The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) announced the launch of OpenWiFi Release 1.0, which is a community-developed project that encompasses Access Point hardware, an open-source AP operating system, and an SDK to build cloud-native Wi-Fi Controller software for Service Providers (SPs) and Enterprises. TIP is also starting lab and field trials. At the end of this post, we’ll address the question of “will open-source Wi-Fi upset the enterprise Wi-Fi industry?”
Here are some of the points made by presenters at the OpenWiFi launch:
OpenWiFi is compatible across multiple markets like enterprise, SP and consumer. Boingo’s Derek Peterson said a significant benefit of OpenWiFi is that this system can be applied to various Wi-Fi markets, like consumer/home, enterprise, large venue, multi-tenant venues and SP networks. He shared that no single commercial system spans across the various consumer, SP and enterprise markets. Boingo is actively testing OpenWiFi, and he looks forward to deploying it; Boingo has a goal to “get to 100,000’s,” which we assume means users.
OpenWiFi can be used with others’ components, including Access Points and operating systems. Dan Rabinovitsj, who leads Facebook Connectivity said that OpenWiFi is an open system. Even though OpenWiFi offers its own operating system, it is easy to use OpenWiFi with OpenWRT, a operating system for consumer-focused Wi-Fi routers. Additionally, OpenWiFi can be used with various different hardware such as those from Edgecore and TP-Link. Below is a representative list of participants in the webinar and sponsors of the event.
Initial support for OpenWiFi is meaningful. The OpenWiFi community includes over 100 participants. SPs, hardware companies, standards bodies, and software companies.
Roaming capabilities are inherent in OpenWiFi. OpenRoaming, Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) Passpoint 2.0, and Google’s Orion OpenRoaming service are all supported in OpenWiFi. Some Wi-Fi OEMs have been promoting proprietary roaming capabilities. By offering compatibility with these open roaming systems, more Wi-Fi users will be able to bounce between various networks in the future.
Disruption of existing Wi-Fi industry, according to presenters at the event. FB Connectivity’s Dan Rabinovitsj thinks that existing OEMs will see OpenWiFi as threatening. On the other hand, Rabinovitsj does not expect existing enterprises to adopt OpenWiFi based systems; but for SPs, he expects them to adopt OpenWiFi. Boingo’s Peterson said the industry must change because SPs are not just building networks; they are building experiences and systems focused on various use-cases. Deutsche Telekom’s Daniel Brower commented that by using OpenWiFi, this can reduce the likelihood that it will be subject to vendor lock-in.
Participating hardware players comments were interesting. Edgecore/Accton’s Edgar Masri says his company is buying more inventory than normal because lead times are longer than usual; Edgecore expects the supply chain issues will persists for about two years. CIG says WiFi chipset lead times are around 52 weeks; CIG plans to ship its Wi-Fi 6E based Access Points by the end of 2021. Qualcomm’s Nick Kucharewski promoted Wi-Fi 7 at the event; and Kucharewski also said that product shortages may be partially addressed by adopting OpenWiFi because those who use it can buy hardware from various OEMs and ODMs instead of being locked into one.
TIP plans to incorporate cellular capabilities in the future. Doron Givoni, Solution Architect at Facebook, described TIP’s plan to incorporate cellular capabilities alongside with OpenWiFi. According to our research, the private cellular market is in its infancy and we see it as generally complementary to Wi-Fi. Many enterprise focused Wi-Fi vendors have not launched their own cellular capabilities, and we see that it is possible that some could adopt the cellular capabilities from TIP.
As for the question of “Will open-source Wi-Fi upset the enterprise Wi-Fi industry?” What we learned at the TIP OpenWiFi launch today, it appears there is significant support for the project by Service Providers and very limited support by the enterprise-focused WiFi vendors. We expect that SPs and MSPs initially will be the primary addressable market for the OpenWiFi community; over time, though, as TIP incorporates cellular capabilities to OpenWiFi, this could open up the market for more enterprise-focused opportunities. To elaborate, initially, OpenWiFi will appeal to users/operators with a relatively high degree of in-house capabilities like Service Providers. We’ve seen that many medium-sized and large-sized enterprises rely on their vendors to provide a significant amount of support to simplify operations. In addition to traditional service providers who will leverage OpenWiFi, we see initial support from Managed Service Providers (MSPs). Examples of MSPs include OpenWiFi supporter, Indio Networks (India), Boingo (USA), iBrowse (Europe); MSPs generally have teams capable of integrating various hardware and software systems that are then used to deliver a service to customers such as Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs). Interestingly, TIP mentioned that in future releases, it would support cellular technology. Few enterprise Wi-Fi vendors have brought cellular capabilities to the market. It is possible that when TIP delivers cellular support, that enterprise OEMs may participate in the TIP/OpenWiFi community.
