Cees Links is the General Manager, Wireless Connectivity, Qorvo, Inc. He is considered by many to be the founding father or Wi-Fi and an expert in connectivity. In Episode 6, Cees unveils Wi-Fi 6 advancements leading the path to exciting transformations for the future of Wi-Fi in the SMART home and office.

 

Episode Transcript

Tom White:

Welcome to The IoT Podcast. Today, I am joined by Mr. Cees Links, general manager at Qorvo. Cees, thank you very much for your time today, and thank you for coming onto the show.

Cees Links:

Thank you. My pleasure.

Tom White:

We’ve been wanting Cees on the show for some time. For those that have been following us for a little while, you’ll of course know exactly who Cees is. Cees is considered as one of the founding fathers of Wi-Fi. Today he’s going to be talking a little bit about what his career has been in Wi-Fi, what he does at Qorvo, and talking about Wi-Fi 6 and the officeless office.

Tom White:

Cees, first of all, how did you actually start your career in Wi-Fi? Could you go into that for us, please?

Cees Links:

Yeah, yeah. Let me first say success has many fathers, and failures are orphans. But I was involved … I think my first Wi-Fi presentation was in 1988. Actually, it was pretty soon after cordless telephones had become somewhat of mainstream. What we saw is that computers became portable. At that time, it was still called luggable, but they became portable. Another phenomenon was that networking of computers started to emerge.

Cees Links:

If you add these things together, you ask yourself the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if computers can be wirelessly connected [inaudible 00:01:58]?” Yeah, it’s very funny, but that was the invention of Wi-Fi, sort of an insight in, “This makes sense.” Then initially you get a lot of people asking you the question, “Why is this needed? Cables are easy. Cables are reliable. Who in the world is waiting for computers being walked around and connected?”

Cees Links:

I remember, also at that conference, I had my spouse sewing into my jackets pockets, and I had a Sharp laptop in my pocket. I said, “In the future, people will be able to pull their laptop out of their pockets, and open it up, and be connected to the network.” I didn’t know about smartphones at that time. It’s very interesting that you see this whole world converging towards connectivity everywhere.

Cees Links:

This was also way before Internet was mainstream. It was in the early days of email. It was way before Wikipedia existed. Wikipedia, I still consider as the brilliant invention of the Internet, or the [crosstalk 00:03:25] application of Internet sharing knowledge, because I think that when societies evolve and grow and become smarter, it’s because the collective knowledge of everybody that’s building on top of each other. That is enabled by the Internet, and Wi-Fi is an easy way to get on the Internet.

Cees Links:

The thing I can be blamed for is that early insight, that getting easy on and off the Internet would become vital.

Cees Links:

It’s funny. To put it in perspective, I have a 19-year-old son, so he was born in 2001, and I think the major of breakthrough of Wi-Fi was in the year 2000 or around year 2000.

Tom White:

Yeah.

Cees Links:

So he never lived without Internet or Wi-Fi. If I ask him, “Do you know there was life before Wi-Fi?” … Actually, we had a discussion yesterday, this is my 14-year-old daughter. She looks at me, about life without a smartphone, and it’s very interesting phenomena.

Cees Links:

My daughter is 14. She has done more written communication than probably until I was 25, because with all the instant messaging that she does with all her friends, her verbal skills and her communication skills are just astounding. She’s always connected with friends. In our days, that was totally different.

Cees Links:

So it’s amazing if you see what has happened with Wi-Fi, and the breaks through with Wi-Fi, and how that has changed our life, to a large extent to the better. Some people say, “We want to go back to the life before.”

Cees Links:

I have a funny story about it. My son-in-law, he was so fed up when he was listening to the American Senate hearings of Google and Amazon and Microsoft, he decided to get rid of his smartphone. It lasted less than a week. Then he was begging my daughter whether he could use her smartphone, because life without it had become totally impossible.

Cees Links:

It’s indicative on how connected the world is. This is my slogan. My slogan is a connected world is a better world, because I believe, despite all the fake news and all the horror stories that you’re hearing, a connected world is still better than a world that we are not connected.

Tom White:

Yeah.

