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How 5G will augment Wi-Fi in 3 industries

Despite the 5G hype, Wi-Fi and 5G together will play an important role in enterprise use cases, including remote patient care and smart manufacturing.

Tech professionals may find it hard to scan the technology headlines on any given morning these days without coming across a story about 5G. Along with AI and blockchain, 5G is one of the most buzzworthy trends in technology today.

Much of the 5G hype is deserved, but it's important to remember that 5G is still a very nascent technology. Beyond faster speeds, once 5G truly comes to fruition, it will offer low latency, increased capacity and higher data rates, and it could open the door to entirely new applications. Overly dramatic claims that 5G will replace Wi-Fi are baseless. Can you imagine a college campus or hospital ever ripping out all of their wireless infrastructure and all of their Wi-Fi devices and shifting everything to 5G? It's not feasible today.

The reality is Wi-Fi and cellular will coexist for the foreseeable future, with each serving different use cases and working in tandem to provide the best possible user experiences. Here are three examples across different industries to demonstrate how 5G will augment existing Wi-Fi deployments.

The road to smart factories goes through 5G

Few sectors stand to be as impacted by 5G as manufacturing, where the generation of cellular technology could spur the next Industrial Revolution. Though the majority of factories continue to run over Wi-Fi networks, a wave of smart factories underpinned by 5G technology has begun to emerge. The opportunity is huge; smart factories could add between $1.5 to $2.2 trillion to the global economy annually by 2023, according to the Capgemini Research Institute report "Smart Factories @ Scale."

5G offers numerous benefits to the manufacturing industry. It can power mobile devices and robotics, which will lead to automating more manual processes and improving production efficiency. For example, Ericsson's smart factory in Lewisville, Texas, uses 5G connectivity to enable agile operations and flexible production. In the facility, time-consuming processes like assembly, packing and product handling can be completed by drones and autonomous carts.

John Deere also just invested $500,000 in private 5G licenses to improve its manufacturing plants. The company is looking to deploy 5G in order to make its production lines more flexible than they are with traditional wired networks. Additionally, the company is using 5G for a smart vision system to support worker safety.

As of now, asking manufacturers to rip and replace all their existing wireless infrastructure and equipment with 5G is a tall order -- not to mention, it's unnecessary. Wi-Fi is a viable option to suit many of the needs inside today's factories. The most likely scenario is factories will have a combination of both Wi-Fi and 5G equipment, where different wireless technologies are deployed for different use cases and applications, depending on specific bandwidth needs.

5G will create entirely new, immersive learning experiences in classrooms

Though schools will always depend on Wi-Fi technology to connect devices like computers and tablets, education is a ripe area for 5G-related innovation. School days are often defined by whiteboards, projectors and booklets -- the same tools that have underpinned schools for generations. But imagine a classroom where students could be transported to a geological site or a space station. They could walk around and explore those surroundings without ever leaving the classroom.

The high bandwidth and low latency of 5G unlocks the power of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology, which can make these experiences possible and provide entirely new ways for students to engage with their curriculum. For example, Entrepreneurship Preparatory School, a K-8 charter school in Cleveland, was the first school in the U.S. to receive 5G technology from Verizon as part of Verizon's initiative to provide advanced technology to 100 schools by 2021. The school's lab is equipped with VR and AR stations that allow students to see rich computer-generated images and do things like examine a star up close or travel inside the human body.

Few schools today are equipped with this kind of forward-looking technology. But as 5G continues to mature and become more accessible, this kind of hands-on learning could be the norm.

5G can expand telemedicine and remote monitoring in healthcare

TheCOVID-19 pandemic has accelerated massive transformation in healthcare, spurring widespread adoption of telemedicine and remote monitoring to ensure non-coronavirus patients stay out of hospitals as much as possible. Wi-Fi has emerged as a critical avenue of health service delivery, as patients are now using their own home wireless connections more than ever to communicate and receive care from doctors and nurses.

5G could be a game-changer, expanding remote healthcare in areas that need it most. Though the industry has had a surge in telemedicine over the past several months, rural communities often don't have the same access to virtual care because of a lack of reliable broadband. By expanding 5G into rural areas, millions more patients will be able to access critical treatment. This is important during the pandemic, but telemedicine also holds long-term benefits for rural communities, due to the lack of provider options in those areas. In the last decade alone, more than 120 rural hospitals have closed, creating a pressing need for accessible remote care.

Although it will never replace Wi-Fi in hospital campus settings, 5G holds immense potential when it comes to real-time remote monitoring through medical IoT devices. Remote monitoring is often hindered by slow network speeds and spotty connections. Due to its higher capacity and lower latency, 5G-enabled IoT devices and wearables can help healthcare providers ensure they're receiving data in real time so they can provide the best possible care and make quick decisions.

There's a need for both 5G and Wi-Fi

5G holds immense potential and will play a key part in elevating and transforming connectivity moving forward. What gets lost in the hype, though, is the almost impossible-to-overstate role that Wi-Fi currently plays in holding together our institutions and systems, as well as how strong and reliable Wi-Fi technology is. Wi-Fi is here to stay, but over the next few years, 5G will start to be integrated across a variety of industries to supplement and improve user experiences.

About the author
Giacomo Bernardi is distinguished engineer within the Office of CTO at
Extreme Networks. He plays a key role in setting the company's overall product strategy and roadmap and how to innovate within emerging technologies. Giacomo's research interests focus on machine learning and wireless networking. Previously, he was he was CTO of a privately held startup telecom service provider with a value of over $1 billion where he built one of the largest software-defined networking deployments. He got his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. and a Master of Science at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.

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