5G versus WiFi? The connectivity debate
5G vs WiFi – If 5G is faster and more reliable, why won’t it replace WiFi?
5G is coming. The next generation of mobile network technology promises unheralded speeds and connectivity capabilities. Blanket coverage of the cellular technology is earmarked for a steady rollout over the next year, becoming commercially available in mid-2020. 5G technology represents a major step forward from current connectivity options, both cellular and wireless broadband. With a much faster and more reliable connection on offer, will 5G replace the need for WiFi altogether?
Some local authorities and private network providers are looking to 5G as the saviour to their city-wide connectivity problems. Constituting a grid of interconnected base stations, next-generation 5G can typically support more devices, offer higher bandwidths, and lower latency for end users. Though these stats are more attractive to both providers and users than conventional WiFi, many experts suggest that the next iteration of broadband connectivity will be just as enticing.
According to a report by MarketsandMarkets, the global WiFi network is growing exponentially and will only continue to do so. By 2020, WiFi data will account for over 50% of total IP traffic, in a market worth a staggering $33.6bn. These kinds of stats don’t convey a market on the decline.
The next stage of wireless broadband connection, dubbed WiFi 6, is set to offer speeds up to four times faster than current rates, as well as supporting more devices on a more robust network. Doesn’t sound too different to 5G, does it?
Perhaps the main reason that 5G will not oust WiFi connectivity, both at home and in the public sphere, is the connectivity restrictions presented by chips in our Internet-enabled devices. All current consumer devices rely solely on a WiFi or 4G LTE connection. Indeed many, tablets, in-home IoT technology, and smart TVs to name but a few, are exclusively restricted to the more reliable spectrums that WiFi offers.
Of course, to suddenly switch to an exclusive 5G network would render 100% of current personal and enterprise-use devices defunct.
WiFi also offers a more reliable and robust connection, vital for enterprises and businesses that rely on a steady and well-supported connection. Cellular data can be patchy. According to a 2017 Ofcom report, a mere 63% of the UK “has 4G mobile coverage from all of the four main networks” and this is most noticeable in hard-to-reach rural areas. A well-supported WiFi network can help alleviate patchy coverage in rural town and city centres.
WiFi is also traditionally more secure than publically available cellular networks, an important caveat for end users, especially those enterprises that conduct business on publically available connections.
With more devices than ever connecting to our cellular and fixed wireless networks, the demand for low latency and higher bandwidths is growing. 5G acts as a shared resource. 5G’s bandwidth is shared amongst the number of devices connected. So, though the network is one of the best yet at hosting multiple devices and offering fast connectivity speeds, each new devices gets a little share of the original bandwidth.
The next iteration of WiFI will support mesh networking. Mesh networking, in simple terms, is a network infrastructure made up of a series of interconnected nodes; all connected directly and dynamically to as many other nodes in the network as possible. This, in effect, turns the network into a series of wirelessly connected routers, which in turn offers greater speeds and reliability for relatively low costs.
Even current WiFi connections have not been ousted by 4G LTE networks in our urban centres, with many users still opting to connect to free, blanket services offered by many local authorities and private businesses. Is there any reason to believe this will change in the future?
A likely resolution is that 5G and WiFi 6 will co-exist in our urban environments. The two will form a collaborative network that ensures all devices can be connected all the time across a superfast, low latency but still a reliable and robust digital connection.
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