5G vs Wi-Fi 6? The best strategy may be using them together.

5G vs Wi-Fi 6? The best strategy may be using them together.

As businesses build their wireless networking capabilities to meet ever-growing demand, two fast-emerging technologies are at the top of many priority lists—5G and Wi-Fi 6.

5G is the fifth-generation cellular broadband service that is becoming available around the world. And Wi-Fi 6 is the latest iteration of the widely deployed wireless standard for local area networks. Compared with earlier generations, both are faster and provide reduced latency and increased capacity, as well as other advanced capabilities for today’s mobile workforce.

So, which of these next-generation wireless solutions—5G or Wi-Fi 6—is the best choice for distributed workforces and those returning to commercial office spaces? And which provides a growth path for the years ahead?

For many organizations, it’s not an either/or decision.

The business case for Wi-Fi 6 / 5G.

Used together, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 can provide seamless broadband coverage in the office, across campuses and cities, and in hybrid work scenarios.

The requirement for this kind of far-reaching, always-on connectivity continues to grow and was accelerated by the pandemic, according to a report published by Deloitte. The report—based on two surveys of IT and business executives—points to 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as the leading solutions to meet booming demand. 

“Global networking decision-makers regard 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as the most critical wireless technologies for their business initiatives,” Deloitte concluded. “And in the next three years, as physical 5G infrastructure is built out and 5G devices become more available, leaders expect the new technologies to become even more significant.”

Four in five networking executives surveyed by Deloitte see advanced wireless as being very or critically important to their businesses.

They plan to use the two technologies to provide seamless access wherever people are, or as they move about during the workday: 5G for outdoor, mobile, and off-campus communications, and Wi-Fi 6 for indoor, fixed, and on-campus usage. And for added flexibility, private and hybrid 5G networks can extend 5G signals indoors.

“Adopting the technologies in parallel makes sense,” noted Deloitte. 

Potential uses of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 across industries.

A common scenario is to use Wi-Fi 6 to unleash workers from wired connections and desktop workstations within offices, while employing 5G for collaboration—such as video conferencing, white boards, and virtual reality—from satellite offices, home offices, and other remote locations.

Machine connectivity, within buildings and in wide areas such as airports and shipping ports, is another likely use case for both wireless options.

Deloitte also identified potential customer-facing applications for 5G plus Wi-Fi 6 in a variety of industries. Examples include:

  • Real-time traffic monitoring, alerts, and other public services in smart cities
  • Remote consultations, patient monitoring, and robotic procedures in healthcare
  • Immersive spectator experiences at sports events
  • Personalized shopping in retail stores

These emerging use cases just scratch the surface of potential ways that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 can be used together to transform user experiences.

“You’ve got to be ready for that employee, customer, business leader, or visitor as they come on premises, both indoors and outdoors,” says Luke Lucas, senior manager of T-Mobile’s national network and leader of T-Mobile’s Build Your Own Coverage (BYOC) program.

“The good news is that, in the case of 5G and Wi-Fi 6, that’s a natural transition because organizations have been using earlier generations of both technologies—4G LTE and Wi-Fi 5, respectively—for years.”

Luke Lucas, Sr. Manager - National Network and Build Your Own Coverage program, T-Mobile

Raised expectations.

In essence, strong wireless is now considered a utility. “Everybody expects connectivity,” says Lucas. “The bar—and expectations—have been raised.”

It’s not unusual for multitasking employees to use two or three devices, often simultaneously.  “We’ve got data everywhere,” Lucas says.

All of those data-sharing applications are a healthy sign of a productive workplace, but they require a corresponding boost in wireless network services. The only answer is to upgrade infrastructure and services with the latest capabilities.

The good news is that, in the case of 5G and Wi-Fi 6, that’s a natural transition because organizations have been using earlier generations of both technologies—4G LTE and Wi-Fi 5, respectively—for years. 

