Work from home surge may work in Wi-Fi 6's favour, reckons analyst house

Research ponders whether lockdown may lead folk to update dusty networking kit for sitting room setups

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The COVID-19 pandemic looks set to have both short and long-term implications for the tech industry, themselves a reflection of changes in the established working culture. A new white paper from ABI Research highlights the growing need for modern home Wi-Fi kit to cope with an increasingly remote workforce.

The paper points out that upload traffic has increased by as much as 80 per cent in recent weeks, a direct consequence of the lockdown orders established by most governments.

There are a few factors driving this trend. Office workers, now toiling from home, spend their days plugged into a work VPN, or sitting on Zoom calls. With pubs and cinemas closed, people have to look elsewhere for their entertainment, with social media and gaming taking the lead.

And this increased demand is hampered by the proliferation of outdated Wi-Fi equipment, such as those that can only access the 802.11a/b/g/n standards. These older standards are particularly less capable at handling crowded networks than, say, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax, aka AX Wi-Fi). And with members of the same household working, studying and playing under the same roof, ABI Research predicts a need for mesh Wi-Fi products.

Although these lockdowns are intended to be temporary, they may drag on, as national governments work to implement effective tracking/tracing programmes and continuing efforts are made on potential vaccines. Beyond that, ABI Research suggests the lockdown may encourage more workplaces to embrace remote working – which in turn may increase demand for home-networking and VPN gear.

"The hope, of course, is that the impact of COVID-19 will be very short lived, and that people will be able to return to work, school, and normality as swiftly as possible," said Andrew Zignani, principal analyst at ABI Research. "In the longer term, today's necessities could lead to an increased desire and testbed for flexible and remote working and learning in the future, while companies may shift marketing and business resources away from conference-centric approaches toward new online and virtual marketing tools, particularly as additional concerns grow over the impact of climate change via international travel.

"In the longer term, it could lead to a reassessment of how many modern workplaces and working relationships are structured, reducing the impact of long commutes and travel, enabling more flexible working and remote collaboration. In order to achieve this, additional resources will need to be devoted to VPNs, secure home networking, and remote working/conferencing software."

And this cultural shift could have silver linings beyond quieter roads and cleaner air. ABI believes it could encourage governments and the telecommunications industry to invest in last-mile fibre networks, and foster a better understanding of modern Wi-Fi standards in the wider public, which in turn will result in better home Wi-Fi security.

Of course, it's also possible that things return to "business as usual". But as the lockdown becomes our new normal, that possibility feels more and more remote. ®

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