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Connected Homes April 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Wi-Fi 6 Enables More Connected Devices

By Christian Feest
Feest is a technology analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Wi-Fi 6–compliant devices are in the early stages of commercial release. This new Wi-Fi standard anticipates a future in which connected homes and networks contain a greater number of connected devices.

Description

Wi-Fi 6 is another name for the 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard that appears in "Next-Generation Wi-Fi" in the June 2018 Viewpoints. The Wi-Fi Alliance has since simplified its naming conventions so that the previous generation—802.11ac—is now Wi-Fi 5.

Although the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 certification program will not officially begin until the third quarter of 2019, a small handful of devices meeting Wi-Fi 6 standards are already commercially available. These devices include routers from TP-Link, Netgear, and Asus.

Wi-Fi 6 supports a faster theoretical top speed—9.6 gigabits per second (Gbit/s), in comparison with 3.5 Gbit/s for Wi-Fi 5—but the main advantage of Wi-Fi 6 over Wi-Fi 5 is its ability to support more devices on the network without degrading performance. Modern Wi-Fi 5 routers are capable of communicating with four devices at the same time using multiuser, multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) technology. MU-MIMO enables Wi-Fi 6 routers to communicate with eight devices simultaneously. Additionally, Wi-Fi 6–compliant routers use orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), which enables them to deliver data to multiple devices in a single transmission.

In addition to having faster speeds and better multidevice support, Wi-Fi 6 could also improve the energy efficiency of some connected devices. Target Wake Time is a feature of Wi-Fi 6 that enables connected devices to schedule communications with the router so that, instead of being constantly on, they use power at only scheduled times. This energy-saving feature is likely to benefit small, low-power devices, such as sensors that do not require a constant internet connection. Wi-Fi 6 will also use the WPA3 security protocol as standard, making it more difficult—in comparison with use of the older WPA2 protocol—for hackers to obtain Wi-Fi passwords through brute-force attacks.

Implications

When the Wi-Fi Alliance announced Wi-Fi 5 in 2009, the typical US household contained about five connected devices. In 2019, the average US household contains nine connected devices. In households with multiple occupants, many individuals frequently use connected devices at the same time. Individuals may also use more than one device simultaneously—for example, streaming video to a smart TV while also browsing the web on their phone or tablet. As more households adopt and integrate connected devices—such as smart speakers, doorbells, and lights—the average number of connected devices is likely to increase significantly. Some estimates indicate that, by 2023, the average connected home will contain 50 connected devices. The Wi-Fi 6 standard will play an important role in supporting an ever-increasing number of Wi-Fi-connected devices without causing performance to suffer.

Impacts/Disruptions

The reduced latency and improved uplink capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 could enable a variety of connected-home applications. For example, OFDMA enables reduced latency of Wi-Fi 6 in comparison with that of Wi-Fi 5, which could improve performance of video calling and cloud-gaming services. Similarly, the eight potential uplink connections of Wi-Fi 6, in comparison with just one for Wi-Fi 5, could encourage greater use of uplink-intensive applications such as posting video content to social media and cloud backups.

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 to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Routers, chip manufacturers, electronics brands, home networks, smart sensors

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Voice Assistants and Natural Language

By Christian Feest
Feest is a technology analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Interactions between humans and voice assistants are becoming more natural. In addition to making improvements in understanding natural language, voice assistants are becoming capable of generating speech that is almost indistinguishable from that of humans.

Description

Voice assistants have experienced significant progress in natural-language processing, and new developments continue to improve voice assistants' abilities to understand and also generate natural language. Amazon.com's Alexa, for example, achieves context carryover—the retention of relevant references throughout interactions—by passing the user's utterances through neural-network layers that keep track of relevant words. So, if a user asks Alexa about restaurants in Palo Alto, California, and then follows up by asking "What's the weather like there tomorrow?" Alexa will remember that "there" refers to Palo Alto. Similarly, Google Assistant users can enable "continued conversations": a feature that enables the user to make additional queries without repeating the activation phrase. For example, a user might say, "Ok, Google, add bread to my shopping list," and if continued conversations is enabled, the user can afterward say, "and milk too," and Google Assistant will add milk to the list (providing the additional request comes within eight seconds of the first).

As well as developing tools to understand natural language better, Google is also developing tools to produce it. In May 2018, Google announced Duplex: an AI system to accomplish real-world tasks over the phone. Demonstrations of Duplex show the system making appointments over the phone with real businesses, such as a restaurant and a hair salon. During these calls, Duplex is able to provide relevant information and correctly respond to the human's questions with an intonation and speech pattern that is indistinguishable from that of a human. The humans in these demonstrations are seemingly unaware that they are interacting with a machine. As of March 2019, Google Duplex is available in 43 US states but is limited to Google's Pixel smartphones. Currently, Google Duplex can make bookings at restaurants only, but Google will likely extend Duplex's functionality to support making other types of appointments, such as with a hair salon or a car mechanic, soon.

Implications

Many aspects of conversation that humans take for granted are difficult for machines to process. For example, people will often speak quickly, correct themselves midsentence, or use implicit context to understand what the other person means. These features present significant challenges for companies developing voice assistants, such as Google, Amazon, and Apple. Such companies want interactions between humans and voice assistants to be as natural as possible. Better natural-language-processing tools will enable more intuitive voice interfaces to the connected home.

Impacts/Disruptions

As machines become increasingly adept at understanding and generating natural language, interactions between humans and voice assistants will become increasingly like conversations between humans, which could lead to new applications of voice assistants. For example, instead of simply instructing a voice assistant to play a film on TV, the user could ask the voice assistant for recommendations and discuss potential options. As the voice assistant gathers more data about the user's temperament and preferences, the value that such interactions provide is likely to increase.

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 to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Machine learning, voice assistants, cloud computing, smart speakers

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: