

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Backgrounder: About WILUS Inc.

Overview

This document briefly describes WILUS, Wi-Fi 6, and WILUS’ contribution to the 802.11ax specification, or labeled Wi-Fi 6 by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Though a relatively small company, WILUS contributed to many critical features in Wi-Fi 6, and its patent portfolio represents a significant component of Wi-Fi 6-related IP.

About WILUS

WILUS is an R&D Company based in South Korea, which was founded in 2012 by Jin Sam Kwak (1) to focus on wireless and multimedia technologies for next generation ICT standards such as LTE-Advanced Pro, 5G NR(-Advanced), Wi-Fi 6, MPEG-H 3D Audio, and VVC. Within WILUS, more than 30 engineers and experts hold advanced degrees (Ph.D./M.S.) and have unparalleled expertise and experience in wireless connectivity and all relevant standards technologies. During the past ten years, WILUS’ standards team has been a key contributor to global ICT standards development for the next generation of wireless and multimedia services.
 
About Wi-Fi 6

The IEEE 802.11ax standard, otherwise known as Wi-Fi 6, or High-Efficiency WLAN (HEW) is the latest technology replacing the current 802.11ac WLAN devices, providing scalability and uncompromised performance. The high-level goal for Wi-Fi 6 was to improve spectrum efficiency and throughput in high-density Wi-Fi environments. As formulated, Wi-Fi 6 lets access points support more clients in dense environments and provides a better experience for typical wireless LAN networks. Wi-Fi 6 also provides up to 4x increase in throughput while reducing power consumption reduced by up to 66%. Figure 1 shows the evolution of Wi-Fi standards.

Wilus 2
Figure 1. The Evolution of Wi-Fi Standards

WILUS Contributions to 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6
Some background on the IEEE and its standard-setting process will be helpful to understand WILUS’ contribution to Wi-Fi 6. Briefly, the 802.11ax standard is an IEEE specification, Wi-Fi 6 the Wi-Fi Alliance designation. The IEEE (I-triple-E) is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional and standard-setting organization. The IEEE 802.11 working group under the IEEE Project 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee (aka IEEE 802 or LMSC) sets all Wi-Fi standards.

The standardization process starts with a functional requirements document that, as the name suggests, defines the technical requirements for the new specification. Once defined, individual members in dozens or hundreds of companies submit technical contributions to meet these requirements. This is a competitive process as different companies propose different technologies and technological approaches.

Movement through the process is driven by individual voters in the IEEE 802.11 working group. Specifically, at various points in the standard-setting process, at least 75% of voters must agree to add a technical contribution to the specification framework, adopt the specification into a draft, and approve the draft. Though WILUS is small compared to many contributors in global big companies, WILUS had several voting members in the IEEE 802.11 working group and actively participated in IEEE 802.11ax standards development with their technical expertise. During the Wi-Fi 6 development process, WILUS submitted more than 90 contributions with almost 30 adopted contributions from May 2014 to the publication of the specification in May 2021. This placed WILUS well within the top 20 contributors to Wi-Fi 6 – if we were to limit the analysis to the contributions submitted before November 2016, when Draft 1.0 was released (2), WILUS would rank even higher.

As it is standard practice, WILUS secured the ideas aimed to 802.11ax by patenting them and then strategically submitted selected ideas as the technical contributions, based on the standards progress for the development of IEEE 802.11ax specification. All patents including the technical proposals to the 802.11ax totaled more than 500 patents by the end of 2021, and the total is expected to grow to more than 750 granted patents by the end of 2025.

In terms of coverage within the main features of Wi-Fi 6, the WILUS patent portfolio addresses, together with others, about 90% of the more than 40 (new) core features of Wi-Fi 6 and contributes to the primary benefits of Wi-Fi 6 (faster throughput, higher capacity) as well as other benefits (extended wireless range, longer battery life, and coexistence with legacy Wi-Fi devices). The main features and relevant benefits which WILUS contributed to are as follows:
  • PPDU format & Preamble - defining new wi-fi frame structure for co-existence with legacy device and extended wireless range
  • Downlink OFDMA - an access point transmits multiple data to multiple stations simultaneously, leading to faster aggregated network throughput
  • Uplink OFDMA (Trigger frame based) - allows multiple stations simultaneously transmit data frames, greatly increases network capacity by removing contention overhead
  • Spatial Reuse & BSS Color - more aggressive in accessing the medium with coloring mechanism for better network capacity in congested area 
  • Target Wake Time & Power Save - scheduling of traffic exchanges between an access point and a station to reduce power consumption

Summary

The formulation of a standard is a competitive, consensus-driven process that ensures that only the most innovative and best-performing technologies become part of the standard. WILUS was a substantial contributor to Wi-Fi 6 specification as measured by the number of accepted contributions and their importance to critical Wi-Fi 6 features. WILUS’s patent portfolio represents a critical component of the patents related to Wi-Fi 6.


(1) He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea, in 1998, 2000, and 2004, respectively. After postdoctoral research positions at Georgia Tech. and UT Austin, from 2007 to 2012, he served as a chief research engineer at LG Electronics. During this time, he carried out research tasks focused on the IMT-Advanced and led the standards activities for wireless communications such as 3GPP, IEEE 802, Wi-Fi Alliance, and WiMAX Forum, as well as served as an alternative board member in Wi-Fi Alliance.
(2)
Draft 1.0 is the most statistically significant, because it defines most of the basic features that constitute the core of the 802.11ax specification: this is when new chips started to be designed.
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Editorial response on Via exit leaving Sisvel as the only patent pool on the wireless market

On April 26, 2022, Via Licensing announced that it was dissolving certain wireless pools and would likely contribute the wireless patents owned by Via to a 5G pool under formation by Sisvel. The following day, Sisvel announced that it would attempt to convince Via pool members to join the Sisvel 5G pool and that a single pool “will create more value for licensees and accelerate adoption by 5G implementers.”

Sisvel released a Q&A with additional information describing its offering to Via pool licensors here.

Sisvel believes that the potential to create a single patent pool for 5G wireless represents a significant opportunity for both patent owners and implementors. The press and pundits agreed; here are some of the highlights of their reporting and comments.

VIA close IAM
 
IAM covers the management of intellectual property as a key business asset and published the first story about the announcement, available here (subscription required). Ms. Morris’ opening paragraph summarizes what happened and why it’s so significant, stating, “Via Licensing will wind down its wireless patent pool to refocus resources and energy on its AAC and MPEG-H audio codec programmes. Via’s exit leaves former competitor Sisvel as the sole wireless patent pool in the mobile devices market, and it will quickly push to attract Via’s former wireless licensors.”

Then she explains why the wireless market has been challenging for patent pools, “Patent pools in the wireless space have always struggled to pick up steam. The dynamics of the market – with so many major patent holders and device makers – make it a tough nut to crack. The biggest patent holders – Ericsson, Nokia, InterDigital, and Qualcomm – prefer in-house licensing and have never joined a pool focused on the mobile devices market.”

