Since late 2016, major WLAN chipset vendors have been announcing their upcoming 802.11ax chipsets. About one year after the first chipset announcement, leading consumer and enterprise access point manufacturers followed and announced their new 802.11ax access points. The high level of interest from major players across the value chain confirms there is no doubt that the 802.11ax standard will be the next mainstream standard of the Wireless LAN (WLAN) technology.
This article will provide a summary of the 802.11ax standard’s recent developments in the industry, upcoming milestones and the IHS Markit forecast on how the 802.11ax market adoption will take place.
Below are brief descriptions of current events related to the 802.11ax standard in various parts of the value chain:
- Semiconductor chipsets: In late 2016, Quantenna announced the industry’s first 802.11ax chipset. During 2017, market leaders in the semiconductor sector Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Marvell all made announcements on the release of their 802.11ax chipsets.
- Enterprise Access Points: In September 2017, Huawei launched its first 802.11ax enterprise access point. In January 2018, Aerohive announced that they plan to release three new 802.11ax enterprise access points in the middle of 2018.
- Consumer Access Points: After announcing their future 802.11ax access point in September 2017, Asus launched its first 802.11ax consumer router at CES in January 2018. Also, at CES, D-Link announced its upcoming two consumer routers which are scheduled to launch in the 2nd half of 2018.
- Carriers: In November 2017, Korea's SK Telecom (SKT) announced it is testing the 802.11ax standard. Shortly after in December, Korea Telecom (KT) launched commercial Wi-Fi service based on the 802.11ax standard. In February 2018, Japan's KDDI announced it would offer a new high-speed internet service which includes a gateway that supports the 802.11ax standard.
IHS Markit Analysis:
Reviewing the history of the WLAN standards from the past generation can provide useful insights. Below is the snapshot that contains milestones of two most recently adopted WLAN standards - 802.11n and 802.11ac:
Observing the milestones for the 802.11n and 802.11ac standard in the above diagram show when a new generation of WLAN standard is coming into the market, similar milestones take place in the same order as listed below:
<Order of milestones for a new WLAN standard market adoption>
- Release of WLAN chipset samples (from leading vendors)
- Consumer access point launch
- Enterprise access point launch
- Launch of low volume client devices - usually smartphones and laptops
- Launch of the Wi-Fi Alliance certification program
- Ratification of the standard
- Launch of the high volume client devices (from global device manufacturers – such as Samsung and Apple)
In April 2013, Samsung launched its flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone with 802.11ac which was a couple of months ahead of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s 802.11ac certification program that does not fit the above pattern. The early launch of the Galaxy S4 smartphone is considered an exception to the order of milestones where Samsung decided to adopt an aggressive schedule.
For the 802.11ax standard, it is at the completion of the “Milestone 3: enterprise access point launch”. In late 2018, IHS Markit expects that we will hear announcements on the “Milestone 4: launch of low volume client devices”. For the remaining Milestones, (i.e., Milestones 5, 6) at the time of the writing, the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification program for the 802.11ax standard is scheduled for August 2019 while the ratification of the standard has been pushed back until December 2019. The diagram shown below is IHS Markit’s view of the recently completed milestones and the upcoming milestones for the 802.11ax standard:
Thus far, there has been much coverage highlighting the many capabilities offered by the 802.11ax standard - such as the 8x8 multi-user MIMO, higher efficiency using OFDMA technology, higher data rate using 1024 QAM technique and backward compatibility with legacy Wi-Fi standards (b/g/n/ac). However, one aspect of the 802.11ax technology that did not get enough attention has been the overall complexity of the 802.11 technology.
The infographic shown below compares the features included in the 802.11ac and the 802.11ax standard. Due to many new features and complexity of the technology, IHS Markit expects the market adoption of the 802.11ax technology would seem very slow in 2018 and 2019. Although we most likely will not hear about the launch of 802.11ax enabled volume devices in near term, a lot of standards refinement and interoperability testing will take place for the next two years. The standards refinement and interoperability test cases are the crucial steps that are necessary before a mass adoption can begin.
Although IHS Markit expects the 802.11ax enabled device shipment will remain small for the next two years in 2018 and 2019, once the two critical milestones – Wi-Fi Alliance certification and standard ratification – are reached, we expect a strong market adoption of the 802.11ax technology. Starting from early 2020, major global device manufacturers will begin to embrace the technology and the 802.11ax technology will start to establish itself as a standard feature for high-end WLAN enabled products.
Based on the analysis discussed above, IHS Markit estimates the global 802.11ax-enabled device shipment will remain small at 605 thousand units in 2018 but will rapidly start to grow in 2020 and reach 193 million units in 2021.