Connectivity is crucial in making today's vehicles more comfortable and safer. Even though previous applications have focused on location-based and other information-sharing services, the emphasis is now on Machine Learning (ML) and advanced analytics that process the large amounts of data produced by vehicle sensors. To enable such use cases, the OEMs are rapidly adopting service-oriented gateways that support entire vehicle OTA updates and are typically beyond the average automotive microcontroller (MCU) capabilities. These OTA updates need a secure, high-performance WiFi network such as the new WiFi 6 standard. Wi-Fi 6 promises to provide faster data transfer, increased network efficiency, reduced latency, and improved security. These features are essential for the development and adoption of autonomous and electric vehicles.

What is WiFi 6

WiFi 6, or 802.11ax, is the latest standard for wireless connectivity technology. WiFi 6 builds on the previous WiFi 5 (802.11ac) standard and introduces new and improved reliability compared to its predecessors.

The automotive industry is rapidly evolving, with cars becoming more connected and autonomous. With WiFi 6, cars can connect to the internet and other devices faster, improving safety, entertainment, and navigation systems. WiFi 6 can also support multiple devices simultaneously, allowing passengers to stream music or movies without interrupting other applications.

Table: Networking protocols chart

How does WiFi 6 do

This is made feasible by a number of key advancements. The employment of the OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) modulation method in both directions is perhaps the most technically significant (uplink and downlink).

Each channel formed can be further divided into sub-channels called resource units. These units can be packaged and sent simultaneously between access points and multiple clients, increasing concurrent users.

This scheme is also less susceptible to multipath fading, thanks partly to adding a longer cyclic prefix between symbols. These features deliver a more robust network in outside environments when coupled with new PHY headers.

Another development is how WiFi 6 employs multiuser multiple-in multiple-out technologies (MU-MIMO). Again, MU-MIMO is used in both the uplink and downlink to increase throughput in both directions (Full – duplex communication). Over short distances, the use of 1024-QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) delivers peak performance.

WiFi 6 also allows better isolation of networks within proximity. This is done using a “colour”, aka Base Service Set (BSS) scheme, a number from 0 to 7 that can be assigned to the access point. The access point can ignore all signals not configured for its colour and thus increase efficiency by not having to process signals from another access point not part of its configured network.

 By employing spatial reuse, OFDMA enables WiFi 6 to enhance its bandwidth utilisation
Figure 1: By employing spatial reuse, OFDMA enables WiFi 6 to enhance its bandwidth utilisation

A feature called TWT (Target Wake Time) will help mobile devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets that connect to a WiFi network save on battery life. Currently, devices that connect to WiFi networks must keep their connection up and running. Unfortunately, this consumes battery power for mobile devices, which is needed by the WiFi radio transmitter. Even during idle, the radio transmitter still consumes power. TWT allows the access point to "wake up" a device when transmitting or sending data. During inactivity, the radio transmitter can then go to idle mode, allowing it to conserve energy, thus allowing for longer battery life. This can also benefit IoT devices that don't have to continuously keep an open connection to the network unless the access point receives data or when it needs to transmit data.

Faster speeds are possible with WiFi 6 thanks to using two frequency channels, 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz (dual band support) simultaneously. The 2.4 GHz frequency signals can travel longer distances but are prone to interference from other devices. The 5.0 GHz frequency channel was less prone to interference and much faster but did not have the long-range capabilities of 2.4 GHz. WiFi 6 makes use of both frequency channels effectively through the use of more powerful processors and signal encoding.

Benefits of WiFi 6 for the automotive industry

The latest wireless networking standard brings several benefits to the automotive industry. Some of the key benefits of WiFi 6 for the automotive industry are:

1. High-speed data transfer: WiFi 6 provides faster data transfer speeds than previous WiFi standards, which is crucial for the automotive industry. With the increasing amount of data that vehicles generate, such as sensor data, infotainment systems, and software updates, faster data transfer speeds are essential.
2. Increased bandwidth: WiFi 6 offers higher bandwidth, which means more devices can connect to the network simultaneously without affecting the overall network performance. This is particularly important for modern cars with multiple electronic systems and devices requiring connectivity.
3. Improved reliability: WiFi 6 includes network reliability features, such as MU-MIMO (multiple multiuser input, multiple outputs) and OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access). These features enable various devices to communicate with the network simultaneously, reducing network congestion and increasing network reliability.
4. Better security: WiFi 6 includes several security enhancements, such as WPA3 (WiFi Protected Access 3), which provides more robust encryption and authentication protocols than previous WiFi standards. This is important for the automotive industry, where security is critical to protect against potential cyber-attacks.
5. Better battery life: It uses Target Wake Time (TWT) technology to reduce power consumption. This means that devices connected to the WiFi network consume less power, resulting in longer battery life.

The impact of WiFi 6 on the automotive industry

WiFi 6 offers a significant advantage in managing multiple devices simultaneously, which is particularly crucial in the automotive sector. The need for dependable and high-speed internet connectivity continues to increase with the proliferation of connected gadgets in modern cars, such as infotainment systems, navigation aids, and autonomous driving technology.

WiFi 6 can also enhance vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, enabling vehicles to communicate with other cars, infrastructure, and pedestrians. This type of communication ensures the safe and efficient operation of connected and autonomous vehicles on the road.

Additionally, WiFi 6 can enhance the overall passenger experience in the car by enabling faster and more reliable streaming of music, video, and other content. This improvement could drive the demand for in-car entertainment systems, impacting future vehicles' design and functionality.

Integrating solar and wind energy for EV battery charging
Figure 2: WiFi 6 technology for the automotive industry

The automotive industry already incorporates WiFi 6 technology into cars, with some manufacturers offering it as a standard feature in their latest models. With the increasing demand for connected vehicles and the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), WiFi 6 is expected to become a critical technology for the automotive industry, enabling faster, more reliable, and secure connectivity for drivers and passengers.

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