As the two standards come out of the gate, this topic of next-generation wireless is becoming more popular in our customer and partner conversations.
Living in Silicon Valley, I have firsthand experience of discussing this with numerous tech-enthusiasts over fine wine. Many wireless pundits believe it is an ideal scenario of coexistence, like red and white wine with its unique food pairings, where demand will continue to grow from today’s digital end-user. Add to this, the complex connectivity demands of smart technologies and IoT.
Like the food pairings for wine, the wireless offerings between 5G and WiFi6 will depend on multiple factors from costs to location (inside vs. outside) and other scenarios. It is anticipated that anytime-anything-anywhere connectivity demands will grow. Having AI as our workhorse ensures that we are on the right track in supporting the needs of today’s digital user. As an industry insider, I’d like to recommend that we remain on this mission of making the consumer the winner.
Now, I’d like to share some peer insights on this topic:
Chief Architect for Mobile
To look at Wi-Fi and 5G as direct competitors oversimplifies the issues in this complex market. Wi-Fi has often been used in-building for enterprise connectivity and the newer systems can provide significant cost and quality benefits. However, the new markets for 5G are increasingly in “mission critical” applications where reliability and quality are of equal importance to cost. If factories are to use radio technologies instead of wired systems to improve the flexibility of their production lines, they need to have very high reliability and be able to supply low latency between the factory devices and controlling applications. Additionally, it may be better to use 5G in environments more prone to interference; Wi-Fi uses unlicensed, open spectrum which brings the possibility of significant interference in high density environments, while 5G currently uses licensed spectrum with limited interference. Connectivity and bandwidth need to be guaranteed while security is paramount.
The IP layer is also key. 5G requires frequency and phase timing, so simple switches in the enterprise LAN cannot support in-building 5G. 5G also requires a core packet network, an evolved packet core, which will either require Control User Plane Separation (CUPS) deployed on-site or Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) for enterprise low-latency solutions. These technologies allow access to the IP application traffic on site, allowing the deployment of applications on site for low latency. They also allow Edge Security to be deployed to inspect traffic and enforce security policy. Wi-Fi can also use the Edge Cloud with MEC and Edge Security. Ultimately, this isn’t a competition between Wi-Fi and 5G, rather a conversation on how to deploy reliable, low-latency, secure, wireless communications.
Wi-Fi is, and has always been, complementary to the evolving generations of cellular technology. For example, Wi-Fi is critical in extending coverage to indoor locations that are not easily serviced by 5G. WiFi offers higher capacity access at a lower cost, so some service providers are planning to offload 5G onto Wi-Fi in high density and/or hard-to-serve areas. Additionally, many enterprises prefer to manage and control their own networks and data through unlicensed wireless (i.e. Wi-Fi) as opposed to leveraging a telco-hosted service (i.e. 5G).
With each new evolution in the cellular networks, some people believe that cellular can eliminate the need for Wi-Fi; however, as new applications are built, bandwidth demands soar, and buildings still struggle to achieve pervasive cellular coverage. As a result, the demand for Wi-Fi in the enterprise will continue to remain very strong, especially as WiFi-6 solutions enter the market, in light of the new standards.
5G will be complementary to Wi-Fi just as Wi-Fi will be complementary to 5G. As users, we will greatly benefit from all the spectrum we can get – including added efficiencies and performance. Where the game changer will be is seamless roaming between 5G and Wi-Fi.
Much like 4G/LTE, I see it as complementary technology to cover areas that are impractical to do with WiFi; however, it puts the responsibility on us to engineer WiFi networks that perform. I’ve encountered many WiFi networks that were so badly implemented that I just turned the WiFi off on my device and switched to LTE.
Despite popular belief, 5G vs. Wi-Fi poses a false choice as both technologies are complementary; those that think otherwise are caught in a technological “horse race” fueled by media. While 5G’s impact on Wi-Fi will be measurable and significant, I don’t think it’s going to go the way that some might think: Economics of outdoor mobile 5G deployment favor the use of shared infrastructure on municipal-owned street furniture. Deployment of Public Wi-Fi should be a cost borne by operators looking to leverage the public right-of-way, especially in light of recent regulator action restricting lease fees for small cells.
Meanwhile, indoor deployment of 5G will be driven by CRE owners’ need to stay competitive: the highest price per sq/ft will go to the properties with the best indoor mobile coverage. While Wi-Fi will continue to play an important role in the SMB space, we may start to see MSP business models gain traction due to Wi-Fi’s growing importance to business operations. As for the Home — 5G will be a last-mile technology, while Wi-Fi will continue to serve as the access layer on the inside.
This isn’t an either/or proposition like some have stated. Part of the promise of 5G is increased data transmission speeds. This is especially true as you add the additional millimeter wave frequencies, but in the sub-6GHz bands 5G rates will only be slightly higher than today’s LTE speeds. Millimeter waves have a very difficult time passing through building walls, thus 5G protocols include working in conjunction with indoor Wi-Fi solutions to cover indoor spaces.
This will entail lots of lawyers, contracts, and business models to allow cell carriers access and control over enterprise Wi-Fi infrastructure. THAT…That will NOT be an easy task.
Though the 5G technologies and interconnections are intriguing, I foresee many marketing claims, but fewer actual successful installations until the legal and business issues have a chance to be fleshed out and codified.
Observing the news on Wifi and 5G, it seems at first glance as both technologies are competing with each other. The current generation of WiFi networks is by far dominating the Enterprise market while forms of 4G/LTE are struggling to penetrate the enterprise space. 5G is offering a lower cost per bit of data compared to 4G with higher data rates. WiFi on the other hand, with the new WiFi 6 standard, is presenting a considerable improvement in efficiency and therefore higher capacity of the network.
Both technologies will go side by side, and we’ll see an overlap in some areas and vertical markets. According to Qualcomm’s VP Irvind Ghai, it is much cheaper to produce an 802.11ax chip than a 5G chip. This is, in my opinion, a crucial factor in distinguishing between the technologies in the following years.
The advent of 5G will act as an enabler for high speed services in previously under-serviced areas or where a fixed line is not viable for other reasons. We take the view that this will actually grow the need for technologies like 802.11ac WiFi, using the 5G as the connectivity means and the WiFi internally in corporate environments for distribution. We do not believe that 5G will ever be a replacement for WiFi or fiber optic based fixed line. The reasons for this are found in both cost and control. The simple fact is, because of the vast entrenchment of WiFi, the costs are extremely attractive, and the ability for companies to deploy WiFi networks which are under their (the company’s) control rather than the control of an incumbent who runs a 5G network is another key factor.
It is critical to remember that today more than 50% of internet sourced packets are delivered to end point via WiFi – this install base and the resultant low cost – is what will protect the technology.