Blog Mobility

Can 5G Actually Replace Wi-Fi?

Perry Correll Director, Product Marketing Published 20 Apr 2019

There’s been a lot, A LOT of talk lately about the future of wireless technologies and whether or not Wi-Fi will be replaced. Some of it is true, while some is not. With that said, I wanted to dig deeper into 5G and Wi-Fi as a follow-up to my blog post, Is Wi-Fi 6 the Dominant Choice for the Future of Wireless Technology? and prior to my upcoming webinar Wi-Fi 6, 5th Gen, CBRS Wireless Technologies Competitors, Collaboration, or Just Coexistence.

So, What is 5G?

5G stands for 5th Generation, the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications.  From an evolutionary standpoint

  • 1G (1970-1980) focused on analog voice
  • 2G (1980-1990) added digital voice & messaging services
  • 3G (1990-2000) combined voice, messaging, and data services
  • 4G (2000-2010) shifted the focus to the suite of IP based broadband services

Now begins the 5G era.

5G is based on the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) IMT-2020 proposal (2012), ITU’s vision of what global telecommunications should look like by 2020. At a technical level, it was designed to

  • Provide higher data rates
  • Reduce latency
  • Increase energy savings
  • Minimize costs
  • Expand system capacity
  • Enable massive device connectivity

However, the key business value was to deliver highly reliable communications to support multiple, simultaneous mission-critical applications. I recommend the IEEE’s website to learn more information about 5G.

What’s So Special About 5G?

The goal for 5G was to provide wireless communication services that could support any type of device or application, with each getting the level of service required. It also would not be limited to a single radio technology.

Although it did incorporate advancements in wireless access technology, most of the real benefits will reside in the core network. Terms thrown about are network virtualization and network slicing, with the concept that carriers can define virtual networks that would reside above the physical layer infrastructure. These virtual networks can then be used to segment the network for specific use cases or market requirements. In this way, the network can quickly be reconfigured and scaled for new levels of services are needed. 

Ok, 5G is Interesting, But Will It Replace Wi-Fi?

Easy answer, No!

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For the last 10 years, every improvement in carrier wireless technologies was proffered as a potential technology to replace Wi-Fi and the answer was always the same, not yet.

We saw it with mobile WiMAX, 3G, and 4G, it will be the same answer for 5G.

Both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 have advantages and disadvantages versus the other, however, when you combine the capabilities of each, they become complementary and the resulting infrastructure is optimized for all types of communication and use cases. If you don’t believe me, believe the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance, both organizations are actually working together to leverage the technologies and enhance wireless communications.

If that doesn’t convince you, think of it a different way; currently, there are about 9 billion Wi-Fi devices in use and 3+ billion are added each year. The most optimistic estimation is about 1.5 billion 5G devices by 2024. There are several other issues preventing 5G from replacing Wi-Fi but I will save those for my upcoming webinar, Wi-Fi 6, 5th Gen, CBRS Wireless Technologies Competitors, Collaboration, or Just Coexistence.

Well, that about covers the intro to 5G, in my next we will take a look at CBRS technology. If you missed my previous blog post, read it now – Is Wi-Fi 6 the Dominant Choice for the Future of Wireless Technology?.

And don’t miss out on my webinar!

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