Cees Links:

That’s part of underlying belief that I was very happy to contribute to with Wi-Fi. And that’s a shorter story. It’s a lot of work, but the idea, the invention was a very short time.

Tom White:

Yeah. Very fantastic. It’s funny you should say about your son, actually. So he’s never heard a dial-up tone before. He’s never had to plug RJ-11 cables into sockets. Yeah. It’s interesting how quick things move on. But no, absolutely, yeah. Thank you for sharing that.

Tom White:

Cees, how does your team within Qorvo, at the moment then, how do they really maximize the full potential of Wi-Fi 6? Because obviously this is something that’s spoken a lot about in the community at the moment, and the advantages, et cetera. What does your team do within that?

Cees Links:

Yeah. Well, let’s put things in perspective for a second. First of all, I think Wi-Fi 6 is an interesting name. Actually, it was adopted for the new standard in Wi-Fi. In the past, Wi-Fi never bothered numbering the standards. Because if you really count, it’s the seventh generation. So if you have to call the first Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 0, you end up with Wi-Fi 6 today. The naming came a little bit after 5G.

Cees Links:

5G, 4G, 3G did a really good of marketing efforts, and Wi-Fi decided, “Well, we need to call out for a new name to give people some perspective on the growth.” So they have decided to go to Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4. All the rest of the Wi-Fi numbers is forgotten about. Doesn’t matter anymore, but if you look through history, when we launched Wi-Fi in 1999, Wi-Fi 0, to a certain extent, Wi-Fi has gone up in data rates a factor of thousandq.

Tom White:

Wow.

Cees Links:

So in 20 years, a factor of a thousand in data rate improvement. If you asked me, “What is the whole story about Wi-Fi?” Wi-Fi contrasts with 3G, 4G, 5G as Wi-Fi is the indoor communication channel.

Cees Links:

3G, 4G, 5G is outdoor communication. You need the SIM cards. You need somebody else’s base stations. You need somebody else’s services to use these base stations to connect to the Internet. It makes a lot of sense. It’s like 5G is the freeway of outdoor.

Cees Links:

In your house, you think you own your own ether, and therefore you can use your own technology, and you don’t need a subscription. You don’t need a SIM card. You still have the highest data rates and data communication in your house. Of course, you need access to your house with broadband or fiber. But if you put things in perspective, Wi-Fi in your house is what you use for being connected. Wi-Fi 6 is just faster than Wi-Fi 5 than Wi-Fi 4, while still preserving range.

Cees Links:

Here’s an interesting thing. The battle in data communication is the higher the speed, the shorter the range. So the innovation from Wi-Fi 0 to Wi-Fi 6 is, “How can we go up in data rates? How can we go faster? How can we serve more people at the same time, and still avoid that the range reduces?” Naturally radios, reduce a range if you go high data rate.

Cees Links:

So you get the big story of gigabit per second access on 5G. Well, that would be darned close to a base station, because if you’re further away from the base station, your data rate goes down rapidly. In particular, if you’re indoor, and you have to go through walls or go through glass to reach that outdoor base station, then you’ll lose a lot of data rate. So the challenge is always, “How do I get higher data rate and preserve the range?”

Cees Links:

Wi-Fi 6 has done a few things together to get still that 10 gigabit data range, which is a thousand times faster than the 10 megabits the first Wi-Fis were, so the 10 gigabit, and how do we preserve that range? To a large extent, that is done by expanding capacity and by using a concept that we call in Qorvo one pod per room.

Cees Links:

What people already have been doing is installing repeaters in their house or multiple access points. It all became a little bit complex.

Tom White:

Yeah.

Cees Links:

You almost had to become half of a network engineer. In Wi-Fi 6, that has completely simplified. You can have a repeater, we call it a pod, a repeater in every room. That pod, that repeater talks with your router at the front door. It’s one network. It’s one configuration. All the internals are standardized now, and connect your house together in every room with Wi-Fi 6, with higher capacity, with higher data rates, and still providing full indoor coverage.

Cees Links:

I think, if you ask me, “What’s the key of Wi-Fi 6?” that is the key of Wi-Fi 6. Higher data rates, still full coverage. You can almost guess what’s what would Wi-Fi 7 bring.