Regarding Sisvel's hope to consolidate the market, Ms. Morris quotes Sisvel Group President Mattia Fogliacco as “actively courting Via’s 30 licensors to join Sisvel as well.” In this regard, she explains that Sisvel will offer founding member shares to the Via patent owners and other incentives.

She also quotes Mr. Fogliacco’s comments about why the Via pool closing is so significant, “I think we have an occasion here to really aggregate a very meaningful critical mass of patent owners that then will really display those economies of scale and those transaction costs savings that are typical of patent pools or aggregators.”

VIA close FOSS
 
The following day, Foss Patents, the blog for noted IP authority Florian Mueller, reported on the Via closing with significant commentary. Significantly, after reporting the background and facts, Mr. Mueller opined that a single pool would likely be much more successful than multiple pools.

In my observation, there is empirical evidence besides Via's codec pools that the industry benefits when it can converge on a single pool in a given field....Historically, the MPEG LA codec pools that were one-stop solutions also delivered outstanding results, while the HEVC and VVC situation is an unmitigated disaster for the industry at large.

He then shared his thoughts about “Why would or wouldn't Via's cellular SEP licensors join Sisvel's pool?” mentioning several key factors. Most significant was Sisvel’s growing reputation as a highly effective licensing administrator.

The Sisvel of now has painstakingly built a reputation of being an organization that willing and even not-so-willing licensees can get along with. A couple of weeks ago, Sisvel announced an agreement with Vivo that was struck without having to resort to litigation, which also applies to last year's deal with Samsung. Last summer, Sisvel successfully settled patent infringement disputes with Xiaomi, OPPO, and ZTE. Those are no small achievements, not only but also in light of the unit volumes involved--and Sisvel points to them in that Q&A document on the fallout from Via's decision.

He also expressed that Via’s likely endorsement would be a significant message to the Via patent owners. “By contributing the cellular patents it actually owns (as opposed to third-party patents it administered as part of the pool) to Sisvel's pool, Via endorses through meaningful action the alternative to its licensors that Sisvel's pool represents. If they issued a mere recommendation, people would wonder why they don't put their patents where their mouth is. Via's decision regarding its own patents represents meaningful peer recognition for Sisvel.”

In addition to the founding member status mentioned by IAM, Mr. Mueller further quotes the Sisvel Q&A document that details that “Sisvel will also accept existing third-party essentiality evaluations as relevant evaluations under its 5G multimode and cellular IoT pool, which should eliminate any concerns for double costs." Mr. Mueller concludes that “I would be surprised if "migration" from Via's defunct pool to Sisvel's more successful one didn't happen on a substantial scale.”

VIA close light reading
On May 2,Mike Dano from Light Reading attempted to answer the question, Can Sisvel bring unity to the 5G patent landscape? By way of background, Light Reading is an independent B2B digital media platform serving the networking and services industry.

Mr. Dano opens his article with a concise summary, “After a decade of work, Via Licensing announced it will shutter its wireless patent pool, which stretched from 3G to 5G. The move leaves Sisvel as the last big remaining patent pool in the cellular industry, just as the market's transition to 5G catches on.”

Mr. Dano quotes extensively from both IAM and Foss Patents, but provides useful original  perspective regarding the makeup of the Via pool and its longstanding competition with the Sisvel pool. “Via Licensing in 2012 announced its 4G patent pool with AT&T, HP, Clearwire, Docomo, SK Telecom, Telefónica and others. Just one month later, Sisvel launched a competing pool with the likes of Orange, KPN Telecom and others, anchored by around 500 patents it acquired from Nokia.”

The article reports that “Via Licensing showed progress roughly five years ago with the addition of other participants, including Lenovo, Verizon and Conversant – after it lowered its rates,” but suggests that Sisvel’s recent licensing success might have supplied some of the impetus for Via to shutter its pool. “It's worth noting that, during the past year, Sisvel has successfully closed several cellular licensing agreements with major players like Samsung, Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo – moves that likely put the final nails in Via's coffin.”

Regarding the Sisvel 5G pool, Mr. Dano reported, “Sisvel plans to release the details of its own 5G plans by September. The company said its 5G patent pool "hopefully" will include its existing partners alongside "many new Via patent owners that will be willing to join the pool. This pool will exclusively focus on the consumer electronics market for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, and will not target the automotive nor the IoT market."

Addressing Sisvel’s ability to “bring unity to the 5G patent space,” Mr. Dano shared Mr. Mueller’s quote from above, “As someone who closely monitors cellular SEP [standard-essential patent] litigation and licensing, I would be surprised if 'migration' from Via's defunct pool to Sisvel's more successful one didn't happen on a substantial scale.”

VIA close juve
 
European patent publication Juve Patent published a short article on the Via closing written by Konstanze Richter. The article starts with a concise attention-grabber, “Then there was one,” and then goes recounts the basic facts already presented above.

Ms. Richter provides interesting details regarding members of the Via pool, sharing that “Via Licensing primarily holds 4G patents from around ten patent families, some of which are also applicable for 5G technology. Together with the patents of its approximately 30 licensors, including Deutsche Telekom, Google and Mitsubishi, Via Licensing says it currently has one of the largest patent portfolios for wireless technology.”

She also comments on several existing relationships between Sisvel and Via pool members, predicting that “Sisvel’s offer is likely to be particularly tempting for the existing licensors in the Via Licensing wireless pool that are also licensors in Sisvel’s pools for other technologies. This includes members of the video coding platform Dolby, or NTT Docomo.”

Other Publications

The Via announcement was also covered by multiple other IP and/or telecom resources, including:

  • telecompaper - Via Licensing patent pool members in talks to join Sisvel 5G pool (very short summary).
  • IPtops.com - Via Licensing's exit from wireless patents leaves Sisvel as only game in town with respect to cellular SEP pools for consumer electronics gadgets (the story is the first paragraph of the Foss Patents article with a link to the article).
  • IPRefresh - Via Licensing’s exit from wireless patents leaves Sisvel as only game in town with respect to cellular SEP pools for consumer electronics gadgets (the story is the first paragraph of the Foss Patents article with a link to the article).
  • Tech Investor News - Via Licensing's exit from wireless patents leaves Sisvel as only game in town with respect to cellular SEP pools for consumer electronics gadgets (the story is the first paragraph of the Foss Patents article with a link to the article).
  • Rocky Mountain Patent - Via Licensing’s exit from wireless patents leaves Sisvel as only game in town with respect to cellular SEP pools for consumer electronics gadgets (the story is the first paragraph of the Foss Patents article with a link to the article).


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How You Should Think About Patents and Royalties

It’s easy for those with only a casual knowledge of standards-based technology development to consider patents and royalties a harmful and unfair “tax” on the companies that sell products based upon those standards. But understanding how standards like Wi-Fi are created delivers a completely different view. Patents and royalties aren’t a tax on the system; they’re the fuel that powers the system.

