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Is 5G a Threat to Wi-Fi?

March 20, 2019


The mobile industry recently confirmed that it has achieved a huge milestone in the race to bring 5G networks to life by approving standalone 5G specifications. Considered the next big revolution in mobile connectivity, 5G wireless technology aims at providing better mobile broadband connectivity and speed for a wider range of customers. What will be the role of Wi-Fi when the 5G train finally starts rolling? Will 5G cellular network eventually replace Wi-Fi?

A complete 5G standard is here

3GPP – the international organization that oversees cellular standards – recently completed the standalone version of the 5G New Radio (NR) standard at a meeting in California, marking a long-awaited target date for the standard. The new specifications enable developers to choose from a standalone 5G standard that doesn’t depend upon 4G or the earlier non-standalone 5G standard with 4G ties. In a collective announcement, 3GPP and dozens of wireless companies are describing the approval as kicking off “the final sprint towards 5G commercialization,” which will begin in the United States this year. “The completion of SA specifications which complements the NSA specifications, not only gives 5G NR the ability of independent deployment but also brings a brand new end-to-end network architecture, making 5G a facilitator and an accelerator during the intelligent information and communications technology improvement process of enterprise customers and vertical industries. New business models will be enabled and a new era where everything is interconnected will be opened up for both mobile operators and industrial partners”, according to the same announcement.

Speedy 5G, a threat to Wi-Fi

Earlier this year, Qualcomm showed 5G’s real-world potential by publishing the results of two simulated tests conducted in Frankfurt and San Francisco. While the Frankfurt simulation modeled a NSA 5G NR network operating on 100 MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum, with an underlying Gigabit LTE network operating across 5 LTE spectrum bands, the second simulation (San Francisco) modeled a hypothetical NSA 5G NR network operating on 800 MHz of 28 GHz mmWave spectrum, with an underlying Gigabit LTE network operating across 4 licensed LTE spectrum bands plus License Assisted Access (LAA) bands. Beyond network capacity improvements, the simulations demonstrated significant user experience gains for 5G NR capable devices when compared with LTE devices. Key findings in the San Francisco Simulation:

– browsing download speeds increasing from 71 Mbps for the median 4G user to 1.4 Gbps for the median 5G user in mmWave coverage, a gain of approximately 2000 percent

– approximately 23x faster responsiveness, with median browsing download latency reduced from 115ms to 4.9ms

The findings illustrate that 5G networks have the capacity and performance to support a whole host of new services and experiences beyond the traditional categories of browsing, downloading, and streaming.

New 5G technology sparks enterprise interest

As network operators increase their 5G testing, business customers are getting interested in what’s in it for them in this new standard. 5G will make a significant impact on industries like healthcare, financial services, energy and other field-service organizations that require low latency and high throughput. Organizations with specialized communications requirements, like IoT applications or self-driving cars, might see important benefits from 5G wireless technology.

On the other hand, the new 5G system gives the operators an opportunity to extend their services and to expand their business opportunities through better integration of Wi-Fi access. The new 5GS allow users to switch seamlessly between licensed spectrum (LTE, 5G-NR) and unlicensed spectrum (Wi-Fi) or use both simultaneously, a feature excellent for the hospitality market. Tech experts already identified some advantages that 5G brings for organizations, including real-time virtual interactions with the customers, more accessible cloud-based tools, better video conferences, easier recruitment processes, a boost for IoT industry.

Fewer obstacles than wired internet 

Nowadays, an ISP needs to lay down miles of expensive fiber optic cables to deliver gigabit internet speeds. With 5G, those speeds can be delivered wirelessly, without having to build costly infrastructure.  On the other hand, despite 5G’s well-performing connection, it is likely that it will be available at a high price, thus making Wi-Fi an affordable alternative.

5G and Wi-Fi living in perfect harmony

Most tech experts agree that despite the revolution 5G connections bring to the field, both technologies will live in perfect harmony. For operators, Wi-Fi is currently the solution with the best price/performance ratio and there is no compelling technical reason to replace it. It is getting faster, more robust, and capable of supporting an increasing number of Wi-Fi devices simultaneously, with repeaters becoming more common and mesh networking on the way in the IEEE 802.11ax standard.

The 5th generation wireless system and the next generation of Wi-Fi will probably coexist without being a mutual threat, as mobile users will likely continue to favor Wi-Fi over mobile connectivity and organizations will take the best out of both worlds. Although it can bring high-speed internet in an area that doesn’t currently provide it, this may come at higher costs than “traditional” cable connections.