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Your wireless world is about to change

PETER O’CONNOR
Staff Columnist
oconnor@lbknews.com

PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY By David Pierce (The Wall Street Journal, Monday, January 28, 2019)

“Wireless internet changed our lives, making it possible to do so much more in so many places – around the home  or office , or out in the wilderness.  Yet you likely never think about it, so long as it’s working.

It’s like oxygen:  You take it for granted until it’s gone –and panic sets in.

The people developing and implementing standards for wireless internet for years have had the same goal:  to make connections faster, while using less power.  Now they’re faced with a different dilemma.  We’re on the cusp of an unprecedented number of devices coming online —  billions of smart-home sensors, industrial devices and artificially intelligent computers.  The systems we have now weren’t built to handle the volume.

In the next couple of years, big changes are coming to all the wireless connections near you.  Next-generation Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi6; a more powerful Bluetooth standard called Bluetooth 5; and 5G, that term for intended upgrades to cellular networks.  They all play a role in the coming hyperconnected era.”

More details from David Pierce:  “5G”

You’re going to hear more than you ever wanted about wireless protocols in the next year or so, as every carrier, chip maker and gadget manufacturer tries to capture 5G supremacy.  But what does ‘5G’ mean?  There is no single answer.

In general, 5G is an evolution of cellular networking that promises extremely fast internet, with speeds reaching many multiples of what you’ve previously seen over cellular networks and even your home Wi-Fi.

5G isn’t rolling out evenly, or even quickly.  At first, carriers are attaching 5G components to LTE networks that will make them run better.  You’ll start hearing about 5G NR, for ‘new radio’, a technology that will initially be used to upgrade 4G existing networks.  An early focus is on home broadband:  Verizon will offer modems like D-Link’s 5G NR Enhanced Gateway that catch any nearby 5G signal and convert it into Wi-Fi, so your existing devices can make use of it.

True stand-alone 5G will  come later, as it requires completely new, costly infrastructure, including tiny routers virtually everywhere to accommodate new radio bands with much shorter frequency waves than the carriers’ current bands.   

Short wavelengths generally mean more data over shorter distances.  5G also promises extremely low latency , or reduced lag, which will be crucial if the new standard is really going to deliver on promises of streaming VR games and self-driving cars.

We’ll be well into the 2020s before you’ll be likely to experience full- fledged  5G.  But if carriers make it fast enough and cheap enough, it might be the only internet you need.”

Even more details from Pierce:  “Wi-Fi 6”

Rather than focus on increasing Wi-Fi’s  theoretical top speed (which you’ll likely never see anyway), the companies involved in the Wi-Fi Alliance standards group focused on improving the way a network handles traffic.  New routers supporting Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, will help your TV, xbox, phone and smart fridge coexist better, sure.

It’s important to note that these technologies don’t just speed up a massive download or Netflix stream. They are designed mainly to slot in all the tiny messages from our chat apps and our smart-home devices that might otherwise have to wait ages to get a word in edgewise.

“Bluetooth5”

You might use Bluetooth to connect your headphones to your phone. Going forward , it could be the way a farmwide sensor network communicates, how museums guide you through a gallery or how you get super-specific directions inside the mall.

Bluetooth 5, the latest standard, already exists in lots of devices –Apple Watch Series 4, for instance. “

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