Let’s start with a quiz. Assume you’re at the airport in a crowded lounge, or maybe in a conference hall. Your notebook computer is connected via Wi-Fi and you’re about to make a critical video call, but notice other folks around you doing the same thing. Your main concern is (choose one):

A.    I hope this call goes through and looks and sounds great.
B.    I hope royalties on the Wi-Fi router aren’t excessive.
C.    I hope royalties aren’t being paid to a non-practicing entity (NPE).

Hold that thought.


How Standards are Created

Though the standard-setting process varies among organizations like MPEG and the IEEE, most follow this basic structure. The process starts with a functional requirements document that, as the name suggests, defines the technical requirements for the new specification. Relating to our quiz, the key functional specs for Wi-Fi 6 were improved efficiency and throughput in high-density Wi-Fi environments, like airports or conference halls.

Once the functional requirements are set, individual members in dozens or hundreds of companies submit “technical contributions” to meet these requirements. This is a competitive process as different companies propose different technological approaches. Movement through the process is driven by individual voting members. In the IEEE group that sets Wi-Fi standards, as generally in standard-setting bodies, members vote to add technical contributions to the specification framework, adopt the specification into a draft, and approve the draft.

Member companies submitting technical contributions can be retail product manufacturers, chip vendors or other component vendors, telecom operators or pure research companies funded through product royalties. Or a combination of these. Technical solutions contributed to standards are almost always patented, which means they are highly innovative and involve substantial development, testing, and refinement.

These technical contributions are designed and developed by highly skilled professionals working in an extremely competitive environment driven by the voting process. Their charter is to create patentable technologies that solve key requirements of the specification. They’re the ones who make your video call a success or a failure.

Of course, not all technical contributions are accepted. Contributors often propose several solutions for every technical problem, but eventually only one is integrated into the standard. So, the companies employing these talented developers must fund the development of multiple inventions for each that’s integrated into the standard. This requires substantial investment.


Deploying the Standard

Once a standard like Wi-Fi is complete, it contains the best-in-class of multiple proposals from dozens of companies. Component vendors build chips that implement the standard and product manufacturers integrate these components into retail products that are sold to businesses and consumers. Products that implement the standard pay royalties back to companies that contributed technology to the specification, either bilaterally, or through patent pools that combine multiple contributors.


About These Royalties

A few things about these royalties. First, companies build products around standards-based technologies because the development process ensures that the standard will include the most effective technical solutions for achieving the requirements of the new specification. Deploying the standard allows them to remain competitive with other manufacturers and ensures that their products are compatible with all others that use the same standard.

Second, because of how standards are created and documented, companies who implement the specification can easily find out who the contributors are and that patents were actually deployed in the specification. The expectation of royalties is not a surprise; it’s a well-established component of the technology innovation ecosystem.

Finally, to ensure that patent holders don’t abuse the leverage that a standard gives them, royalties associated to standard-essential patents must be Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND). While opinions will certainly vary about what’s reasonable, FRAND is an established legal concept that both patent-holders and implementors can rely on in court. That said, by far the majority of patent licensing agreements are hammered out via negotiation, not by judges or juries.


How You Should Think About Patents and Royalties

Now back to our quiz. Your main concern is (choose one):

A.    I hope this call goes through and looks and sounds great.
B.    I hope royalties on the Wi-Fi router aren’t excessive.
C.    I hope royalties aren’t being paid to a non-practicing entity (NPE).

The correct answer is obviously A. The Wi-Fi 6 development process ensures that, if your laptop and the local router both support Wi-Fi 6, you have the world’s best technology delivering your call.

Should you care about royalties? No, because they’re baked into the standard-setting and implementation process that brought us Wi-Fi, cellular, and many other similar technologies. If the router costs a few dollars more to deliver the best possible experience, it’s a reasonable price to pay. After all, innovation is a long and expensive process, it requires the possibility of reasonable returns to be worth pursuing.

Should you care if you’re paying royalties to a non-practicing entity? Why would you? At the end of the day, it’s all about the best technology to get your call through. And it’s irrelevant if that comes from a chipset manufacturer, a router vendor, a university, or a research shop.

So again, royalties aren’t a tax on the system; they're the fuel that powers the system. Eliminate or dramatically reduce these royalties and you remove the incentive that produced technologies like Wi-Fi and cellular in the first place.



Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels
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IEEE 2015 IPR Policy: Description and Operation

On February 8, 2015, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (“IEEE”) approved changes to the IEEE Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policies that defined Reasonable Rates for royalties relating to/in respect of future IEEE standards and restricted the availability of injunctive relief.  This is the first in a series of articles that will explore the 2015 policy and its impact on standards-essential patents licensing.

This article will provide some background and detail what the new policies say and do. The next articles will discuss other relevant aspects of these new policies.


About The IEEE and SEPs

By way of background, the IEEE is a standard-setting organization that has set multiple standards for technologies like Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and many others. During the formation of such standards, IEEE participants submit technical contributions that accomplish the particular technical goals of the standard. If these contributions are included in the standard, any patents that cover them are designated Standard Essential Patents or SEPs. We give an overview of how the standardization process works in this article.

Recognizing that patents provide a right to exclude, organizations like the IEEE request SEP Owners to commit to making available licenses on Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory, or RAND, terms—“FRAND” (Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) is a more European version of the term (while RAND is mainly used in the US), but the two are essentially synonyms and often used interchangeably. Worldwide case law also provides guidance on what RAND entails. What’s unique about the 2015 IEEE IPR changes, which are available here, is that for the first time for any standards-setting organization, the IEEE defined what a “Reasonable Rate” computation should consider (see page 2 of this redlined version). The IEEE also limited the availability of injunctions (see page 4, line 146).


IEEE requests Licensing Assurances from patent holders

In terms of operation, the new policy kicks in when “the IEEE receives notice that a [Proposed] IEEE Standard may require the use of a potential Essential Patent Claim.” Once received, “the IEEE shall request licensing assurance, on the IEEE-SA Standards Board approved Letter of Assurance (LOA) form, from the patent holder or patent applicant.”

So, if a standard includes a potential essential patent claim, the IEEE can request licensing assurance. Once this request is received, the patent holder has four options:
  • Deny awareness of Essential Patent Claim
  • Submit LOA committing to
    • License Essential Patent Claim on royalty-free terms, or
    • License Essential Patent Claim with reasonable royalty, or
    • Refrain from enforcing Essential Patent Claim
  • Submit “negative LOA,” declining to give any assurance as to licensing intentions
  • Not respond
Now let’s explore the definitions of “reasonable rates” and restrictions against injunctive relief.


