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Connected Homes June 2018 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Next-Generation Wi-Fi

Why is this topic significant?

Wi-Fi business developers are planning a technology transition that could make existing Wi-Fi equipment obsolete in about five years. Many uncertainties surround the plan.

Description

Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and Qualcomm indicate they will make chips for future Wi-Fi systems that will comply with the IEEE 802.11ax standard, promising substantial benefits when multiple household members use a network concurrently. Improved radios, protocols, and signal processes will reduce drains on batteries and increase data rates and the number of devices that can connect to a wireless router. However, existing devices will see little or no benefit from next-generation Wi-Fi networks. The full benefits of 802.11ax will emerge when users eventually retire equipment that uses today's Wi-Fi technology. Also, opinions differ about how effective 802.11ax will be for machine-to-machine and Internet of Things (IoT) applications in homes and elsewhere.

In contrast to the apparent progress toward commercializing 802.11ax, apparently no major chipmaker is championing HaLow—the proposed low-power version of Wi-Fi that is based on IEEE 802.11ah. Developers of 802.11ax copied some of HaLow's technologies, but 802.11ax does not promise to match all of HaLow's abilities to support IoT applications. In 2016, the Wi-Fi Alliance promoted HaLow for its abilities to make use of small batteries that last a long time, communicate across nearly double the distance of existing Wi-Fi links, and connect over a thousand devices to an access point.

Implications

Eventually, the new version of Wi-Fi will relieve user headaches that arise from congested networks and excessive battery drains. Transition plans involve coexistence of old and new technologies for years to come. Many routers could have a 2.4-gigahertz (GHz) radio plus two 5 GHz radios: one for communicating with new end-user devices and the other for devices that use current versions of Wi-Fi. Employers who buy notebook computers seem likely to jump-start the market by 2020. Adoption by individual users seems to depend on the rate at which manufacturers will bundle 802.11ax in midprice smartphones, computers, and tablets. Semiconductor makers might lower chip prices rapidly to encourage adoption, because a transition to 802.11ax will open markets for new hardware in homes, businesses, and public places where Wi-Fi users congregate.

Impacts/Disruptions

Use of some of HaLow's efficiency measures in 802.11ax will allow a future version of Wi-Fi to mediate communications for millions of low-power devices. Current versions of such devices rely on alternatives such as Bluetooth, Insteon, Thread, Z-Wave, and ZigBee. Potentially, 802.11ax will capture a large share of the markets these technologies now have and the market growth that these technologies might otherwise experience. But 802.11ax may not fully replace alternative wireless standards and does not promise the full range of new benefits that niche-market HaLow players continue to promote.

The reason suppliers will be unable to use 802.11ax to satisfy all smart-home and IoT needs seems to be that they simply have bigger problems to worry about: The logistics of a technology transition will be complex for users, brands, and supply-chain players. Incorporating all the HaLow technologies could be difficult (notably, requiring use of tri-band routers instead of dual-band routers). As a result, even in ten years, Wi-Fi may remain unsuitable for various outdoor sensors that need low-maintenance batteries, wireless key fobs for doors and gates, and many other low-profile products that will populate highly connected homes of the future.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Electronics brands, chip makers, communications-equipment manufacturers, retailers, enterprises, public venues

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

The Big Screen beyond 4K

By Sean R. Barulich
Barulich is a senior research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

New High-Definition Multimedia Interface specifications are enabling advanced features in conventional televisions. HDMI technologies may introduce advanced gaming features, high-fidelity audio, and content controls in TVs that go beyond generational improvements in resolution.

Description

The official High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) 2.1 specifications—available in late 2017—rely on new ultra-high-speed HDMI cables, TV hardware, and firmware updates to enable advanced features for users. The new specifications provide significant improvements over the HDMI 2.0 specifications and introduce new features. For example, HDMI 2.1 includes support for 8K and 10K resolutions by using Display Stream Compression—a visually lossless compression technology. The technology also supports Dynamic HDR, a rendering process that improves scene-by-scene content color, contrast, and detail. HDMI 2.1 also introduces enhanced-audio-return channel technology, which simplifies audio connectivity for users and supports high-bit-rate audio formats including DTS:X and Dolby Atmos. In addition, HDMI 2.1 supports technologies such as variable refresh rate (VRR) and quick frame transport (QFT). VRR prevents frame tearing and stuttering that can occur when gaming at high frame rates, and QFT significantly reduces lag. HDMI Licensing Administrator is currently developing compliance-test requirements for device manufacturers and plans to begin full certification by the third quarter of 2018.

Although many analysts expect not to see release of HDMI 2.1–compatible receivers and televisions in 2018, some HDMI 2.1 features such as variable refresh rate, quick media switching, and enhanced audio return channels may see introduction in current systems through firmware updates. Samsung reportedly confirmed that some of its high-end 2018 TVs will support VRR through firmware updates. In addition, Samsung reportedly plans to introduce its fast-frame-rate-compensation technology to reduce input lag. Although many game-console manufacturers have not announced support for HDMI 2.1 features, Microsoft recently announced that its Xbox One X and Xbox One S will support VRR and auto low-latency mode via software updates.

Implications

HDMI 2.1 dramatically improves on the specifications in HDMI 2.0 and enables various features for users. Although the HDMI 2.1 specifications have the potential to improve users' content-viewing experiences, game console and PC enthusiasts will likely benefit most from the new features. For example, HDMI 2.1 may enable high-resolution virtual-reality gaming (via consoles or PCs) with low latency. Game-console manufacturers may support HDMI 2.1 specifications that enable 4K gameplay at higher refresh rates without compromising frame rates or introducing screen tearing or input lag. If technologies such as VRR and QFT see implementation into TVs, PC gamers may opt to use TVs as displays instead of high-end gaming monitors, which support VRR-capable technologies such as AMD's FreeSync or Nvidia's G-Sync.

Impacts/Disruptions

HDMI 2.1 enables high-resolution 8K and 10K content; however, much high-resolution content is likely to be inaccessible to many users. In addition, users may want many of the features that HDMI 2.1 enables but will likely need to invest in HDMI 2.1–compatible devices. As HDMI 2.1–compatible TV sets and receivers become available, movie and gaming enthusiasts are likely to be the first to invest in new systems. Game-console manufacturers may be able to use the HDMI 2.1 specifications to improve the capabilities of the next generation of consoles dramatically. TV manufacturers may have opportunities to compete with PC-monitor manufacturers if they can keep TV-set costs low relative to costs of high-end PC monitors.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Entertainment, gaming, electronics manufacturing

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: