As businesses prepare for the advent of 5G, questions remain about just how powerful it will be and what applications it will enable. With high bandwidth and low latency, it's only natural to wonder, will 5G replace Wi-Fi? The answer requires more than a simple yes or no.
Today, Wi-Fi is so ubiquitous within offices, public buildings and even some outdoor areas that it's hard to imagine a future based on any other kind of connectivity. But 5G promises a major leap forward from anything that came before.
5G vs. 4G
While previous-generation network technology, or 4G, was able to support thousands of devices within a square mile, the suite of enhancements in the 5G user plane and control plane should make it possible to potentially support millions of devices simultaneously with greater reliability than previously possible.
In addition, there are a number of performance attributes, or “currencies,” that distinguish 5G from a performance perspective. These include:
- Throughput (ultimately 10 Gbps under ideal conditions) and reduced service deployment times (down to approximately nine minutes)
- Mobility (maintaining network connectivity up to 500 km/h) and connected devices (up to 1M/km^2)
- Latency (down to ten milliseconds or so) and data volume (up to 10 Tb/s/km^2)
- Energy efficiency and reliability
While all of these currencies may not be available to people on day one of the 5G rollout, their accessibility over time will distinguish 5G from any other network.
Wi-Fi or 5G?
So, will 5G replace Wi-Fi? Most likely, the two technologies will likely coexist for a period of time as network rollouts progress and organizations make strategic decisions about how their IT infrastructure should evolve.
In some cases, 5G can help address many of the pain points associated with Wi-Fi deployments. These include security concerns, particularly when users connect to Wi-Fi in public areas. 5G offers an opportunity to encrypt traffic as it rides through the network of a trusted provider.
Our increasing reliance on mobile technology exposes Wi-Fi's reach limitations in new ways. For example, if you're using Wi-Fi for a video call, you risk having the call drop when you move from your home to walk outside. 5G will offer more seamless connectivity to transfer traffic between networks and keep sessions intact.
On the other hand, Wi-Fi technology is advancing. The introduction of 802.11.ax (or Wi-Fi 6), for example, includes features to improve performance, reliability, roaming and throughput. Wi-Fi 6 is also designed to extend the battery life of devices, to allow more devices per router, and to work well in dense or congested environments.