Edgar Figueroa remembers how it felt the first time he used Wi-Fi in 1998.
“I knew this was the only way this experience was going to be from now on,” he says.
What Figueroa probably didn’t realize at that time was just how big an impact Wi-Fi would have on his career. Figueroa is now the President and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, the worldwide network of companies that brings you Wi-Fi, working in collaboration to drive the interoperability, adoption, and evolution of Wi-Fi globally. With 750+ members, Wi-Fi Alliance defines innovative, standards-based Wi-Fi technologies and programs, certifies products that meet quality, performance, security, and capability standards, provides industry thought leadership, and advocates globally for fair spectrum rules.
But Wi-Fi Alliance didn’t do all that when Figueroa started working there in 2004. At that time, the company didn’t even have employees – just a few contractors in an office in Silicon Valley. The term “Wi-Fi” was not well known and had only been around for four years, and Wi-Fi technology was limited to computers, network cards, laptops, and access points.
IoT’s Hyper-innovation mode
Wi-Fi Alliance soon moved the base of its administrative operations from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, and has been growing ever since. Now, 750+ companies have signed up with Wi-Fi Alliance with the same goal in mind: to make Wi-Fi better and to address obstacles to market growth. Wi-Fi Alliance also works to define realistic industry targets, like the creation of more intelligent Wi-Fi, interacting networks and network elements.
“We feel that Wi-Fi will continue to be in the hyper-innovation mode that we have been in for many years,” says Figueroa. “We’re excited about the future, and we can expect to see more diverse Wi-Fi use cases emerging.”
Wi-Fi Alliance is currently focusing on many technical issues related to Wi-Fi. One goal is to make devices more context-aware, so they can go on and off at the correct time, thus minimizing power consumption. Discussions also include multiband operations, network steering, and optimized connectivity experiences.
Many of these issues stem from the recent flourish of the Internet of Things (IoT), which embeds computing devices in everyday objects. One of Figueroa’s favorite examples of this is the sprinkler system in his yard, which uses Wi-Fi technology to hook up to the national weather service and make sure that his lawn is watered only when needed.
“It’s a great example of connectivity not only making your life easier but allowing you to be more environmentally conscious as the devices are automatically and constantly working for you,” he says.
Wi-Fi Alliance certifies products like these to make sure that they are interoperable and aren’t vulnerable to security threats. Certification requirements are always changing based on Wi-Fi enhancements and industry conditions, and only Wi-Fi CERTIFIED products can carry the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED logo.
Opening the spectrum
One of Wi-Fi Alliance’s key objectives is to advocate for an increase in unlicensed spectrum allocation. A recent study by Wi-Fi Alliance states that by 2025, Wi-Fi networks around the world will need access to significantly more mid-band spectrum than is currently available.
Spectrum allocation has not increased for two decades, even though the number of Wi-Fi devices using that spectrum is now more than the world’s population.
Sceptics of increased spectrum allocation have concerns about disturbances, rights of way, and sharing. But Figueroa says that clear rules and strong disincentives for bad behavior should minimize these issues.
“The value that unlicensed spectrum brings to society is undeniable,” he says. “For years now, Wi-Fi has been carrying more than half of the Internet traffic around the world.”
Adding to Wi-Fi’s popularity is 5 GHz, which supports up to 1300 MBps. The 5 GHz band is less congested and offers higher speeds and a more stable connection. Many devices certified by Wi-Fi Alliance are dual-band, meaning they can operate in both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz. Wi-Fi Alliance estimates that more than 96 percent of Wi-Fi enabled devices will be dual band by 2019.
“We’re not standing still and we’re not taking our position for granted,” says Figueroa. “Wi-Fi already has a strong offering for IoT and 5G, and with enhancements we are developing now, Wi-Fi will be even better as more IoT and 5G environments emerge.”
Above: Watch Edgar Figueroa’s opening key not at Wi-Fi NOW USA in Washington, D.C., April 2017.