Written by IEEE | February 25, 2020

WiFi™ has become a term that a majority of people on earth today are familiar with. And, Wi-Fi has become the preferred wireless technology enabling the explosion of wirelessly connected devices. While there is a global effort to get ubiquitous wireless connectivity for all, even in its current state, it has a great effect on how our society works, plays and lives.

Perhaps you’re the person who has a relative in a different country and is using Wi-Fi to make a fast, cost-effective video call to stay in touch. Or maybe you’re a doctor in a hospital who uses Wi-Fi on your laptop to access patient medical records. Whatever it may be, consumers probably don’t realize the impact Wi-Fi has had on our lives because it has faded into the background and is assumed to be ever present like the air we breath. Here we look to its future capabilities to enable a hyper-connected world.

Did you know that Wi-Fi is based on IEEE’s 802.11 Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) standard, which lives within its family of 802 Local Area Network standards?

“The IEEE 802.11 standard is continually evolving and expanding to support even higher throughput capabilities, low-latency, enhanced broadcasting, vehicle-to-vehicle capabilities, and enhanced positioning and location capabilities,” says IEEE Member Dorothy Stanley. “And we already have work underway looking at sensing applications.”
Sensing applications use Wi-Fi and other technologies to sense or pull data and insights from the environment Wi-Fi signals travel through.

Common sensing applications are found in fall detection for the elderly, presence detection in homes, offices and automobiles, location mapping, breathing rate measurement and even heart rate measurement, all without requiring a device to be attached to the person or thing being sensed. Sensing technology is passive and contactless and is currently one of the newest standardization activities in the 802.11 WLAN Working Group.

Wi-Fi for disaster recovery and response is another example of how we use ubiquitous and easy to use wireless connectivity. As natural disasters across the globe continue to rise, we need to harness the power of technology and Wi-Fi to keep us connected. “In a hurricane or flooding situation, people can take existing Wi-Fi gear and set up a network and immediately the people in the area can be connected,” said Stanley.

While we appreciate what Wi-Fi has enabled today and will continue to in the future, it’s also important to recognize that not everyone on earth currently has access.

“Based on some recent data, the global online penetration rate is about 57 percent, which means there are still nearly 4 billion people who are not connected to the Internet,” explains IEEE member Lei Wang. “The IEEE 802.11 based Wi-Fi networks and devices have long played a critical role in connecting people and things, evident by its massive market penetration with well over 10 billion deployed Wi-Fi enabled devices, carrying 55 percent of the global internet traffic. I think there are two important aspects that IEEE 802.11 and Wi-Fi will continue playing a critical role to connect the unconnected: one is cost-effective, the other is availability.”

The spread of advancing Wi-Fi technologies compliments the spread of of broadband access technologies that eventually will enable greater accessibility in regions of the globe that currently go without. As broadband access becomes wide-spread and more accessible, the future possibilities enabled by Wi-Fi technology are endless in terms of connection and communication.

The developers of the technical network standards that make up 802.11 have shown tremendous innovation that enables the standards to constantly evolve and have the potential to shepard the next big innovations that are responsive to the market demand. These engineers ultimately bring their creative innovations enabling ever better connectivity, sensing and who knows what else to every human being and device on earth today.

“New needs and new applications arise, so people come to the 802.11 working group with new ideas and new areas in which to develop the standard,” says Stanley. “We are committed to meeting the needs of new markets, new technologies and new applications.”

The thousands of engineers participating in developing 802 networking standards have paved the way for innovation in connectivity that has changed and continually influences our lives in ways large and small. Join us in taking a look at the technology of 802 and the accomplishments in creating technical standards that allow us to enjoy the hyper-connected world we have today.

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