Over the years, I have been privileged to attend numerous Wi-Fi technical conferences like the wirelessLAN Professionals Conference that occurs every year in the USA, Europe, and Latin America. It has also been my honor to represent Extreme Networks as a Wi-Fi thought leader and guest speaker at many other industry events, such as the upcoming Society of Communications Technical Consultants conference that takes place October 23 - 26, 2022, in Dallas.
But I wanted to offer up a quick blog about a different type of Wi-Fi conference that I have attended several times in the past and just recently in Stockholm, Sweden. The conference I am speaking of is the Wi-Fi World Congress event which is held several times a year at different global locations. Wi-Fi World Congress is the brain-child of Claus Hetting, CEO and Chairman of Wi-Fi Now. His company and team of professionals offer numerous services, including training, webinars, press coverage, and of course the Wi-Fi World Congress conferences.
Pictured left to right: Claus Hetting (CEO of Wi-Fi Now) and David Coleman (Office of the CTO at Extreme Networks)
Even though I am a Wi-Fi technical geek at heart, I also enjoy the “business of Wi-Fi,” which is what the Wi-Fi World Congress is all about. Claus always attracts top industry leaders to speak about the future of Wi-Fi and what it means. The luminaries at this event includes CEOs and VPs from Wi-Fi networking and services companies, chipset vendors, media, analysts, and government officials from various spectrum regulatory bodies. As I mentioned, this conference is all about “the business of Wi-Fi.”
So, what exactly happens at this two-day Wi-Fi event? Well, for some people, it is a three-day event, as many individuals come a day early for various workshops, seminars, and training sessions. But the bulk of the action and speaking sessions occur over two full business days, as it recently did on September 27- 28 in Stockholm, Sweden. As an employee of an enterprise networking company, Extreme Networks, I often forget that Wi-Fi also remains the dominant access technology in our homes. Which is why the first day of the conference was focused on consumer-grade Wi-Fi, and the second day focused on enterprise-grade Wi-Fi.
On day one, the 300+ attendees crowded into a hall to listen to the keynote speaker, Wi-Fi industry legend, Edgar Figueroa, President and CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance. The Wi-Fi Alliance is a global nonprofit industry association of more than 550 member companies devoted to promoting the growth of Wi-Fi technology. One of the primary tasks of the Wi-Fi Alliance is to market the Wi-Fi brand and raise consumer awareness of new 802.11 technologies as they become available. Under Edgar’s leadership, the Wi-Fi Alliance has done an amazing job because I contend that the brand of Wi-Fi is as well recognized as Band-Aid or Coca-Cola.
Pictured left to right: Ferney Munoz (Wi-Fi guru), Edgar Figueroa (CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance), David Coleman (Office of the CTO, Extreme Networks), and Anssi Tauriainen (Ekahau VP of Products/Engineering)
This was Edgar’s last public speaking session, as he is retiring later this year in 2022. Edgar spoke of the history of Wi-Fi and the future:
“Wi-Fi is everywhere…. Wi-Fi is now at the top of Mt. Everest, Navy ships…etc. Wi-Fi is even in space for the astronauts on the International Space Station. Spacesuits are connected to the Wi-Fi during spacewalks.”
Because Wi-Fi is the primary access technology in our world, Edgar made the point on how “the average Joe thinks of Wi-Fi as the Internet.” I think we often forget how much we depend on Wi-Fi in our daily lives and how much Wi-Fi is ingrained in our communications culture. As Edgar stated, “Wi-Fi is more important than ever…. and we rely on Wi-Fi every day.”
During the entire conference, the topic of the availability of the 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi dominated. In Europe, currently, only 480 MHz of the 6 GHz frequency band is allotted for Wi-Fi communications as opposed to the 1200 MHz of spectrum that is available in the United States and other countries. According to Edgar:
“Wi-Fi is carrying 90% of data traffic that consumers are using. Our work on 6 GHz is not done. Wi-Fi 7 and 8 will be dependent on 6 GHz. It is important that regulators understand this. There is going to be a digital divide if we do not harmonize the spectrum.”
Edgar also left us with a bold prediction that “Wi-Fi use will grow 6-10 times over the next ten years.” The entire industry owes Edgar a great deal of thanks for his past evangelism for the technology of Wi-Fi, and I have no doubt that his prediction will come true.
As I mentioned, day one of the conference was primarily about consumer-grade Wi-Fi, and probably the phrase I heard repeatedly was “quality of experience (QoE).” In recent years there has been a fast-growing trend for managed Wi-Fi for home users, and the most important metric is QoE. On the technical side of this industry, we are often too focused on access point features and performance. Still, to this day, a vast majority of Wi-Fi management and troubleshooting tools are focused on the perspective of the AP. Because Wi-Fi is the primary access technology of this generation, we should instead be more focused on the Wi-Fi user experience for both the consumer and enterprise markets. I fully expect QoE to remain a hot topic for years to come.
Over the course of both days, various speakers spoke of their vision for Wi-Fi, and they offered glimpses into existing and future innovations such Wi-Fi sensing and footfall analysis. On day two, my speaking session was about “What Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 mean for stadium/arena Wi-Fi.” Because of the enormous user density, stadiums remain the most challenging environment to deploy Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 offer enormous potential for the future of arena Wi-Fi. Extreme Networks has been the market leader with a history of success in this vertical. Expect much more of the topic from myself and others on the value of the 6 GHz spectrum for stadiums. I also had the chance to sit down and record a session with Martha DeGrasse, the host of The Signal podcast from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Be sure and check out the podcast website to listen to this future episode.
Far right: Martha DeGrasse - Tech journalist and host of The Signal podcast
As in most conferences, the various technology vendors have booths to showcase their solutions and technologies. A hot topic at the conference is the potential for innovation of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications that can be used over a Wi-Fi connection. The Extreme team did not disappoint, as conference attendees had the chance to watch a virtual reality experience inside a sports arena when they visited the Extreme booth.
Virtual reality live at the Extreme Networks booth
This year’s European session of the Wi-Fi World Congress did not disappoint. I learned a lot, caught up with business acquaintances, and met many new ones. I highly recommend this conference for anyone and everyone interested in Wi-Fi. To learn more, visit the Wi-Fi Now website.
Finally, despite this being the premiere Wi-Fi business conference, there is always time for fun. On the first evening of the Wi-Fi World Congress, all the attendees headed to the museum for Swedish music wonder, ABBA. This after-hours event sponsored by Extreme Networks was a hoot, and I still hear the melody of Take a Chance on Me over and over in my head.