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Wi-Fi 6 vs. 5G: What is right for your organisation?

Tue 16 Jul 2019 | Paul Routledge

Should businesses opt for Wi-Fi 6, 5G, or both? D-Link’s Paul Routledge explores the connectivity options available to businesses in 2019 and beyond

2019 will be a landmark year for wireless connectivity and IoT, with the launches of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G making headlines across the globe. 

In a world where access to the Internet and data has become a necessity for every business, the superfast Internet speeds and high bandwidth efficiencies that these technologies will deliver are something worth getting excited about. 

However, for anyone looking to move beyond the hype and truly benefit from these standards, it’s important to know the tangible advantages of both, and how their introduction will meet current and future commercial needs.

In 2018, Wi-Fi Alliance, the organisation behind developing and naming the Wi-Fi standard we use today, introduced a new generation of Wi-Fi labelling designed to demystify and simplify wireless selection. 

Gone is the daunting 802.11ax, 802.11ac, 802.11n naming convention, which caused a real annoyance for the average person trying to figure out what those numbers and little letters at the end meant, and in its place is a new user-friendly naming system. 

802.11ax is replaced by Wi-Fi 6, the new name for the latest generation of Wi-Fi, and the same system applies retroactively to older standards. For example: 802.11n is now Wi-Fi 4; 802.11ac, Wi-Fi 5; and the upcoming 802.11ax, Wi-Fi 6. As a result, it will be much easier to understand the capabilities, compatibility and speeds of their connections.

What advantages does Wi-Fi 6 bring to businesses?

The main selling point of Wi-Fi 6 is that it can provide up to four times better wireless performance in dense or congested areas compared to Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). 

As IoT becomes more established in homes and businesses, and the number of devices requiring connection to the Wi-Fi leads to increased wireless interference, particularly in urban areas, this will be of benefit to everyone. Wi-Fi 6 will also be compatible both with current standard frequencies (using 2.4 GHz and 5GHz) and future bands (1GHz and 6GHz) once available.

This means that if you want to guarantee connectivity with a broad range of devices, and serve legacy equipment, you need to be considering Wi-Fi 6. Also, with more of the spectrum available, Wi-Fi 6 can divide bandwidth into narrower sub-channels; providing more avenues for clients and access points to communicate along, and supporting additional connected devices on any given network.

MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output) also gets an upgrade with the introduction of Wi-Fi 6. 

Before MU-MIMO, imagine your Wi-Fi as a single lane road, along which cars must pass in both directions to receive and send information. You easily imagine why having to stop periodically to allow traffic in the opposite direction to pass causes slowdown. With MU-MIMO, extra lanes are added to the road, so that you now have dedicated lanes for transferring information in both directions. 

Wi-Fi 6 dramatically increases efficiencies by doubling the number of downstream and increasing the number of upstreams that can be handled by a factor of eight, with the potential to deliver four simultaneous streams to a single device. 

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access also improves numerous aspects of Wi-Fi delivery; making it more efficient by lowering latency and improving the overall quality of service in congested, high-demand areas such as conference halls and stadiums.

Consequently, this new Wi-Fi standard has the potential to improve customer experience; providing faster Wi-Fi for customers, as well as for connected devices such as smart speakers, smart screens, and self-service checkouts. 

“The choice facing businesses is how their Internet will be provided, will it be via a wired connection or via a next-generation hybrid 5G Router emulating traditional fixed-line Internet?”

Finally, the efficiency gains of Wi-Fi 6 can also to help reduce network and device costs, allowing businesses of all sizes to embrace increased connectivity. 

The benefits of 5G

5G is the name used for the next-generation cellular technology that will replace 4G LTE. 

By using existing mobile data frequencies in new ways and adding newly available higher frequency bands, 5G will offer significantly increased data rates and offer a viable alternative to fixed-line broadband. 

Historically, cellular networks have been used to providing voice and data coverage over large areas. However, 5G will be a gamechanger as also provides the speeds and necessary bandwidth for Internet connections in local and personal networks, such as small office spaces.

Consequently, 5G has the potential to transform the way that companies do business. We expect to see it usher in many new opportunities, including simple and rapid deployment of security systems that can send recorded video directly to cloud-hosted video recorders, or intelligent vending machines, or smart lighting capable of detecting someone on the road and switching street lights on and off as necessary. 

Until now, the delivery of Internet connectivity has predominantly been provided via a fixed-line wired connection. In most countries, this has been delivered using technology originally deployed and developed for the transmission of voice traffic.

The technologies used for this connection have had to rapidly evolve to address the need for faster speeds. However, the demand for ever-greater Internet speed has meant the current copper cabling that provides connectivity is not suitable for future needs.  

Because 5G can be utilised on both a larger and smaller scale, business and personal networks including those that connect entire buildings can be connected with 5G. In the era of cloud-based computing, it will be used to power a new business network topology designed for all connected devices. Devices will either connect directly to the 5G network or via a Local WLAN using Wi-Fi access points and existing wired infrastructure. 

5G also has the potential to create a wide range of new opportunities for businesses; from creating new products, services and industries, to remotely helping small businesses to become more productive and competitive.

Selecting an ISP will no longer be limited to picking a company based on the current connection e.g. wired (FTTH, xDSL or GPON) and also other criteria like speed or customer service, and switching ISP will become as easy as switching electricity or gas suppliers. Hybrid solutions encompassing both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G make this possible, enabling businesses to connect simply by plugging and sharing Internet access without having to resort to elaborate network topologies.

Joining forces

Both of these new technologies will be leveraged in a complementary way across different industries due to their unique strengths. 5G brings speed and mobility, while Wi-Fi 6 can provide ubiquitous connectivity and traditional local area network access. 

The choice facing businesses is how their Internet will be provided, will it be via a wired connection or via a next-generation hybrid 5G Router emulating traditional fixed-line Internet?

Whilst it may take time for 5G to become a standard for mainstream devices, a hybrid solution (such as a Wi-Fi router with an integrated 5G modem) can bring additional flexibility and future proof enterprise networks, allowing multi-Gigabit Internet connectivity to be deployed without having to lay a physical cable, saving money and time.

In both urban and rural areas, 4G is already being used as an alternative to xDSL and cable for broadband Internet. Other initiatives like MP-TCP (Multi-path Transmission Control Protocol) enable simultaneous use of several interfaces or IP-addresses to aggregate Internet connectivity, so that slow wired connections can be combined with new 5G services to provide faster and better quality services.

5G coupled with Wi-Fi 6 could change the way we live and work. Rather than congregate in large urban clusters, we now have the possibility to live and run businesses almost anywhere, including our homes, and experience seamless superfast broadband. 

Experts featured:

Paul Routledge

Country Manager, UK & Ireland


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