Cellular and WiFi Figuring Out Their 5G Identities

John Byrne – Service Director, Global Technology Telecom and Software

Summary Bullets:

  • WiFi continues to enjoy near-ubiquitous penetration of smartphones, tablets, and laptops. However, improved cellular speeds enabled by LTE may be creating an inflection point.
  • In looking at how 5G and WiFi are evolving to face emerging market requirements, significant changes are likely that will strengthen 5G’s value proposition in a number of use cases.

Two conferences offering significantly different visions for the future of ‘local’ wireless are poised to take place the week of May 21. In London, the Small Cell Forum will be showcasing a largely cellular-centric view focused on 5G densification and the regulatory challenges implied therein. In Atlanta, the Wireless Broadband Alliance will hone in on the role of WiFi 6 within the 5G era. The simultaneous timing of these two conferences, while unintentional, certainly underscores the increasing questions being asked by operators and network equipment vendors on the optimal role of WiFi and 5G technologies.

This was the topic of a just-completed GlobalData white paper (sponsored by Ericsson). The headline finding: while WiFi 6 will play an important role in bringing high-speed data service into homes and businesses, 5G’s value proposition in a number of use cases is likely to strengthen as 3GPP standards evolve and 5G devices proliferate. A few highlights:

  • As increasingly sophisticated multi-operator 5G small cells become available, the public venue market represents a significant opportunity for cellular operators.
  • NB-IoT and, to a lesser extent, Cat-M1 are already positioning cellular technology for high-volume LTE deployments. The case for cellular IoT will grow ever stronger as 3GPP releases 16 and 17 turn the focus of 5G more squarely to IoT. In addition, the extremely low latency, high data rates, and ultra-reliability possible with 5G are likely to expand the universe of potential IoT use cases. By contrast, WiFi will struggle to find its niche in IoT.
  • The enterprise environment will be dominated by WiFi well into the WiFi 6 era. However, as 5G standards focus more closely on IoT applications in release 16, and especially release 17, cellular operators may have an opportunity to position 5G as the right technology for the truly wireless office of the future.
  • WiFi will remain the technology of choice in the home for the foreseeable future. However, more demanding use cases and user devices built for high performance will continue to put new demands on WiFi. Solutions that leverage both WiFi and cellular 5G may be required to support increasingly sophisticated applications.

Clearly, there is a role for both cellular and WiFi technologies in the emerging 5G environment. While 5G cellular will surface as the ‘right tool’ for an increasing number of ‘jobs,’ cellular operators should develop an intelligent strategy that embraces the best that WiFi has to offer alongside improving 5G cellular capabilities.

The Ericsson-sponsored white paper can be found in its entirety here.

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