How the 2015 IPR Policy defines Reasonable Rates

According to the updated IPR policy,

“[D]etermination of such Reasonable Rates should include, but need not be limited to, the consideration of:
• The value that the functionality of the claimed invention or inventive feature within the Essential Patent Claim contributes to the value of the relevant functionality of the smallest saleable Compliant Implementation that practices the Essential Patent Claim.
• The value that the Essential Patent Claim contributes to the smallest saleable Compliant Implementation that practices that claim, in light of the value contributed by all Essential Patent Claims for the same IEEE Standard practiced in that Compliant Implementation.
• Existing licenses covering use of the Essential Patent Claim, where such licenses were not obtained under the explicit or implicit threat of a Prohibitive Order, and where the circumstances and resulting licenses are otherwise sufficiently comparable to the circumstances of the contemplated license.

Restrictions against Injunctions in the 2105 IPR Policy

This provision reads as follows;

“The Submitter of an Accepted LOA who has committed to make available a license for one or more Essential Patent Claims agrees that it shall neither seek nor seek to enforce a Prohibitive Order based on such Essential Patent Claim(s) in a jurisdiction unless:  the implementer fails to participate in, or to comply with the outcome of, an adjudication, including an affirming first-level appellate review, if sought by any party within applicable deadlines, in that jurisdiction...”
Future articles will analyze this provision in more detail. For now, one prevalent view is that “Because the revisions place strict limitations on an SEP holder’s ability to enforce its patent rights against infringers, they truncate the upper range of the distribution of bilaterally negotiated RAND royalties and thus unambiguously reduce the compensation that the SEP holder may obtain for its technological contributions to the IEEE standards”. Also, most authorities agree that “This proposed IEEE IPR policy appears contrary to case law and administrative actions that have considered the availability of injunctive relief for standard essential patents and universally agree that injunctive relief should be available against unwilling licensees.”


Letters of Assurance

Once the patent owner receives the request for licensing assurance, it has the four options detailed above, which include not responding. If they choose to respond, the Letter of Assurance Template is available here. Here are the key options in the document.

IEEE Letter of Assurance
Section 1 of the IEEE Letter of Assurance Template.

Here’s a quick summary of the four options, a - d.

a.    The patent owner agrees to license without compensation, with the option to require a reciprocal agreement from the licensee.
b.    The patent owner agrees to license according to the new definition of Reasonable Rates as discussed above, with the other options shown.
c.    The patent owner agrees not to enforce the patent claim for Compliant Implementations of the technology.
d.    The patent owner is unwilling to grant licenses under a or b, or to agree to c. This is called a Negative Letter of Assurance.

In its September 10, 2020 letter to the IEEE, the US Department of Justice noted that "Since the Policy went into effect, reports show that negative assurances—those in which a technology contributor declines to give a RAND assurance—have increased significantly, comprising 77% of the total Wi-Fi Letters of Assurance at IEEE between January 2016 and June 2019. As a result, in 2019, the American National Standards Institute—a leading nongovernmental body that accredits US standards—declined to approve two proposed IEEE standards amending the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard." This development indicates that the changes to the IPR policy in 2015 did not find consensus among members of IEEE. Rather, probably as a consequence of the composition of the IEEE SA Board (the IEEE’s governing body responsible for modifications to the IEEE-SA Standards Board Bylaws which contain the IPR policy) back at the time, the changes were approved despite internal criticism.



Foto di aymane jdidi da Pixabay





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SoFi Stadium Builds Super Bowl Fan Experience Around Wi-Fi6

SoFi Stadium is the glittery new jewel of NFL stadiums, home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, and the site of Super Bowl 56. With connectivity so crucial to the fan experience, it’s no surprise that SoFi chose Wi-Fi 6 for its wireless technology.

Over the last few years, many stadiums have added Wi-Fi 6 connectivity to their facilities, not only so fans can watch instant replays and post on social media but to support touchless concession ordering and payment and digital ticketing. According to Jason Gannon, managing director of SoFi Stadium: We envision SoFi Stadium not just hosting world-class events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, but also ... [setting] a new standard for the fan experience through cutting-edge technology that will enhance the way guests interact with live eventsTo support this vision, technology integrator AmpThink installed about 2500 Wi-Fi 6 access points throughout the stadium and surrounding facilities.

Usage statistics show this money was well spent. SoFi reports that during an average football game, fans consume 18TB with a peak utilization of 24TB. The average concurrent take rate was 69% with an astounding peak rate of 84%, and the average data consumed by fans at all events was 533MB. According to tests performed by CNET, Wi-Fi 6 transfer speeds within the stadium reach 1,320 Mbps, which was 40% faster than the fastest Wi-Fi 5 speed they had ever measured.

Wi-Fi 6 Cuts Through the Clutter

But Wi-Fi 6 isn’t just about speed. This new generation of wireless incorporates many sophisticated technological advances like OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) and downlink and uplink MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) to serve multiple users much more efficiently. It adds back the 2.4 GHz spectrum band to add capacity and increase the effective reach, and technologies like BSS Coloring to work more efficiently in crowded Wi-Fi environments. These features, plus a maximum transfer speed of 9.6 Gbps, make Wi-Fi 6 ideal for stadium usage.

So, it comes as no surprise that Wi-Fi 6 has been the wireless technology of choice for a number of connectivity upgrades, including Old Trafford stadium in Greater Manchester, Olympiastadion in Berlin,  St. Jakob Park in Basel Switzerland, Coors Field in Denver, Chase Center in San Francisco, Nissan Stadium and 16 Major League Baseball stadiums in the US. It’s not a stretch to say that Wi-Fi 6 is improving the fan experience around the world.

Funding Wi-Fi Innovation

As entertainment venues and other markets continue to push the envelope for improved performance and reliability in increasingly challenging environments, the Wi-Fi development community continues to invest in R&D to meet and exceed these requirements. As a patent pool administrator, Sisvel helps companies that fund this R&D recoup their investment so they can perform more research to deliver even more benefits in future versions.




Image is from here: Transportation Options - SoFi Stadium | Hollywood Park (hollywoodparkca.com)
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Welcome to Sisvel Wi-Fi Blog

Hello, I’m Andrea Rombolà, I’m managing the Sisvel’s program on Wi-Fi technology. As you’ll see over the next few months, we’re using this blog to educate readers on Wi-Fi technology, highlight the business opportunities in new and existing markets that it enables, and to present our point of view regarding patent licensing.
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Wi-Fi 6 and 6E: The Perfect Prescription for the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)

Even ten to fifteen years ago, most hospital Wi-Fi networks connected computers and notebooks, and perhaps the odd PDA or medical device. Today, the number of connected medical devices has soared into the millions, with many requiring in-hospital Wi-Fi connections. At the same time, largely COVID-inspired telemedicine is expected to achieve seven-fold growth by 2025, placing additional demands on Wi-Fi networks.

Few doubt the benefits that connected medical devices and telemedicine bring to patient care and operational efficiency. But the combination of more Wi-Fi devices, more access points, and increased bandwidth requirements creates new and increased demands on medical facility Wi-Fi infrastructures.

Fortunately, due to the forward-thinking development strategy adopted by companies contributing to Wi-Fi standards and technologies, Wi-Fi 6 and 6E were designed to handle many of the technical challenges imposed by IoMT and telemedicine. This article will identify these challenges and the new features and capabilities in Wi-Fi 6 and 6E that will enable medical facilities to meet them.

About Wi-Fi 6 and 6E

The standard for wireless local-area networks (WLANs), officially marketed by the Wi-Fi Alliance as Wi-Fi 6, operates over the 2.4 and 5 GHz spectrum bands. Wi-Fi 6E is also based on 802.11ax standard and is an extension of Wi-Fi 6 indicating support for operation also in the 6 GHz wireless spectrum.

As with all Wi-Fi generations, Wi-Fi 6 delivers much faster transfer speeds, with a maximum data rate almost three times faster than Wi-Fi 5 (9.6 Gbps compared to 3.5). However, another major focus of Wi-Fi 6 was to improve efficiency when multiple devices are vying for network access and to minimize contention when multiple routers are installed in the same building or office. One target was to increase “average throughput per user more than four times in high-density environments” another to reduce latency by as much as 75%. This is why Wi-Fi 6 is also called “High-Efficiency Wi-Fi.”

The features implemented to achieve these results make Wi-Fi 6 and 6E uniquely qualified for deployment in healthcare environments. Let’s explore common healthcare-related Wi-Fi challenges and features that enable Wi-Fi 6 to overcome them.

Multiple medical connected devices, many of which use Wi-Fi

Figure 1: Multiple medical connected devices, many of which use Wi-Fi.

Scenario 1: Multiple Devices Seeking Wi-Fi Access

The average hospital room has between 15-20 connected devices, many using Wi-Fi, with some using other communications technologies like Bluetooth. Some may be pulling relatively light duty, like a heart rate monitor pushing a few bytes of data a minute while a laptop retrieving an x-ray or other scan needs to download megabytes of data as quickly as possible. All devices are mission critical.

Previous generations of Wi-Fi communicated to each device sequentially using fixed bandwidth packets. This wasted bandwidth when the available data was less than the capacity of the packets, and increased latency when serving multiple clients, who all had to wait their turn to transmit or receive packets. You see this on the top in Figure 2.

One key new feature in Wi-Fi 6 is Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), which allows up to 37 clients to share a 80 MHz channel simultaneously, using varying packet sizes, so the heart rate monitor can send just a few bytes of data while the downloading x-ray consumes much more bandwidth. Shown at the bottom of Figure 1, this allows the network to serve more devices more efficiently and reduce network-related latency.

How OFDMA improves throughput, spectrum efficiency, and multi-device traffic capacity

Figure 2. How OFDMA improves throughput, spectrum efficiency, and multi-device traffic capacity (from here).


Wi-Fi 6 also expanded the capacity of Multi-Input Multiple-output (MIMO) technology, which lets a Wi-Fi access point with multiple antennas communicate simultaneously with multiple devices. With Wi-Fi 5, an access point with four antennas could transmit to four devices simultaneously, but the access point could only accept a single upload at a time. Wi-Fi 6 supports up to eight antennas for both download and upload, further reducing latency and improving multiple device support.


Telemedicine is a very high bandwidth bi-directional medium that imposes significant demands on Wi-Fi systems

Figure 3. Telemedicine is a very high bandwidth bi-directional medium that imposes significant demands on Wi-Fi systems.


Telemedicine

Video-conferencing is a highly-demanding application for both upload and download. Obviously, Wi-Fi 6’s increased speed benefits in both directions, but other advanced Wi-Fi technologies also contribute to improved performance.

Increased MIMO is one of them; in addition to allowing an access point with multiple antennas to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously (Downlink, DL, MU-MIMO) as already defined in 802.11ac, 802.11ax also allows devices to communicate with the access point using multiple antennas (Uplink , UL, MU-MIMO). So, a computer with a network card with two antennas could double the Wi-Fi bandwidth by communicating over two antennas.

Wi-Fi 6 also uses a technology called Beamforming to direct signals towards specific clients, improving both throughput and range. Beamforming was part of Wi-Fi 5 but only addressed four users , which Wi-Fi 6 increased to eight. Another efficiency technique is 1024-QAM, which increases the information carried by the Wi-Fi signal from 8-bits to 10-bits, increasing throughput by 25%.

Finally, Wi-Fi 6E compatible devices can also access the 6 GHz wireless spectrum, which adds 14 80 MHz channels and seven 160 MHz channels to the 2.4/5 GHz channels addressed by Wi-Fi 6. Since the 6GHz spectrum isn’t used by previous Wi-Fi generations, there will be less contention for these resources. The availability of this new, higher bandwidth spectrum means faster connections with less interference from legacy devices and better service for video-conferencing and similar bi-directional mediums.


Multiple networks in the same location can increase latency significantly without BSS Coloring

Figure 4. Multiple networks in the same location can increase latency significantly without BSS Coloring.


Multiple Networks and Access Points

Many medical facilities have multiple networks with different access points serving different departments and different classes of users, like guests and internal staff. Though each access point will only serve clients that are properly logged in, they all share the same spectrum, which can introduce latency when devices are vying for connections within their individual networks.

A new Wi-Fi 6 feature called BSS Coloring allows access points to quickly identify devices in their network and ignore devices in other networks. In a crowded Wi-Fi environment, BSS Coloring can dramatically increase throughput and decrease latency, improving overall Wi-Fi efficiency for all users.

Target Wake Time preserves the battery life of battery-powered monitoring devices

Figure 5. Target Wake Time preserves the battery life of battery-powered monitoring devices. Image from here.

Preserving Battery Life of Medical Devices

In-hospital and remote patient monitoring is often performed with battery-powered devices, some of which require a persistent connection to continually send data and some of which can collect data and send updates periodically. In the latter case, a new Wi-Fi 6 feature called Target Wake Time allows devices to schedule times for these periodic uploads. Since Wi-Fi data transmission doesn’t need to be enabled except during these transfers, this extends battery life and reduces Wi-Fi congestion.

Funding Wi-Fi Innovation

As healthcare and other markets continue to push the envelope for improved performance and reliability in increasingly challenging environments, the Wi-Fi development community continues to invest in R&D to meet and exceed these requirements. As a patent pool administrator, Sisvel helps companies that fund this R&D recoup their investment so they can perform more research to deliver even more benefits in future versions.

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Wi-Fi 6 reaches 50% Market Share

If you’ve been wondering if now is a good time to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, you’re definitely late to the party. The Wi-Fi Alliance recently reported that Wi-Fi 6 surpassed 50% market share in three years, compared to the four years it took for Wi-Fi 5. The Alliance cited several reasons for this fast adoption, including Wi-Fi usage in the Internet of Things (IoT) and improved performance in Wi-Fi dense public areas. However, Wi-Fi 6E appears to be the main draw, with the Alliance reporting that “Wi-Fi 6E has seen...strong adoption in products and in service provider and enterprise deployments.”

