Wi-Fi 6 Isn’t 5G!

It is important to note that some of these features are the same or similar as what the emerging 5G cellular standard employs to achieve much the same improvements in speed, capacity and latency.

That, as well as the fact that both are hitting the market at more or less the same time, has caused some to believe that Wi-Fi 6 and 5G is an either-or proposition. It is not. Though both standards employ some of the same techniques to improve radio communications, they are very different technologies built for very different uses.

There are a few, minor market segments where the technologies might compete. For example, it might be difficult for managers of small, scattered outdoor IoT deployments to decide whether to link the devices with a Wi-Fi network or simply outfit each device with 5G cellular. But by and large, these wide-area and local-area network technologies are complementary, especially over the next few years as 5G infrastructure takes hold.

Most smartphones soon will ship with Wi-Fi 6 built in and, once carrier deployments are widespread, 5G as well. In some cases, like sports stadiums packed with tens of thousands of people with smartphones, plus surveillance cameras, point-of-sale terminals, environmental sensors and other IoT devices, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will join forces to handle the intense load. In the meantime, demand is high for Wi-Fi 6 in public venues like stadiums, campuses, high-density apartment complexes and subway interchanges, which are in line to experience some of the first deployments of the new standard. As well, consumers in households with multiple streaming devices, security cameras, smart thermostats and other IoT devices can also benefit from Wi-Fi 6 – this year, if they choose.

One pleasant consequence of Wi-Fi 6’s mix of capabilities is that some benefit all connected clients, not just Wi-Fi 6-enabled devices. Which means everyone on an upgraded network will notice immediate improvement, even with older devices. And, as people upgrade to laptops and smartphones with Wi-Fi 6, those devices will do more on the network in a fraction of the time – so overall network performance will continue to improve over time.