5G Is The Future, But What About Wi-Fi?
The telecommunications industry is approaching an inflection point. Deployment of 4G technology has brought cellular performance to unparalleled levels of data speed, coverage, mobility, and security.
With the advent of 5G, the next evolution in mobile wireless technology, this will accelerate even further. Ericsson’s recent ConsumerLab study revealed that a third of global customers who prefer Wi-Fi to mobile broadband expect 5G to outperform Wi-Fi in the future.
All of this is happening as our Internet usage habits become less reliant on hard-wired connections. A Cisco networking study found that, in 2017, 48% of IP traffic took place over fixed connections. But that number is expected to drop to 29% by 2022 as traffic moves to Wi-Fi and mobile, showing a major increase in reliance on wireless connections.
That’s no surprise as consumers today demand connectivity wherever they are at work, on the go or at home. As 5G rolls out across the country and Wi-Fi 6 boosts the capability of that technology will one way of connecting wirelessly win out?
The answer is yes. 5G. Building upon the advances made with 4G/LTE, 5G will be the dominant way people work, watch, and play, especially as consumers, businesses, and industries become less dependent on fixed Internet connections. But Wi-Fi will remain a part of the picture as a complement to cellular connectivity. Here are three areas where 5G and Wi-Fi will interplay:
At the office
In the working world, Ethernet has been the primary means of carrying data traffic to and from computers in offices for some time. But that comes with drawbacks, including costs associated with wiring, power, cooling, docking stations, and most importantly, the fixed nature of connection points. Wi-Fi will continue to augment wired connections as an office staple for office laptops, as workers move from their desks to meeting rooms or other communal spaces.
As 5G becomes more available across the country, it will be the preferred wireless access technology for business and mission-critical applications, complementing legacy laptop applications, smartphones, and new device types for IoT. The high reliability, security, low latency, and wide-area coverage of 5G will be critical for manufacturing (process automation, control-to-control communication), healthcare (remote diagnosis and surgery), transport (autonomous driving, traffic management) and energy (smart grids).
5G’s throughput and latency performance, which do not degrade under load as Wi-Fi does, makes it a viable alternative for wired connections in many of these critical applications. On a loaded Wi-Fi network, you might wait hundreds of milliseconds for a packet that’s not the 5G way!
Moving forward, 5G will become the primary access for the flexible, mobile office of the future. The security and ultra-reliability provided by these networks, on top of the high speeds and low latency, make it the best choice for professional workhorses and new use cases with high-value traffic.
On the road
Consumers who are working and traveling for business are among the groups most likely to see a shift in the way they connect as they move to an all-mobile ecosystem. Public and hotel Wi-Fi is not always available or reliable and connecting can be difficult and frustrating. 5G will provide even higher capacity compared to 4G in areas where consumers congregate, such as train stations, commuter hot spots, stadiums, and festivals.
Public Wi-Fi, when and if it is available, may have the advantage of being free, but hotspots are often slow or of varying performance, not secured and very difficult to log into, aggravating concerns about security and how your credentials will be monetized when you leave the hotspot. 5G, with its guaranteed performance and frictionless end-to-end security, offers a vastly superior user experience.
The development of 5G could have far-reaching implications for the hospitality industry. With the high-traffic needs in hotels and convention centers, 5G will provide seamless mobile data connectivity for guests at the same time as enabling high-value high-reliability services for hotel staff.
Inside the home, the continued presence of Wi-Fi is a safe bet. With 25 percent of households having more than 10 connected devices, homes across the world are becoming increasingly hyper-connected. Currently, Wi-Fi is the choice for connecting many of these devices. While two-thirds of users currently prefer to connect to Wi-Fi, when available, to reduce traffic on their mobile data plan, increasing penetration and usage of smartphone devices will drive seamless connectivity to 5G.
While we can expect residential Wi-Fi to remain a staple of American households, we also can expect data usage to change. High-resolution video consumption is on the rise, and mobile consumers with unlimited plans don’t want to wait until they’re connected to home Wi-Fi to watch. In fact, smartphone users are already estimating they will consume three more hours away from home with 5G.
In addition to all this, with new spectrum bands opening up and new licensing models, 5G is poised to serve an even broader range of applications. With vastly denser outdoor network deployments and new in-building solutions targeted at the enterprise, public, and even some residential applications, 5G performance will stand head and shoulders above any other wireless technology.