These Were Wi-Fi’s Biggest Stories in 2020

Last year brought many changes to wireless networking, including new technologies and novel IoT vulnerabilities

Key takeaways

  • The biggest Wi-Fi stories of 2020 included:
    1. The pandemic’s impact on networking
    2. The accelerated rollout of 5G
    3. Microsoft introduced Azure Sphere
    4. The Ripple20 discovery
    5. The 6 GHz band and Wi-Fi 6E

2020 was unheard-of in many ways, and dramatic developments impacted most industries. The pandemic-induced shutdowns and economic downturn occurred alongside a greater dependence on Wi-Fi and internet access. Schools, hospitals, enterprises, and organizations of all kinds had to transition to remote environments. Doctors began offering virtual telehealth visits, and entire workplaces started working from home offices. 

These shifts have altered the wireless network landscape permanently. And beyond these changes, quality Wi-Fi continues to become crucial for operations and communications across the globe. One measure of this ubiquity is in dollar figures: Reports and Data estimates that the global Wi-Fi market will grow from $8.76 Billion in 2019 to $31.3 billion by 2027

Now that we a little distance from last year’s events, what were the biggest Wi-Fi stories of 2020?

1. The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on remote work and networking

We can’t talk about 2020 and technology without mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic, of course. In March and April, record numbers of employees either lost their jobs or shifted to a remote-work environment. Because regular job functions couldn't be performed onsite, Wi-Fi use increased drastically around the globe. 

One study found that internet traffic increased by 15% to 20% within a week of shutdowns. More people than ever started depending on Wi-Fi to complete tasks. 

But beyond the offsite workforce, internet traffic exploded because of personal communications, too. People started using video conferencing tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts instead of meeting socially in person. Zoom saw an increase of $328.2 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2020, up 169% from the previous year.

Social media and streaming sites also saw major boosts because of the pandemic. By the end of March 2020, Facebook traffic was up 27%, Netflix was up 16%, and YouTube was up 15.3%. Staying socially connected and entertained now requires Wi-Fi. 

2. 5G increases its reach

The fifth-generation mobile network expanded worldwide in 2020 and continues to grow. Android phone manufacturers have numerous 5G phones on the market, and the iPhone 12 works with it as well. 

The new network is already providing benefits like:

  • Seamless video streaming from cell phones
  • Better video conferencing
  • Faster data transfer speeds
  • Very low latency
  • More network capacity

So what does 5G’s expansion mean for Wi-Fi? While cellular networks and Wi-Fi technology typically have different use cases, they’re becoming more similar as smartphones and tablets are used for the same tasks as traditional computers. Wi-Fi 6 and 5G both provide higher speeds and lower latency for internet users. Both also offer greater capacity to keep up with increased levels of traffic and higher-bandwidth applications.

Some consumers can now even decide to opt for wireless broadband 5G in their homes instead of Wi-Fi— though the latter is still considered the most efficient way to accommodate many devices trying to connect at once. 

3. Microsoft introduces Azure Sphere

An ongoing issue in the world of Wi-Fi is how to secure the massive number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices introduced each year. These devices often don't have the same level of protection in place and can create lots of problems for the networks they connect to. 

Azure Sphere is a new Microsoft application that aims to improve connectivity and provide comprehensive security for all this equipment. The solution uses an advanced chip to increases device security with multiple layers of protection. It also encompasses an operating system that is upgraded regularly with more protections and delivers a cloud-based security service that provides monitoring and threat detection. 

This is just one of many technologies that will continue to be developed because of the ubiquity of IoT devices and the novel threats they bring to Wi-Fi networks.

4. The Ripple20 discovery

A set of 19 vulnerabilities were discovered in 2020 by the JSOF research lab. These zero-day vulnerabilities were named Ripple20 and impact hundreds of millions of devices within the IoT. The weaknesses pose significant risks for data theft, unauthorized network entry, and device manipulation, among many other issues. 

The Ripple20 were detected in a TCP/IP software library from Treck, Inc., and impacted areas include medical, industrial, transportation, enterprise, retail, aviation, home, networking, and more. Attackers can hide malicious code on the equipment, sometimes for years. 

5. The 6 GHz band and Wi-Fi 6E

In April 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) signed a law that allowed the release of 1.2 GHz of the new 6GHz band for unlicensed use, meaning routers can use it to broadcast just like the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz bands. And by the end of 2020, devices started supporting 6 GHz, creating Wi-Fi 6E.

Wi-Fi 6E delivers the same capabilities as Wi-Fi 6 but extends service to the 6 GHz band. Equipment that supports the new standard will benefit from using a new spectrum with less congestion because of the additional channels and capacity of 6 GHz.

Combating Wi-Fi issues with wireless network monitoring

These were a few of the biggest Wi-Fi stories that we saw in 2020. And as new technologies continue to emerge—and novel performance issues arise with them—it’s more important to invest in a wireless network monitoring (WNM) platform that gives your team continuous visibility into performance and the end-user experience. 7SIGNAL’s WNM solution does just that, setting up your organization for success in 2021 and beyond.

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