Tom White:

Yeah.

Cees Links:

Well, it’s a little bit of a treadmill. There’s a funny saying between software and hardware. It doesn’t matter how fast the hardware is. The software will always catch up. But that a little bit applies to networking as well. It doesn’t matter how fast you make the network, the applications will catch up, and we’ll need faster networks. So higher data rates, more capacity, and still preserving good indoor range, that is the name of the game in Wi-Fi.

Tom White:

Yeah, yeah. Thank you very much for that. I think it leads me on really nicely to my next question, actually, because clearly this year has been incredibly challenging for many, many people. I guess, with the events of 2020, do you think that the officeless office is here to stay? If so, what is Wi-Fi’s role within this? Moving forward, obviously, with 6 and potentially the next release, how do you see this changing the working world?

Cees Links:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, first of all, a pandemic is a horrible experience that we collectively are going through. It’s testing society. It’s testing society from all angles, not only from an health and healthcare perspective, but also from an economical perspective. It’s really, in a way, a tough situation that is testing the resilience, and is asking from people, is looking for inventing other ways.

Cees Links:

In a way, it is, as horrible as it is to say it, but it’s a massive social experiment, where essentially we are cut short in some areas and need to reinvent ourselves. But there is silver lining here.

Cees Links:

People were standing in traffic a lot, were spending a lot of commuting time. Interestingly, small companies had already learned how to deal with work from home in the past, because small companies have short communication lines. If somebody said, in a small company, “Hey, I will be more efficient if I can work from home tomorrow,” there was never a problem.

Cees Links:

But large companies were always concerned about working from home, the lack of oversight, the usage of new technologies like video conferencing.

Cees Links:

It was very funny. Qorvo is a large company. Just this year in February, we had hired a person to promote the usage of Teams to reduce the need for travel. Because there was that vague notion that if you use Teams more and video conferencing, then probably we can reduce travel costs. Well, this person had finished his job in a few weeks, because with the pandemic, there was no choice.

Cees Links:

People are really to learn that it is highly efficient to work from home, and it is highly efficient to use all the tools that were available, but that we, for one or another reason, not yet had fully embraced. This social experiment basically forced to use these new things.

Cees Links:

I must say, even initially, people were very excited about working from home, using the tools. Productivity went up. We are now half year later, a little bit in the, “Well, there are also drawbacks.” People are struggling separating home life from work life. Not every everyone has the proper setup at home to be able to work from home, or to work so frequently from home.

Cees Links:

So after the initial enthusiasm, we are going through a phase of sobering up, and sobering up to a situation that work from home probably is going to stay, because people also realized all the commuting time, actually that was lost productivity, one or another way. So people are catching up to the idea that work from home is going to stay there, and work from home has advantages, but we need to learn how to deal with the disadvantages. The disadvantages need to be addressed.

Cees Links:

But circling back to Wi-Fi, you can only imagine that we have seen a steady increase in the need for better communication and better networking gear at home. We have definitely seen a positive uptick in our business related to that. We think that that will continue for a while.

Cees Links:

It’s very interesting. The arrival of Wi-Fi 6, and the arrival of COVID and this social experiment, collided into an acceleration of people upgrading their network, or finding the need now to upgrade and the reason to upgrade. So we can definitely see that. But we felt all along that Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi is here to stay. It’s further facilitating work from home. That’s what we clearly see as well.

Tom White:

Yeah, yeah. Thank you for that. Yeah. I think it’s really important as well, within all of this, that the infrastructure stays stable, from the operators right down to the technology itself. Right?

Cees Links:

Yeah.

Tom White:

To maintain that as we see an increased move to flexible working.

Cees Links:

Yeah.

Tom White:

[crosstalk 00:19:03] Sorry, Cees.

Cees Links:

There’s an interesting backdrop to this, because initially we, but also several other companies, were wondering, can the Internet sustain work from home, or will it come down crashing under the weight of the increased application? It’s very interesting that we have seen the Internet holding up fairly well. I think that’s, to a large extent, due to that the Internet was already tested by a lot of video applications.

Tom White:

Yeah.

