5G and Wi-Fi 6 might still be in their early days, but despite 2020 seemingly doing everything to delay the rollout of these technologies, they are still going to revolutionize every aspect of connectivity. This revolution is being driven primarily by IoT solutions, which have become ubiquitous around the globe. Soon, people will be living in a world where every device is smart. But will there be infrastructure for these technologies to keep up?
In recent years, the tech market has seen a boom in IoT technology, largely because of the ample bandwidth available from 4G and Wi-Fi. However, this bandwidth is filling up fast. The number of connected devices worldwide will more than double to 21.5 billion by 2025, compared with 9.9 billion this year, according to Statista. To maintain IoT’s momentum, bandwidth and speed must increase. This is where 5G and Wi-Fi 6 come in. Despite what some vendors might say, large enterprises don’t need to choose one over the other.
Giving IoT more room to breathe
Wi-Fi technology has become so intertwined in everyday life that in 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced new nomenclature to make it easier and simpler to follow. Gone are the days of 802.11n and 802.11ac, which made little-to-no sense to the average user. They’re now referred to as Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5, respectively, which makes the upcoming 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6.
The interesting thing about Wi-Fi 6 is that it represents the single largest jump in wireless capability, more than any of the previous iterations. Wi-Fi 6 provides 4 times better wireless performance in even the most densely populated areas than Wi-Fi 5.
With IoT rapidly expanding, particularly in large cities, Wi-Fi 6 is going to be crucial to maintaining the fast, safe and secure connectivity that’s become so central to modern living. It’s also worth noting that Wi-Fi 6 will be fully compatible with all current standard frequencies, such as 2.4GHz and 5GHz, as well as also future bands as they become available, including 1GHz and 6GHz. This further reduces the risk of interference as more and more IoT devices occupy living and working spaces.
This makes Wi-Fi 6 a no brainer for organizations that want to guarantee connectivity with a broad range of modern devices without getting rid of their tried and trusted legacy technology. By doubling the number of downstreams and vastly increasing the number of upstreams, Wi-Fi 6 also allows four simultaneous information streams on a single device, making data transfer more efficient.
With lower latency, higher compatibility and an overall increase in the quality of service in congested, high-traffic areas, Wi-Fi 6 is the next logical step for enterprise, government and public applications, and will become the new norm in the coming years. But can it coexist seamlessly with 5G in organizations?
5G has been one of the most hyped and hotly debated technologies for years. Despite some headline-grabbing setbacks, the rollout is progressing globally. 5G won’t just replace 4G LTE, it will completely transform the role that mobile and intelligent devices play, particularly for IoT. For the first time ever, a mobile network will actually be able to offer a viable alternative to fixed-line broadband, and that’s a real game-changer.
Anything and everything that could get connected will have access to better connectivity and performance, including smart fridges, smart dog collars and modern industrial manufacturing equipment. IoT suddenly becomes viable at scale without the heavy cost burden that has been associated with it to date.
It’s ironic that, despite being solely about connectivity, people often consider Wi-fi 6 or 5G as separate networking solutions. If we’re talking about universal connectivity that’s fast and secure and maintains device connectivity anywhere, anytime, both fixed and mobile networks will each have a role to play. Any enterprise interested in top-tier coverage and performance should already be thinking about a hybrid deployment.
It’s important that organizations conduct proper use case design to optimize technology selection for their environments. For example, large corporate campuses with significant mobile IoT devices might see better performance with 5G-based solutions.
Interestingly, organizations such as Altran have been exploring how to integrate both Wi-Fi and 5G management stacks into a single integrated and interoperable solution by leveraging Wi-Fi gateways, 5G cores and using subscriber management. This will allow the enterprise IT and networking teams to enable rapid onboarding of devices as well as network performance and service-level agreement tracking under a single system.
5G will not become a standard for mainstream devices for some time yet, but it’s almost an inevitability. At this stage, it’s important to plan and deploy hybrid solutions, such as adopting Wi-Fi routers with integrated 5G access networks. This will make it easier for organizations to adapt and take advantage of an evolving landscape that’s likely to start shifting quite dramatically.
In its day, 4G was seen as radical because it could be used as an alternative to digital subscriber lines and cable broadband in rural, hard-to-reach areas. If that relationship was considered innovative at the time, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are going to completely rewrite the rulebook of what’s possible. Especially as the disruption caused by COVID-19 has accelerated automation and remote working.
This article was co-authored with R. Ezhirpavai, global chief architect for 5G solutions at Altran.
All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.