By Wi-Fi Alliance
Note: This article was written based on a breakout discussion at Connect (X) 2021.
As wireless technologies continue to advance and expand their footprint, one question repeatedly arises: Are Wi-Fi® and 5G rivals or allies? During the October 2021 Connect (X) conference, Wi-Fi Alliance® Senior Vice President of Marketing Kevin Robinson explored this issue, speaking with industry experts Kishore Raja (Boingo Wireless), Marcus Burton (Extreme Networks), and Harry Dewhirst (Linksys).
Conversations that occurred at Connect (X) between Wi-Fi Alliance and its members — Boingo Wireless, Extreme Networks, and Linksys — were largely focused on the complementary role of Wi-Fi and 5G.
Dewhirst stated that “We [Linksys] really do believe that the two [Wi-Fi and 5G] work hand in hand,” further explaining both Wi-Fi and 5G are needed for a complete connectivity experience. Wi-Fi, however, continues to carry a majority of mobile traffic: Recent data shows Wi-Fi carries 71 percent of mobile traffic and 5G handles 29 percent of mobile traffic. Wi-Fi offers clear benefits indoors, in offices, and in public locations, and takes the spotlight in home and office environments. Dewhirst noted, “5G goes a long way, but really the last mile … is where Wi-Fi, and in particular the more modern standards of Wi-Fi — Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E — are the delivery mechanism into the ecosystem.” According to Linksys, businesses and users can rely on cellular connectivity for the wide area network (WAN), but the actual delivery mechanism residing within Wi-Fi is more effective, affordable and ubiquitous.
Wi-Fi and 5G both deliver value to customers. Raja stated, “Especially from an in-building wireless perspective, it’s really a combination of Wi-Fi, which is mostly Wi-Fi 6 and higher, and some type of a cellular or private network deployment. … That’s where the future is headed.” Burton built on this statement, elaborating more about future potential: “There’s no real impact to Wi-Fi in terms of private cellular in terms of the [analysts’] predictions for this market. They actually both grow together in parallel.” Wi-Fi and 5G are allies in making next-generation connectivity a reality. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ technologies will continue to improve and add new features to grow Wi-Fi’s role in a variety of environments, expanding the number of next-generation applications it can deliver. Wi-Fi Alliance will continue to foster innovation and further enhance Wi-Fi’s capabilities to support growing connectivity demands.
One thing was clear during the event: Wi-Fi’s global impact does not go unnoticed. In 2021, there were more than 16 billion devices in use and Wi-Fi added $3.3 trillion USD in economic value. The latest generation of Wi-Fi — Wi-Fi 6 — brings dramatically better speed, latency and capacity to meet the demands of challenging enterprise and home environments. Wi-Fi 6 is also more deterministic and delivers higher data rates. Wi-Fi is rapidly evolving to deliver a better quality of experience, which involves helping ensure consistency, reliability, interoperability and security across devices. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED programs from Wi-Fi Alliance, including Wi-Fi EasyMesh™, Wi-Fi Data Elements™, Wi-Fi QoS Management™, Wi-Fi Optimized Connectivity™, and Wi-Fi Vantage™ are just a few examples of programs that are particularly focused on delivering enhanced quality of experience in managed network environments — including public venues, transportation hubs and even service provider managed home networks. Wi-Fi’s capability to integrate with other technologies, such as cellular, helps ensure seamless connectivity in a variety of environments. Wi-Fi’s ability to deliver greater mobility, network efficiency, and network visibility and management enable it to accelerate the realization of ubiquitous 5G experiences.