Do you need Wi-Fi if you have 5G?

Why both technologies could co-exist to support FinServ providers

by Michael J. Brophy, Principal Solutions Architect, AT&T Business

“Will 5G replace Wi-Fi?”

This question has resurfaced with the emergence of 5G and Wi-Fi 6. Many industry experts believe that Wi-Fi will co-exist with and can even be a key part of many 5G use cases.

While the key technologies for Wi-Fi 6 are somewhat different from 5G, an overlap exists. For example, 5G employs OFDMA, Multi-User MIMO, beamforming, and QAM. Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are predicted to coexist much as the two technologies have done in the past. Legacy Wi-Fi technologies have flourished in a local setting like the office, campus, or business venue, and Wi-Fi 6 is expected to do the same. 5G is the next evolution of 4G LTE and is primarily a wide-area technology that is deployed across cities and rural areas to support mobile connectivity.

Wi-Fi 6: More than raw data rates

Wi-Fi 6 is essentially a rebranding of 802.11ax by the Wi-Fi Alliance™. The key difference between 802.11ax and its Wi-Fi predecessors is that previous standards focused mainly on increasing raw data rates, whereas 802.11ax focuses on better efficiency, capacity, and performance. Even without a central fact source for Wi-Fi 6, the various companies comprising the Wi-Fi industry have thoroughly described the Wi-Fi 6 technology. As a standard, 802.11ax is under the governance of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE). Even though the standard was not ratified until 2019, it has been evolving since 2013, so equipment manufacturers have been making products available using 802.11ax chipsets. After ratification by the IEEE, the certification program sponsored by the Wi-Fi Alliance has been designed to ensure interoperability between Wi-Fi 6 radio networks and end user devices.

5G: more than faster speeds

5G is an emerging standard which is set by the 3GPP organization. 3GPP follows the specifications defined in the ITU’s IMT-2020 vision. Due to the complexity of the technology, coupled with the desire to deliver the technology quickly, the 5G standard was divided into two phases: Release 15 and Release 16. Release 15 was completed at the end of 2017, specifying a New Radio (NR) RAN interface with connectivity to an LTE
enhanced packet core. The 5G devices will communicate with the 5G mobile radio network using NR. Historically, end-user devices generally become commercially available eighteen months after the completion of a standard. 5G has seen an acceleration of a few devices working in concert with carrier 5G release. The first commercial 5G smartphone devices were anticipated mid-2019. Release 16 specifies additional enhancements to Release 15, including a 5G packet core.

While 5G is in its early stages, the current 5G millimeter wave coverage is very limited. Over time, coverage will expand, particularly with the use of additional spectrum bands such as sub-6 GHz. It is this key difference (LAN versus WAN) that leads to the conclusion that the two technologies will continue to complement each other.


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