Wi-Fi: The Unsung Hero of Broadband

Wi-Fi Networks and Broadband

Luther Smith
Distinguished Technologist and Director of Wireless

Apr 30, 2024

Key Points

  • More Wi-Fi networks are being deployed to meet the growing need for better broadband connections.
  • WFA Passpoint and WBA OpenRoaming have helped expand the public Wi-Fi network footprint.

We hear a lot about 5G/6G mobile and 10G cable these days, but another technology is also helping lead the pack to much less fanfare. It’s a technology that’s as essential as the public utilities you rely on every day. In fact, you’re most likely using it to read this blog post.

Just as you expect your electric, water, sewer or natural gas services to be available without interruption, you likely also depend on your Wi-Fi to be working all the time.

Regardless of the service you use to access the internet (i.e., coax, fiber, wireless, satellite), Wi-Fi is the typical connection to that service. When was the last time you connected a wire to your laptop or had a great experience using your mobile device over the mobile network while inside your home or workplace? The fact is, most of us make use of Wi-Fi when we’re indoors.

Why Wi-Fi? Why Now?

With the introduction of Wi-Fi 6/6E, Wi-Fi 7 and Ultra High Reliability (Future Wi-Fi 8), Wi-Fi is growing to meet and even exceed the growing need for fast, reliable and lower latency broadband connections. It is available basically everywhere you go — work, school, shopping and even while in transit — allowing you to be connected over a high-speed network just about anywhere.

There is an argument that Wi-Fi is not usable or available outside of the home or work. This is rapidly changing as operators, venues, transportation services and even municipalities deploy Wi-Fi networks. It’s true that mobile networks have greater outdoor coverage, but many of the applications in use only require low bandwidth, which is not the case with Wi-Fi.

Evolving Wi-Fi Network Applications

In the car, kids often watch video or play games, which are likely carried over mobile. But now many newer cars on the road have a Wi-Fi hotspot built in. The automotive industry is shifting from mobile connections to Wi-Fi as makers update their onboard software options. Autonomous vehicles and robotics are making use of Wi-Fi, too.

Many mobile carriers are moving to Wi-Fi offload to reduce costs and help meet the demands of broadband traffic. Wi-Fi access points (APs) are now at a price point that almost every home has at least one AP or Wi-Fi extender, with many homes having more than one. In work environments, businesses can quickly deploy a Wi-Fi network on their own or with a third party.

Frameworks for a Wider Wi-Fi Network Footprint

With the addition of WFA Passpoint and WBA OpenRoaming™, the public Wi-Fi network footprint continues to expand. Passpoint allows internet service providers (ISPs) to offer a seamless Wi-Fi connection experience like the mobile connection experience. Passpoint is now included in 3GPP specifications as the named function to assist with mobile devices connecting to Wi-Fi network. OpenRoaming enables access network providers (ANPs) to offer Wi-Fi services to users regardless of their home ISP. This allows providers the ability to offer more locations where subscribers can access Wi-Fi networks. Identity providers (IdPs), such as Google, Samsung and Meta, can also make use of OpenRoaming Wi-Fi network access for their subscribers.

We expect our home utilities to function reliably every day, and now Wi-Fi has become an essential service, supporting our daily activities such as living, learning, working and, of course, playing. For more on Wi-Fi 6/6E, Wi-Fi 7 and Wi-Fi 8, stay up to date here on the CableLabs blog.