About Wi-Fi 6E

As explained here, Wi-Fi 6E is an extension of the Wi-Fi 6 specification that incorporates products that support the 6 GHz wireless spectrum. That is, all Wi-Fi 6 devices (and many previous generations) use the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum, so there’s more contention for this bandwidth. Wi-Fi 6E adds the 6 GHz spectrum, with more channels and less competition for the spectrum.

Note that the availability of the 6 GHz bandwidth is decided on a country-by-country basis. While the US, Canada, and European Union have opened up the 6GHz band for 6E usage, support from other countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, is nascent.

Where 6E is available, it’s made a significant difference in general purpose usages, as well as in healthcare and academia. For example, Turkish phone company Turk Telekom recently tested Wi-Fi 6 in closed lab testing and over the internet, and found that “by operating in the 6 GHz spectrum, interference and latency are dramatically reduced, enhancing the user experience with increased speed and performance worthy of the next generation applications currently being discussed.”

In addition to immediate performance enhancements, company officials see that Wi-Fi 6 “lay[s] the groundwork for Wi-Fi 7 so that citizens can utilize the digitally immersive services that will drive advancements in education, manufacturing, entertainment and more.”

Wi-Fi 6E: Enhanced Security

Beyond the new spectrum, Wi-Fi 6E is also very secure. That’s because Wi-Fi 6E devices, like all Wi-Fi 6 devices, require WPA3 security certification, replacing the legacy WPA2 standard and making Wi-Fi security options more robust than ever. This can be critical in a hospital or similar environment where the need for security is paramount.

For example, when Novant Health rolled out a new Wi-Fi 6E network in October, 2021, they identified WPA3 and Enhanced Open, another wireless security standard from the Wi-Fi Alliance, as key technology drivers. Of course, they loved the speed and pristine spectrum as well, as evidenced by this statement from Allen Rider, Chief Wireless Network Architect. “Wi-Fi 6E brings 1200 Mhz of interference-free spectrum that will enable advanced healthcare deployment scenarios. Our mission-critical, Wi-Fi-enabled care equipment will now have its own clean airspace to ensure the delivery of revolutionary new services.”

Wi-Fi 6E has also proved compelling on ultra-large campuses like the University of Michigan, which recently spent US $11 million dollars to upgrade to 6E, adding over 15,000 network access points, and enabling the University to support a number of key academic needs. For example, in large auditoriums, students can collaborate via Zoom creating subgroups while maintaining social distances. The 6E network also provides the enhanced connectivity to support robots in the Ford Robotics Building, built in collaboration with the Ford Motor Company.

Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are the fruits of the Wi-Fi development community’s continual investment in R&D to produce technological enhancements that solve real problems for Wi-Fi users and enable and enhance new applications. As a patent pool administrator, Sisvel helps companies that fund this R&D recoup their investment so they can perform more research to deliver even more benefits in future versions.



Photo of Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay
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Wi-Fi 6: It’s Not Just About You Anymore

Most consumers see successive versions of Wi-Fi from a very me-centric lens - how much further can I sit from the router and still be productive? Or, can I watch 4K videos on my notebook while sitting in the backyard? And, of course, the most recent versions of Wi-Fi let you sit further and download faster than ever before.

In fact, the main goal that the task group which developed the 802.11ax standard (TGax) set for itself was delivering better performances (higher data rates) in highly dense environments (e.g. offices but also campuses, airports and stadium), by improving the efficiency of the whole network and saving battery life of each device.

But there is a lot more. Wi-Fi 6 will greatly influence our everyday lives, both directly and indirectly. One of the areas where Wi-Fi 6 will have a huge impact is the Internet of Things, or IoT. As defined in Wikipedia, IoT “describes physical objects that are embedded with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communications networks.” A sensor in your refrigerator could alert you if your refrigerant starts leaking, or a medical device could continually send data back to a physician for monitoring.

Bringing connectivity to increasingly smarter devices will deliver significant benefits in markets as diverse as factory automation and national defense. And, as explored in an article entitled Wi-Fi 6 is set to change the future of IoT—Here’s why, new features in Wi-Fi 6 significantly enhance Wi-Fi’s role in IoT, not only with faster throughput but, as we said already, also with power-saving features that extend battery life and better performance in areas congested with multiple Wi-Fi and other signals. 

Wi-Fi is also playing an increasingly important role in automobiles, not only for sending operating data back to the factory but also for high-bandwidth media consumption that often is shared among multiple riders. As detailed in an article entitled How WiFi 6 will enable smarter vehicles, Wi-Fi 6 delivers multiple features that enhance automotive Wi-Fi performance, including the ability to partition bandwidth more effectively so multiple riders can enjoy their movies while under-the-hood monitoring devices can continue to communicate effectively. 

The key point is that where earlier generations of Wi-Fi primarily enabled router-to-computer, phone, tablet, or smart TV communications, newer generations allow a much more diverse set of manufacturers to add features that significantly enhance the utility and marketability of their products. That’s why you’ll see Wi-Fi added to an increasing range of products from air conditioners to toilet seats. 

Bringing it back to the me-centric view that we all share, not only does Wi-Fi 6 let you sit further from your router and enjoy 4K videos, it can also alert you that your air-conditioner is ailing before it fails and significantly enhance connectivity in cars, airplanes, conferences, and other congested use scenarios. So, maybe Wi-Fi 6 is all about you, after all. 

Wi-Fi 6 offers many new features that enable or enhance many products in many industries beyond those mentioned above. Check back for additional posts that will describe these features and their underlying technologies.


Photo by Erik Odiin on Unsplash
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Wi-Fi 6: the Innovation Continues

For many Wi-Fi users, the data in the table below tells them everything they need to know about Wi-Fi 6; It retains the same bandwidth as Wi-Fi 5, adds back the 5GHz frequency band (and further adds the 6 GHz frequency band – the so-called Wi-Fi 6E) , and other innovations boost the maximum data rate to 9.6 GHz. It’s also backward-compatible to previous versions, so your Wi-Fi 6 router will connect to previous generations just fine, though obviously limited to the highest speed afforded by that generation. 

Feature 

Wi-Fi 4

Wi-Fi 5

Wi-Fi 6

Channel bandwidth (MHz)

20, 40

20, 40, 80, 80 + 80, 160

20, 40, 80, 80 + 80, 160

Frequency bands

2.4 and 5 GHz

5 GHz

2.4 and 5 GHz

Maximum data rate

150 Mbps 

3.5 Gbps

9.6 Gbps

Underlying technology 

IEEE 802.11n

IEEE 802.11ac

IEEE 802.11ax

Table 1. Derived from Wi-Fi Alliance document entitled Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™: A new era for Wi-Fi® 

Now that we know the high-level numbers, let’s explore some of the innovations that deliver this improved performance, plus the other numerous other technological benefits of Wi-Fi 6. For perspective, it’s always useful to assess a technology by considering the environment it works in and the tasks it’s expected to perform. 

As you can see in Figure 1, Wi-Fi originally transmitted lightweight emails and other primarily business-oriented documents to and from computers and notebooks. Over the years, usage has expanded to include a range of mobile, industrial, and entertainment devices and content like video that requires increasingly higher throughput. To meet these new and challenging requirements, Wi-Fi 6 not only needed to be faster, but it also needed to work more efficiently in environments congested with many Wi-Fi routers and clients, to protect the battery life of Wi-Fi clients, and deliver other features. 

11ax brilliant wifi

Figure 1. The expanding role and increasing demands on Wi-Fi technology (from TechSpot). 

Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA)

One key new feature in Wi-Fi 6 is Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). As shown in Figure 2, previous Wi-Fi generations communicated serially using fixed bandwidth packets. This wasted bandwidth when the available data was less than the capacity of the packets, and increased latency when serving multiple clients, who all had to wait their turn to transmit or receive packets. 

ofdma

Figure 2. How OFDMA improves throughput, spectrum efficiency, and multi-device traffic capacity (from here). 


As shown at the bottom of Figure 2, OFDMA subdivides the Wi-Fi channel into smaller allocations called “resource units” which can send and retrieve data to multiple clients in parallel, essentially maintaining simultaneous connections with multiple clients. OFDMA also supports data packets of different sizes, so a video-conferencing client can transmit more data faster than a thermometer or medical device. As you can see in the diagram, OFDMA doesn’t increase the bandwidth of the channel, it uses the existing channel more efficiently, which increases overall throughput. 

In addition, OFDMA can also reduce latency with profound results in some applications. For example, one study found that OFDMA reduced upload latency by 99% and download latency by 93% in a classroom environment involving 19 students and one teacher videoconferencing at 3 Mbps each. In this increasingly relevant application, OFDMA made the difference between a  disjointed phone call-from-the-moon experience and a highly interactive learning session. 

 


Multi-User Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MU-MIMO)

Another Wi-Fi 6 innovation is a further improving in the use of Multi-Input Multiple-output (MIMO) technology, which lets a Wi-Fi access point divide the network resources by the number of antennas on the access point (or AP). Using MIMO, a wireless router with four antennas can send four signals to a device with four antennas, which increases throughput significantly over an access point and device with two antennas. 

As shown on the left in Figure 3, the problem with traditional MIMO is that it can only transmit to a single user at a time, which is why MIMO is sometimes referred to as Single-User MIMO, or SU-MIMO. If that device only has a single antenna, like most mobile phones and tablets, MIMO provides little benefit, as the bandwidth enabled by the extra antennas goes to waste. 

mimo mu mimo
Figure 3. MIMO can only transmit to a single user at a time while MU-MIMO can transmit to multiple users. From here


As the name suggests, multi-user MIMO, or MU-MIMO, allows a single AP to communicate to multiple devices simultaneously, dividing the available bandwidth into individual streams targeting each device. Like OFDMA, MU-MIMO doesn’t create additional bandwidth, it allows existing bandwidth to be used more effectively. 

Note that download MU-MIMO (DL-MU-MIMO) was introduced in Wi-Fi 5, but only addressed up to four terminal devices at the same time and that upload MU-MIMO (UL-MU-MIMO) was not available. Wi-Fi 6 supports up to eight users with up to 4 space-time streams per user (with the total across all users not exceeding 8 space-time streams). and is available for both download and upload, which can dramatically improve performance in high-bandwidth bidirectional applications like videoconferencing.

beamforming technology

Figure 4. Beamforming focuses the Wi-Fi signal towards a specific device, improving speed and range. From here

Interestingly, Wi-Fi 6 uses a technology called Beamforming to direct signals towards specific clients which improves throughput and range (Figure 4). Like DL-MU-MIMO, Beamforming was part of Wi-Fi 5, however Wi-Fi 6 further increases the number of MU-MIMO users which can benefit from this technology. 


1024-QAM

Next up is 1024-QAM. By way of background, quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) is a technique used to transmit information. Wi-Fi 5 uses 256-QAM which carries 8 bits, while Wi-Fi 6 uses 1024-QAM, which uses 10-bits, a bandwidth increase of 25%. One easy-to-understand analogy is a highway that remains the same width but squeezes five lanes into the space previously occupied by four. As shown in Figure 5, if the speed limit remains the same, throughput should increase by 25%. 

wifi 6 data

Figure 5. Wi-Fi 6 uses 1024 - QAM which carries 25% more data. 

BSS Coloring

Another Wi-Fi 6 innovation is BSS coloring, which reduces congestion when multiple access points are available in the same environment. By way of background, each router and set of connected devices is called a Basic Service Set, or BSS. Within a BSS, multiple devices will contend for a channel to the router at any given time. However, when multiple access points operate in the same environment, they will often share the same Wi-Fi channels. 

 To detect when a channel is available, a device within a particular BSS will listen to that channel to detect if any other device is transmitting. In a crowded signal environment, devices from other BSSs could be transmitting on the same channel, falsely indicating that the channel is busy. You see this on the left in Figure 6, where a device attempting to communicate on channel 4 sees activity from two other devices, which may or may not be in the same BSS. 

bss coloring

Figure 6. BSS Coloring reduces contention and improves bandwidth utilization. From here.  


BSS Coloring adds a 6-bit identifier to the signals (not actual colors), so devices can quickly identify devices in their BSS, and ignore devices in other BSSs. On the right in Figure 6, a device in the blue BSS seeking to transmit on channel 4 would ignore signals from the green and orange BSSs, and only detect that the channel was busy if another blue device was transmitting. 

BSS coloring promotes operational efficiency within each BSS and more efficient use of the available Wi-Fi channels. In a stadium, trade-show floor, airport, or other crowded facilities with multiple routers or other access points, BSS Coloring can dramatically increase throughput and decrease latency, improving overall Wi-Fi efficiency for all users. 


Target Wake Time

Finally, Target Wake Time is a feature that allows an access point and device to set a time for the device to wake up and communicate. In the case of battery-powered devices, this can obviously preserve battery life, but it also can reduce network contention by scheduling large data dumps during periods where the network is otherwise underutilized. 

target wake time twt

Figure 7. Target Wake Time allows devices and access points to agree on a transmission time, saving battery life and increasing network efficiency. From here


Funding Innovation

Companies contributing to the Wi-Fi specification have continued to invest hundreds of millions of dollars annually to produce these innovations. This investment has produced a Wi-Fi standard that’s faster, more robust, and includes features that expand Wi-Fi usage into new applications like factory automation, Internet of Things (IoT), healthcare, and many others. However, like any investment, these expenditures only make sense if some revenue is returned. 

Some companies recoup their investment largely via product sales, while others are primarily research organizations that fund their R&D with royalties from the companies that manufacture and sell products that utilize their technologies. As a patent pool administrator, Sisvel helps form and manage patent pools that provide efficient access to the technologies created by their patent owners. 

By working with a patent pool, product developers sign a single contract that delivers access to multiple patented technologies, reducing overall administrative and licensing costs and accelerating time to market. Royalties paid by these licensees enable additional R&D to ensure that Wi-Fi and other technologies continue to meet and anticipate the future needs of current and new users. 

Think about this innovation cycle the next time you use Wi-Fi to watch a 4K HDR movie in your backyard or car, or video conference with colleagues around the globe with pristine quality and minimal latency. Without the advancements funded by royalties, Wi-Fi would be stuck in its 1999 performance envelope, and suitable only for checking email and transferring lightweight office documents. 

Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash
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Wi-Fi 6E: What and Where

Wi-Fi 6E is an extension of the Wi-Fi 6 specification that incorporates products that support the 6 GHz wireless spectrum. To explain, all Wi-Fi 6 products support both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrums (see  Fig. 2 below). But only Wi-Fi 6E devices also support the 6 GHz spectrum.

The availability of the 6 GHz bandwidth is decided on a country-by-country basis. While the US, Canada, and European Union have opened up the 6GHz band for 6E usage, support from other countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, is nascent. Figure 1 shows existing support as of December 2021 from this Wi-Fi Alliance link. 

.

Figure 1. Countries Enabling Wi-Fi 6E | Wi-Fi Alliance (link)

As Figure 2 shows, the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands contain many fewer channels and fewer high-speed channels than the 6 GHz spectrum. Because all Wi-Fi 6 devices (and many previous generations) use these channels, there’s more contention for this bandwidth, not only within your home or office but also from nearby networks that communicate over the same spectrum.


Figure 2.  Wi-Fi 6E adds the 6 GHz spectrum, with more channels and less bandwidth contention. Image from Wi-Fi 6E: The New Spectrum with 6 GHz Band (volansys.com)

In the US, Canada, and some Latin American countries, the 6 GHz frequency band provides 1200 MHz of spectrum which comprises an additional fourteen 80 MHz channels or an additional seven 160 MHz channels, as shown in Fig. 2. This means faster connections and less interference from other devices.

The 6 GHz frequency band will improve Wi-Fi performance by enabling:

  • Higher concurrency – The 6 GHz frequency band provides an additional 1200 MHz of spectrum resources, which is more than the total resources provided by the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. This alleviates channel congestion and enables more simultaneous users, improving the concurrency rate.
  • High bandwidth – Although 160 MHz channels can run on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands, there is generally too much traffic on these bands to provision a 160 MHz channel. The seven additional 160 MHz channels in the 6 GHz frequency should enable more of these high-speed connections, improving bandwidth.
  • Low latency - Conventional Wi-Fi devices support only the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. The 6 GHz frequency band is supported only by Wi-Fi 6E devices, which should mean lower traffic and lower latency. 
As a caveat, note that 6 GHz uses shorter wavelengths, which work well for data transfers but may face degradation of the transmitted signal over longer distances or outdoors and may not perform as well through obstructions like walls and floors in a building. So, if you’re video conferencing with a direct line of sight of the 6E router; performance should be fabulous. If you’re behind a brick wall, you may get better performance from the 5 GHz or even 2.4 GHz spectrums.

Since 6E is relatively new, products that support the 6GHz spectrum are more expensive today. However, if you want to future-proof your Wi-Fi investments, they are probably worth it. Overall, Wi-Fi 6E is another example of how continued investments in Wi-Fi-related R&D deliver additional functionality and performance to Wi-Fi users.


Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash
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Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2: What You Need to Know

On January 5, 2022, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2. Here’s what you need to know about this announcement.

What are the new features in Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2?
The new features include uplink multi-user MIMO and three power management features.

What is uplink multi-user MIMO?
MIMO stands for multiple input, multiple output. While  the previous Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ certification program supported downlink multi-user MIMO, which enables an access point to deliver data to multiple client devices simultaneously,  Release 2 adds support for uplink multi-user MIMO that allows multiple devices to simultaneously upload data to an access point.

Imagine you have multiple individuals connected to Wi-Fi participating in a Zoom conference, an increasingly common scenario. Without uplink MIMO, each device uploads data individually, in rotation, which can introduce latency and interruptions. With uplink MIMO, all devices can upload simultaneously, which decreases latency and interruptions.

Uplink MIMO (and all new certified features) work over all bands supported by Wi-Fi 6 – 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz, enhancing the performance gains delivered by Wi-Fi 6 and 6E.

What are the power-management features?
There are three primary enhancements, broadcast target wake time (TWT), extended sleep time, and dynamic multi-user spatial multiplexing power save (SMPS), which are primarily targeted towards Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

Broadcast target wake time (TWT) - Target wake time is a feature introduced by 802.11ah and included as well in Wi-Fi 6 in an improved version. This feature allows a device to “sleep” for extended periods, preserving battery life, and then wake and communicate with the access point. Broadcast target wake time allows a network to coordinate target wait times with multiple devices in the same wakeup window.

Extended sleep time - Clients may stay asleep even longer if they wish. Before 11ax, TWT clients would sleep for some milliseconds and then wake up, exchange data and go back to sleep for some milliseconds and repeat. With enhanced TWT, clients may sleep for seconds, minutes, or even hours. Some IoT devices only need to communicate back to the network once per day. In theory, they could sleep for 23 hours and 59 minutes and just wake up and do a transmission, then go back to sleep for another day. These efforts greatly improve battery life.

Dynamic multi-user spatial multiplexing power save (SMPS) - allows devices to dynamically power down and power up antennas to save power.

Will Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2 devices work with my existing Wi-Fi devices?
Yes, all Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2 devices are backward compatible, so they can communicate with existing Wi-Fi technologies. To access the new features identified above, however, both the access point and client device must be Wi-Fi CERTIFED 6 Release 2 compatible.

How can I tell if a device conforms to Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 Release 2?
You can check on the Wi-Fi Alliance website here.

What is the Wi-Fi Alliance?

The Wi-Fi Alliance is a worldwide network of companies that promotes the evolution and adaption of Wi-Fi through a variety of activities, including the certification process, which ensures that products are interoperable with other Wi-Fi certified products supporting the same standard and meets other requirements.

What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 is the most recent generation of Wi-Fi technology that conforms to the IEEE 802.11ax standard. It delivers multiple new features that improve performance and efficiency in crowded Wi-Fi environments and for IoT applications.

Funding Wi-Fi Innovation
As consumer, enterprise and IoT usage continues to push the envelope for new features and improved performance and reliability in increasingly challenging environments, the Wi-Fi development community continues to invest in R&D to meet and exceed these requirements. As a patent pool administrator, Sisvel helps companies that fund this R&D recoup their investment so they can perform more research to deliver even more benefits in future versions.




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