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5G vs. Wi-Fi 6: How Two Wireless Technologies are Revolutionizing the Internet of Things

June 25, 2020 / AJINKYA BAGADE

The year 2020 was supposed to be a breakthrough year for many technologies but, most businesses have now been forced back into building an infrastructure to transit their workforce to work remotely and ensure continuity of workflow. Nevertheless, an unprecedented set of events have pushed several industries to accelerate the adoption of technologies as they continue to work from home.

5G and Wi-Fi 6 are two tech advancements that have been turning eyes around the world since their introduction.  The two wireless technologies are well on their way to revolutionize the Internet of Things as businesses move fast towards digitization and the world is excited.

Table of Contents:
- Wi-Fi 6: A Breakthrough in Wireless Technology
- 5G: For a Better Connected World
- How are Wi-Fi 6 and 5G Transforming the IoT?
- 5G and Wi-Fi 6: Rivals or Allies?

Wi-Fi 6: A Breakthrough in Wireless Technology

The next-generation Wi-Fi with boosted speed was introduced last year to meet the demand for faster internet amongst the rising internet users. But, Wi-Fi 6 is simply more than a tweak in the speed.

Technically called 802.11ax, Wi-Fi 6 is the advancement in the wireless standard doing the same basic things but with greater efficiency in the device-dense areas, and offering much greater bandwidth than its predecessor 802.11ac or Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6 promises a speed up to 9.6 Gbps up four times than that of Wi-Fi 5 (3.5Gbps). In reality, this is just a theoretical maximum that one is not expected to reach. Even still, the 9.6Gbps is higher speed and doesn’t have to go to a single device but split up across a network of devices.

A new technology in Wi-Fi 6 called the Target Wake Time (TWT) lets routers set check-in times with devices, allowing communications between the router and the devices. The TWT also reduces the time required to keep the antennas powered to search for signals, which in turn also improves battery life.

Wi-Fi 6 also comes with a new security protocol called WPA3, making it difficult to hack the device passwords by simple guesswork.

In short, Wi-Fi 6 means better speeds with optimized battery lives, and improved security.

5G: For a Better Connected World

5G is the next in line to replace 4G LTE. While Wi-Fi covers small scale internet requirements, cellular networks like 5G are here to connect everyone and everything virtually on a larger scale.

The technology is based on the Orthogonal frequency-division Multiplexing (OFDM) that reduces interference by modulating a digital signal across several channels. Ability to operate in both lower bands (like sub-6 GHz) and mmWave (24 GHz and above), 5G promises increased network capacity, low latency and multi-Gbps throughput.  5G also uses the new 5G NR air interface to optimize OFDM to deliver not just better user experience but also a wider one extending to many industries, and mission-critical service areas.

The 5G technology, in a nutshell, has brought with it ultra-high speeds, increased and scalable network capacity, and very low latency.

How are Wi-Fi 6 and 5G Transforming the IoT?

5G and Wi-Fi 6 will fill up the speed gaps that our existing networks are not able to especially, in crowded homes or congested urban areas. It's not just about the speed. The two wireless technologies will increase network capacity and improve signal strengths.

On the business front, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are both living up to the hype they created since their introduction.

Wi-Fi 6 has emerged, as the enabler of converged IoT at the edge. It has put IT into OT applications, connected devices and processed data from devices such as IP security cameras, LED lighting, and digital signage with touch screen or voice command. Wi-Fi 6 can now be used in office buildings for intelligent building management systems, occupancy sensors, access control (smart locks), smart parking, and fire detection and evacuation.

It’s (Wi-Fi 6) built for IoT. It will connect many, many more people to mobile devices, household appliances, or public utilities, such as the power grid and traffic lights. The transfer rates with Wi-Fi 6 are expected to improve anywhere from four times to 10 times current speeds, with a lower power draw, i.e. while using less electricity.

- Tom Soderstrom, IT Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Similarly, 5G will open doors for more devices and data. It will increase the adoption of edge computing for faster data processing close to the point of action. The hype around 5G is because of the three key attributes it comes with: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low-latency (uRLLC), and massive IoT device connectivity (mMTC). But there is the fourth attribute that sets it apart from its predecessor: use of a spectrum that operates at the low-end frequency range (typically 600 MHz). Called as ‘low-band 5G’, it delivers high speeds with signals that go for miles without propagation losses and ability to penetrate obstacles. The 5G operates in the new millimetre-wave bands (24 to 86 GHz) delivering more capacity to enable many low-power IoT connections.

If we were to point down the benefits, these two wireless technologies are bringing to the Internet of Things those would be:

  • Increased Human-Device Interactions
  • Increased Data and Devices
  • More IoT investments
  • Advancing to the Edge
  • Acceleration towards Industrial IoT
  • Enhanced use of IoT devices
  • Better VUI

5G and Wi-Fi 6: Rivals or Allies?

In February, Cisco estimated that by 2023 M2M communications will contribute to 50% or about 14.7 billion of all networked connections. Cisco’s Annual Internet Report reveals that 5G will enable new IoT applications with greater bandwidth and lower latencies and will accelerate innovations at scale. The same report estimates that 10.6% of global mobile connections in 2023 will be 5G, while Wi-Fi 6 hotspots will be 11.6% of all public Wi-Fi hotspots growing 13 times from 2020 through 2023.

Wi-Fi6 will serve as a necessary complement to 5G. A significant portion of cellular traffic is offloaded to Wi-Fi networks to prevent congestion and degraded performance of cellular networks (due to demand).

- Thomas Barnett, Director of Thought Leadership, Cisco Systems

The two technologies are here to feed different data-hungry areas with gigabit speeds.

With lower deployment costs, Wi-Fi 6 will be dominating the home and business environments where access points need to serve more users covering devices like smartphones, tablets, PCs, printers, TV sets, and streaming devices. With an unlicensed spectrum, the performance of Wi-Fi 6 depends on the number of users, that are using the network at the same time.

5G, with its longer range, will deliver mobile connections and accelerate smart city deployments and manufacturing operations. Like LTE, 5G speeds will depend upon users’ proximity to base stations and the number of people using that network.

The performance of the two depends largely on the area where they are being deployed. For instance, Wi-Fi can very well handle machine-to-machine communications in a managed manufacturing unit, whereas 5G can enhance campus-wide manufacturing operations efficiently. Businesses will have a decision to make which among the two wireless networks fulfils their data appetite.

In conclusion, the two wireless technologies continue to develop in parallel and causing the next big wave in the Internet of Things.