Yes, 5G and Wi-Fi6 Will Coexist Nicely

For now, it seems that the safest choice is to not jump to any conclusions and simply stick with what you have.

There are also multiple barriers to supplanting Wi-Fi usage with 5G, starting with existing hardware. For example, while a 5G booster claims it will work wonders for telemedicine or seemingly far-out ideas like remote surgery, it’s hard to imagine any entity like a hospital, school or even an office migrating all their Wi-Fi hardware to connect via 5G. Expensive medical devices, university networks and multibillion-dollar servers can’t be completely replaced overnight. Furthermore, any 5G migration would also entail paying a carrier for data transmission when they currently get free and unlimited via Wi-Fi on their wireline connection.

5G will greatly improve bandwidth and latency of current mobile networks, but it seems implausible that 5G will supplant many use cases for Wi-Fi 6. Speaking of which, let’s take a look at that alternative.

The Future of Wi-Fi 6

The opposite side of the connectivity coin lies in Wi-Fi 6. Similar to the Wi-Fi we use today, Wi-Fi 6 will be used primarily to wirelessly connect devices within an area. For example, in offices as local area networks or in public areas as an amenity, but with huge performance improvements in throughput and latency.

While fiber connectivity is foundational to both platforms, with both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G seen as wireless extensions of underlying fiber connections, Wi-Fi 6 relies on unlicensed spectrums. The primary distinction in use is rooted in history and FCC policy.

Wi-Fi is a protocol that is rooted in the computer industry and was developed to run on unlicensed spectrum. This means it can be used by any device and by any user, which is in stark contrast to 5G’s reliance on major carriers.

But it is this permission-less aspect of Wi-Fi that has driven adoption over the last two decades to near ubiquity for wireless connections in offices, homes and public spaces. In other words, Wi-Fi 6 will complement current standards and infrastructure, not replace them.

The hope is that this next generation of wireless technology, based on what is called the IEEE 802.11 ax standard, will be used to usher in a cutting-edge wave of new devices and wireless capabilities that will boost networks with speedier connectivity and much less congestion — not to mention the potential it has for enabling lower battery consumption across devices. 

Wi-Fi 6 improves performance because it manages bandwidth more efficiently. Through a scheme called orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), it can put multiple client devices on a single channel and provide improved signal modulation through quadrature amplitude modulation, or QAM. This will boost performance for time-sensitive applications like VoIP.

This sounds similar to what 5G hopes to achieve but there are some major differences.

Wi-Fi is interoperable, so devices work on any Wi-Fi network. This means that Wi-Fi 6 will improve bandwidth and performance and has a straightforward hardware upgrade path.

Wi-Fi 6 is also prepared for immediate rollout because its functionality is designed to operate in the existing Wi-Fi bands. Wi-Fi 6 products initially hit the market in early 2019, but mainstream production hardware will be available in 2020. Essentially, one of the only timeline uncertainties for Wi-Fi 6 is the speed of consumer adoption.

So, it seems unlikely that only one technology will reign supreme and more plausible that complementary uses will continue. For now, it seems that the safest choice is to not jump to any conclusions and simply stick with what you have.

Businesses should focus on meeting their own communications needs and can safely ignore the excessive hype around 5G. For consumers, keeping a watchful eye on things will probably mean sticking with Wi-Fi and upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 when it becomes mainstream.

Still, as high-capacity networks of all kinds become more available, our growing connectivity demands will be met with more cutting-edge technology, better hardware and near endless opportunities for how to use it.


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