It’s Complicated: Understanding the Relationship Between Wi-Fi 6 and 5G
The battle lines have been drawn. In one corner stands Wi-Fi 6, the latest generation Wi-Fi standard that also goes by 802.11ax. Positioned directly across from it is 5G, the most updated cellular data network. Future dominance of enterprise networks everywhere is on the line. Or, at least that’s how some industry observers have painted the relationship between these two emerging technologies. However, the reality is more complicated – and less combative – than that narrative suggests.
Let’s explore Wi-Fi 6, 5G, and the way in which they each fit into modern approaches to networking.
Wi-Fi 6 in the spotlight
From a roll-out perspective, Wi-Fi 6 has the early edge on 5G. There are already multiple Wi-Fi 6-ready options available in Cisco’s Catalyst 9K and Meraki access point families. This new standard promises to outperform its wireless predecessors four times over in both highly congested and moderately trafficked environments while also offering certain devices up to 40% faster data rates. These performance gains stem from its ability to split up channels for multiple clients and also from improved modulation techniques compared to earlier iterations.
It’s also worth mentioning that potential efficiency gains extend beyond throughput. Wi-Fi 6 may also prove to be less taxing on device batteries. Getting more bang for a charge is something all end users will appreciate.
That’s just a quick fly-by of what organizations can hope to achieve with Wi-Fi 6. Later on, we’ll dive into a specific scenario to see this new standard in action. Before doing so, let’s first review what 5G has to offer.
Checking out 5G
Right now, 5G is only available in select cities nationwide with wider deployments set to follow. Also limited is the number of devices currently capable of accessing it. Considering the speeds the 5G hype train has already hit among the consumer and business crowds, this also seems destined to change very quickly.
When compared to earlier generations, the numbers look strong for 5G. It promises ten times less latency, ten times more connection density, and ten times greater throughput than what was possible previously. The technology also has the potential to improve overall network efficiency one hundred times over by, among other advances, being smarter regarding energy consumption.
The steps forward 5G has taken have some in the industry thinking that it might be 5G, and not Wi-Fi 6, which could be the future of enterprise networks. One place where this theoretical conflict could play out is on the factory floor.
Wi-Fi 6 and 5G in action
Industrial settings like manufacturing make a compelling example in this case due to the sheer scale of the digital transformation these facilities are undergoing. However, it’s important to keep in mind that they aren’t the only potential location for a future showdown between 5G and Wi-Fi 6. It could just as easily occur in medical facilities, smart cities, etc.
In order to remain competitive, today’s manufacturers have integrated an array of innovative solutions into their processes. Automation has been a fixture in the industry for years, but its reach has spread and its capabilities have grown thanks to ongoing advances in artificial intelligence. Modern manufacturers can gather more data than ever before thanks to the spread of IoT-connected devices. This abundance of data has been used to refine and hone operations in the hopes of achieving next-level efficiencies.
Some believe 5G could potentially overtake Wi-Fi as the connectivity method of choice inside “smart factories” for a few reasons. It’s flexible enough to manage the increasingly complex web of connected machines, sensors, etc. hard at work in these factories. Additionally, its ample bandwidth could be called upon to support demanding AR/VR solutions, artificial intelligence and more.
Still others think the idea of an impending conflict has been overblown. These experts argue that we shouldn’t see the future as a choice between 5G or Wi-Fi 6. Instead, they believe organizations would be best served using these solutions in concert with each other.
5G & Wi-Fi 6: Partners in innovation?
Cisco is among those promoting future hybrid networks that embrace both 5G and Wi-Fi 6-enabled connectivity. The company sees Wi-Fi 6 retaining its crown as the best choice for indoor networks due to its improvements in latency, throughput, and its budget-friendly and accessible hardware. As for 5G, its high speeds and capacity may make it best served keeping today’s mobile workforces connected and productive no matter where they go. Should these two solutions converge inside a manufacturing or medical facility, it will likely be to work together to support users instead of as part of a plan to replace one with the other.
Next Steps: What does the future hold for your network?
Still have questions about Wi-Fi 6, 5G or how they could fit into your organization’s approach to networking? Arraya’s Network and Security experts can help. You can start a conversation today at: https://www.arrayasolutions.com/contact-us/.
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