20 Jun 2020
As a member of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), BAI Communications is proud to be part of a collaborative ecosystem that supports new technologies to drive the industry forward. As a leading provider of neutral-host infrastructure, we are working with other members to implement the WBA’s NextGen Wi-Fi programme. This work includes trialling leading-edge technologies such as Wi-Fi 6.
Wi-Fi 6 is the latest generation of Wi-Fi, and it’s creating new opportunities for operators, service providers, enterprises and cities that will revolutionize the way we live, work, and operate.
BAI helped identify the possibility – and the desirability – of testing the new protocol underground. Mark Francisco, Director of Design and Implementation for BAI Communications in Canada, is leading the initiative to trial this new technology in the Toronto subway.
“We’re going to test Wi-Fi 6 to its limits,” says Francisco. “The WBA had been considering trialling in a transport hub, like a station or interchange, but a subway is a unique environment.”
Subway Wi-Fi networks experience a quick turnover and high volumes of users rapidly connecting and disconnecting as they traverse the system. Subways are also physically restricted environments, ‘noisy’ with radio waves and other electromagnetic activity.
“It’s a tough environment with unique challenges, but we’re confident it’ll be a success,” Francisco says.
The trial will require BAI to install 15–20 access points in one of Toronto’s busiest stations, all connecting to a new wireless controller in the station’s hub. The Wi-Fi 6 network performance will be measured against existing baseline metrics.
What is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 is the latest iteration of the global protocol for wireless internet. It promises to improve on the previous standard by offering:
- Faster connections: Wi-Fi 6 is up to six times faster than previous generations.
- More bandwidth: Wi-Fi 6 can support more connected devices, reducing speed limitations from multiple concurrent connections.
- Stronger security: Wi-Fi 6 is more secure than previous iterations, making it harder for malicious actors to access networks.
- Increased range: Wi-Fi 6 has a more powerful signal, giving devices better range and minimizing reception ‘dead zones’.
- Improved battery life: Wi-Fi 6’s power-saving features give smartphones and internet of things sensors up to two-thirds more battery life.
Wi-Fi 6 devices are fully compatible with all previous versions of the protocol (the old 802.11b, g, n and ac standards; Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax). The technology is gradually penetrating the market; notable recent examples include Apple’s iPhone 11 and SE, and Samsung’s Galaxy S10, S10 and Note 10 devices, as well as many wireless routers and modem/routers.
Putting technology to the test
“Users with compatible devices should see an immediate benefit,” says Dion Cunningham, BAI Canada’s Director of Product Development, “with faster connections that are more stable.”
Users of older devices will also enjoy improved service. As Wi-Fi 6 devices reduce the load served by existing Wi-Fi 5 infrastructure, there will be more capacity available on the existing system, meaning better connections and fewer slowdowns overall.
“We see a big future for Wi-Fi 6, especially working alongside 5G wireless services,” he says. Together they promise seamless transitions from above- to below-ground networks, meaning commuters will enjoy continuous connectivity as they travel around their cities.
BAI’s drive for innovative solutions doesn’t stop there. In partnership with the City of Toronto and a consortium of technology and telecommunications companies, teams of volunteers from the tech community are helping to connect low-income neighbourhoods with free Wi-Fi to help citizens access online services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A global effort
Outside of Toronto, BAI provides wireless networks for public transport operators in New York and Hong Kong, helping commuters stay connected as they travel.
“Connectivity is so important for daily life, and we’re committed to making it faster, more robust and more accessible for everyone as they use the transit system. We are deeply invested in improving Wi-Fi services for our customers around the world,” Francisco says.
World Wi-Fi Day?
Held this year on June 20, World Wi-Fi Day (WWFD) is a global initiative to help bridge the digital divide. Organized by the Wireless Broadband Alliance under the leadership of Connected City Advisory Board (CCAB), its goal is to drive Wi-Fi uptake.
By driving exciting and innovative projects to ‘connect the unconnected’, it recognizes and celebrates Wi-Fi’s critical role in connecting cities and communities around the world. WWFD’s goals are set out by the HOPE for Connectivity charter. The charter’s priorities are:
- Help underserved and unconnected communities by funding and supporting Wi-Fi deployments
- Offer access to Wi-Fi through public networks
- Promote government and industry initiatives to connect the unconnected
- Engage with stakeholders and use Wi-Fi to address the digital divide