5G and Wi-Fi 6 can be mixed and matched in countless ways. In addition to private networks within buildings, millions of users are served by T-Mobile’s 5G network, which is available in three frequency bands: low, mid, and high.

Benefits of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 together.

When used in combination, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 offer the best of both worlds—fast, seamless, and secure connectivity—allowing users to move in and out of buildings, up and down floors, and commute back and forth, with the bandwidth they need.

Here are a few of the ways 5G and Wi-Fi 6 complement each other: 

  • 5G provides broad geographic coverage, while Wi-Fi 6 works locally within buildings. Their overlapping footprints help eliminate any wireless service gaps across widespread campuses and metropolitan areas.
  • When deployed in a unified plan, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 give end users more choices. They can easily switch between 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as needed, based on location, security requirements, or access privileges. Lucas refers to this shifting user behavior as “fluidity.”
  • 5G and Wi-Fi 6 deliver faster speeds and lower latency than their predecessors, so there is consistency in performance as people commute or change locations.
  • Both technologies can be used at home or in the office, providing a familiar experience for hybrid and work-from-anywhere (WFX) environments.

5G and Wi-Fi 6 can be mixed and matched in countless ways. In addition to private networks within buildings, millions of users are served by T-Mobile’s 5G network, which is available in three frequency bands: low-band (under 1 GHz) for broad geographic coverage; mid-band (1 GHz to 6 GHz), which is comparable to broadband cable services; and high-band, or millimeter wave (24 GHz and above), for dense urban settings such as sports stadiums and airports.

“We’re delivering different frequencies for different uses,” explains Lucas.

This “layered” model is the basis for T-Mobile’s Build Your Own Coverage program, which is a framework for establishing cellular coverage that is tailored to a business. It offers guidance on factors such as on-site wireless infrastructure, signal source (T-Mobile or other), wireless service providers, and costs associated with power and backhaul transport. 

Businesses need a comprehensive plan to implement Wi-Fi 6 and 5G.

The best way to ensure that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are fully optimized in lockstep is to develop a comprehensive wireless master plan.

Not only must IT and network professionals anticipate ever-increasing demand, but there are other commonly used and still evolving wireless solutions that may fit into the network architecture. Technologies such as Citizens Broadband Radio Service—which can be used for 4G or 5G connectivity—along with Land Mobile Radio for two-way communications can be incorporated into an overall network design. 

Other potential elements of a wireless master plan include security, compliance, cost calculations and savings, and efficiencies. The considerations also include the growing deployment of sensors for things such as smart meters, motion detectors, and air quality. 

Until now, wireless architecture and capacity planning have been something of an ad hoc process for many building owners and operators. “They have an earthquake plan, a fire plan, a safety plan, but do they have a wireless plan?” says Lucas. “We typically find the answer is ‘no.’”

A more deliberate and thorough approach to wireless network planning has many benefits beyond boosting speed and capacity. The upsides include greater network efficiency and cost optimization. 

Planning for future demand.

Early adopters of unified 5G and Wi-Fi 6 tend to be organizations with dispersed facilities, manufacturers, and those with warehouse and logistics operations.

The constant movement of people within these settings, as well as the data-intensive nature of the overall environment, make them ideally suited for flexible and robust wireless services.

But the reality is that many other types of businesses—regardless of whether they have widely scattered buildings or are centrally located—will need the kind of powerful one-two punch that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 deliver.

With that in mind, Lucas says it’s not too early to start preparing now for future requirements. He advises customers to begin thinking about investments in the foundational components of smart buildings—fiber optic cable, Category 6 wiring, conduit, and power supply. This is especially true for businesses that may be looking to upgrade existing Wi-Fi access points as part of a refresh cycle. 

All you have to do is look at the evolution of network speeds from yesterday’s megabits to today’s gigabits to see the direction things are heading.

For many businesses, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are the cornerstones of this kind of future-ready planning. 

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