Today's big news from the FCC is that it will open up 6 GHz to Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses. The FCC authorizes "1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz) available for unlicensed use," and further explains that it authorizes "standard-power devices in 850 megahertz in the 6 GHz band. An automated frequency coordination system will prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services." We see that this vote is very beneficial to Wi-Fi chip and systems companies that serve both consumer and enterprise markets. We also expect that outdoor systems that take advantage of this new spectrum may benefit wireless ISPs (WISPs) and their equipment suppliers. And, also, the FCC's statement that an automated frequency coordination (AFC) system will be used to prevent interference from existing microwave transmission systems. With that background, we have compiled a list of companies that will benefit from the FCC's vote.
WLAN Semiconductor companies Broadcom, Qualcomm, ON Semi, Celeno, and Intel. In our research of the WLAN Infrastructure semiconductor market, these are the vendors we expect to sell Wi-Fi radio chips to devices such as Access Points, Broadband Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) with WLAN, and Consumer Routers. A new class of Wi-Fi that takes advantage of 6 GHz is now called Wi-Fi 6E. Broadcom and Qualcomm have already made statements about Wi-Fi 6E in the past month or two, and others somewhat more recently. Historically, Broadcom and Qualcomm have enjoyed significant market shares of the enterprise WLAN Access Point market, while players in the consumer AP/router/CPE have included a wider list of players including Broadcom, Qualcomm, ON Semi (formerly Quantenna), Celeno, Intel, Realtek, Mediatek and others.
Enterprise WLAN companies Cisco, HPE Aruba, Commscope, Extreme Networks and Juniper. While each of these companies has launched Wi-Fi 6 products over the past couple of years that operate in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, we expect this group of companies to release Wi-Fi 6E products that connect over 6 GHz over the next year. We expect initially that 6E enterprise products will sit at the high end of product portfolios, selling at higher prices than 5 GHz and lower products. The FCC commented in today's press release that "The notice also seeks comment on increasing the power at which low-power indoor access points may operate," which means that there is still some work to do in figuring out whether these Wi-Fi 6E devices can operate at powers levels more common in enterprises without needing to connect to an AFC. We are sure there is more to come on this topic.
Consumer WLAN Infrastructure companies NETGEAR, Commscope, Technicolor, Amazon and Google. We expect NETGEAR to be an aggressive player in Wi-Fi 6E, just as it released super high-end Wi-Fi 6 products in its Nighthawk product line. We expect Broadband CPE vendors such as Commscope (through its Arris brand), Technicolor and others to benefit as they seek to capitalize on the new spectrum, which should allow the delivery of Wi-Fi at higher speeds and to more devices in the home. We wouldn't be surprised to see consumer mesh vendors such as Amazon (through its eero acquisition) and Google to offer Wi-Fi 6E products, but these probably come a bit later than traditional router and Broadband CPE devices.
Wireless ISPs such as Etheric Networks and Common Networks (both located near the 650 area code that we used to name our company, 650 Group) will likely benefit as they will be able to offer new WISP services over the new 6 GHz spectrum. Since the spectrum is new, essentially unused and there's lots of it, we expect that these, and other WISPs in the US market, can benefit by expanding beyond the current unlicensed spectrums commonly used today, such as 60 GHz, 5 GHz, 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz spectrums. We think it might take a year or two before the WISPs can capitalize on these spectrums, but we see it as a windfall.
WISP suppliers such as Ubiquiti Networks, Cambium Networks, Airspan, and others will be likely beneficiaries. These suppliers sell to WISPs and other operators to enable "last mile" services that compete with fixed-line broadband services such as cable modem, DSL and PON. As we alluded to above, the 5 GHz spectrum is quite crowded, and thus, as 6 GHz becomes available for outdoor use, we expect that a new class of equipment will take advantage of this ample spectrum to deliver broadband to a more significant number of business and consumers. The FCC has a "goal of making broadband connectivity available to all Americans, especially those in rural and underserved areas," according to its 6 GHz press release today, and we see WISPs as one of the main constituents of serving this goal.
Mobile network operators AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Similar to WISPs, we expect that mobile operators will eventually leverage 6 GHz to deliver Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services (and potentially mobile services) to consumers and businesses. In suburban and rural areas, we have already seen some operators, notably Verizon, deploy FWA in licensed mmWave spectrum (in 20 GHz and 40 GHz ranges) - we have seen operators pare back on plans to deliver services, though they haven't stopped deployments or anything. But, we see 6 GHz could puff some new life into FWA plans because this is a lot of new frequency and since it is lower frequency than mmWave, does not suffer as much from immovable obstacles such as tree leaves, windows and precipitation. Additionally, we see mobile services could benefit as well, as we have already seen operators such as AT&T leverage 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum in delivering mobile service on its small cells in locations such as New York City, so we would expect mobile operators to eventually take advantage of 6 GHz in a similar fashion. But, incumbent services (point to point microwave systems) are more likely to interfere with mobile operators' plans in urban areas, where paradoxically, there is more need for this extra bandwidth, so we think operators will take some time to sort this interference out.
AFC services operators such as Federated Wireless. Given that the FCC announced a specific need for AFC services in its media blitz today (see above), we point out that Federated Wireless has already announced an AFC service. Just as Federated has competition in its CBRS SAS service from players such as Commscope, we would not be surprised to see new competition in AFC services.