The carrier is working on what it calls “next-generation WiFi” designed to deliver network speeds comparable to what’s being claimed for 5G technology. The carrier has demonstrated WiFi network speeds up to 4.8 Gb/s.
The WiFi technology is based on the latest 802.11ax standard, which is an update to the currently pervasive 802.11ac standard used by most new WiFi-enabled devices. The update uses four antennas to transmit data as opposed to three antennas with 802.11ac, and twice as much spectrum across the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum bands.
Chipmakers have already begun to release supporting equipment, including silicon from Quantenna, Qualcomm, and Broadcom. Support within smartphones and other mobile devices is expected to begin next year.
SK Telecom plans to deploy access points in high-traffic areas that are typically overrun with customers streaming video content. WiFi is expected to be used alongside 5G technology in supporting services like mobile broadband and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Analysts noted that WiFi technology advances should provide some relief for initial 5G deployments, though it will take some time for broad consumer adoption.
“802.11ax will help speed up further much of the video consumption that is driving home and mobile data usage,” said William Ho, principal analyst at 556 Ventures. “While it’s the successor and four-times faster than 802.11ac, there will be an adoption lag within the WiFi infrastructure, whether it’s enterprise offices, malls, or even consumers.”
SK Telecom was recently cited by Juniper Research as the world’s “most promising” 5G network operator. The carrier was lauded for its extensive 5G trials that tested technologies such as millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum; multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) antenna transmission; and network slicing. The last technology capitalizes on the capabilities of software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), orchestration, and analytics, to support a variety of vertical industries such as automotive, health care, and media.
SK Telecom is planning to launch 5G commercially in the second half of 2019.