Cees Links:

People were using a lot of broadband for watching TV, for watching series at home. So in a way, the broadband network was already over dimensioned to address that need. The video conferencing and the work from home, and we’ll have to see the statistics in the coming year, how that unfolded, but the addition of work from home to the broadband network actually seems really, really rather limited.

Cees Links:

So the Internet was already quite well dimensioned for people watching videos at home, and therefore being able to deal with the additional work from home that we are seeing today.

Cees Links:

Doesn’t mean that … There is pressure and there’s increasing pressure now on the broadband companies to extend the quality and the capacity of the broadbands network. But you see there, there’s a similar race going on from DSL and cable to fiber, so there’s comparable demands on increased network capacity that is somewhat complementary to the distribution of the network, and in particular Wi-Fi in the home.

Tom White:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think recently we saw obviously some of the larger streaming services scaling back the compression rates of their video in order to keep stability. Right?

Cees Links:

Right.

Tom White:

But it’s very interesting. And obviously the increased appetite for content, and the quality of that content, and what is being used on the Internet today is heavily video orientated compared to what it used to be, right?

Cees Links:

Yeah.

Tom White:

That’s actually the requirement for data is increasing astronomically.

Tom White:

Cees, where do you see Wi-Fi in the next five years? Where are we going with this? What types of things can people expect to see from future releases and future standards being created?

Cees Links:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I mentioned already Wi-Fi 7. That is being worked as a standard in the IEEE community, so to say. But there’s also expected to be somewhat of an intermediate release. It’s called Wi-Fi 6E. It’s an extension to Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6E is going to address the increased availability of bandwidth.

Cees Links:

As you probably have heard, in the United States already, there’s a new frequency band added to the unlicensed spectrum that is being used by Wi-Fi. It’s called the six gigahertz band. It’s very confusing. Wi-Fi 6 does not use the six gigahertz band. Wi-Fi 6 was there, and then the six gigahertz band was released. But the same standards as is being used for Wi-Fi 6 can be used in the six gigahertz band, but that standard is called Wi-Fi 6E.

Cees Links:

As I mentioned, it’s already released in the United States. Europe and the UK, Korea, Brazil, are other countries or legislative areas that are looking to follow the United States in expanding the unlicensed frequency bands, paving the way for Wi-Fi 6E.

Cees Links:

Wi-Fi 6E, in a way, is the same as Wi-Fi 6, but because it has more frequency, it can harbor more channels. And because it can harbor more channels, more people can simultaneously work on Wi-Fi. That is essentially the intermediate step between Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 7. Therefore it’s called Wi-Fi 6E. It’s the same standard as Wi-Fi 6, but it has more channels, so more people can simultaneously use Wi-Fi 6. Think about large venues, convention centers, stadiums that will benefit from this in the first place. But we are also expecting to see that this will propagate into homes and into offices.

Cees Links:

It’s the same theme again, more capacity, more users having the same high bandwidth at the same time together, and therefore allowing higher speed connectivity. Yeah, it’s all paving the way to Wi-Fi 7, which this name is still running around as .11be, a working group in the IEEE standardization committee, for even higher data rates. People are talking about 40 gigabits per second right now, to really move on to the next generation.

Cees Links:

So there’s no rest for the wicked yet. We keep on going and defining newer and higher data rates, because as I mentioned, applications will catch up.

Tom White:

Yes.

Cees Links:

Yeah, going a factor of thousand in 20 years, we don’t expect it will stop now. We expect … Well, will we expect another factor of thousand in the coming 20 years? We don’t know.

Cees Links:

We can’t hardly even imagine the applications, but what we talked already about is omnipresence and awareness, and being connected all the time. Yeah. I think, in at least 10 years, we’ll look back at the primitive quality of video connectivity that we have today. So we think there’s still a ways to go in higher data rates communication. That’s what [crosstalk 00:25:57] working on and continue to work on that.

Tom White:

Yeah. Fantastic. Cees, thank you so much for joining the show. We really appreciate it. Thank you for your insights. It’s great to have you on. Perhaps in the future, when we’re in a future standard, when 7 is finally released and out there to the general public, perhaps we can talk again. But we really appreciate your time. Thank you once more.

Cees Links:

You’re very welcome. [crosstalk 00:26:21]

 

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