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Is 5G Really Here To Replace Wi-Fi As We Know It?

By Ensign on 24th Sep 2020

There are many articles in the public domain today which discuss the emergence of 5G and if that means the end for Wi-Fi networking as we know it. In this blog we evaluate the real purpose of 5G and explore how 5G and Wi-Fi will actually work hand-in-hand rather than 5G bring Wi-Fi as we know it to its end.

 

So, what is 5G?

5G or the ‘Fifth Generation’ network is the latest iteration of mobile service provider network technology. It promises faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity, which for you and me means than our mobile experience is improved and we have good signal strength more often.. fewer of those nightmare dead-spots when you feel like throwing your phone out of the window, so that’s got to be a good thing 😊

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When is the 5G network available?

At the moment 5G coverage is limited to the larger cities and towns, around 100 currently, with more expansion of coverage promised in the future, but with no definitive timescales released.

 

5G capable mobile devices are available to purchase already and in the limited regions where 5G has been rolled out, these devices will perform at enhanced levels, using the new range of radio frequencies allocated to 5G.

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How does 5G outperform the earlier G’s?

Greater speeds are achieved in 5G largely by the use of additional radio spectrum (above and beyond that of 4G) and at much higher frequencies than the spectrum used for 4G. This increase in bandwidth and speed also helps to reduce latency on the network which again makes the whole network faster and more reliable.

 

By latency we mean the time it takes for data to travel from the sender to the recipient, or the source (mobile phone) to the destination (website) for example. 5G also increased network capacity, which is essentially the amount of traffic that a network can handle at any given time.

 

If you’re a techie geek then you may wish to know that this is achieved by the use of advanced ‘Multiple Input, Multiple Output’ (MIMO) techniques similar to those used in WiFi-5 and WiFi-6 devices but christened “Massive MIMO” in 5G. Yeah, thought not.

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What’s the difference between 5G and Wi-Fi 6?

First of all understand they are both connectivity platforms, enabling us to transport voice, video and data traffic, and also access various content in the cloud. Today the average 5G download speeds we are seeing are around 3-6 times faster than those over the existing 4G networks, the techie bit here means that this is somewhere between 130-240Mbps.

 

That’s great news and means a much improved mobile network experience.. or it will do when the network providers expand coverage across all regions.. and when COVID-19 conspiracy theorists stop trying to pull the masts down or set them alight. And let us be realistic here, we now know that it will take many years to roll-out 5G nationally, it won’t be here overnight.

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The Need for Speed

When we compare these speeds to that of a Wi-Fi network we can see that a WiFi-5 access point can sustain near-gigabit connectivity to multiple devices, which means that WiFi-5 is around 5 times faster than 5G.

 

The most recent upgrade in Wi-Fi technology, which is WiFi-6 promises speeds of around 2-4 times this, that will be 10-20 time faster than 5G. Now that is fast.

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Who throws the Knock-Out punch then, WiFi-6 or 5G?

In turns out neither of them win the fight this time. Many commentators on this subject will tell you that WiFi & 5G are competitive to one another, almost locked in some kind of power struggle as the connectivity platform of choice, with only one winner… but we don’t see it that way at all. 

 

We believe that WiFi will remain as the logical choice for Indoor Spaces, with 5G becoming the logical choice for Outdoor Spaces.

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This is mainly because in order to provide the documented speed and capacity, 5G will have to use the higher frequency spectrum, which Ofcom is making available to the 4 big network providers, EE, O2, Vodafone and Three.

 

This will not penetrate very well into buildings meaning 5G performance within the building will struggle. This will be even more problematic in built up aread such as cities and larger towns where traffic demands is naturally higher. Therefore within the Building, the WiFi network will continue to lead the way.

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Living Together in Perfect Harmony

The very good news is that there are several initiatives underway to permit seamless roaming between WiFi and 5G solutions already underway, with the idea being to transition seamlessly from your 5G session whilst you are outside, to a WiFi session as you enter a building – and visa versa.

 

This idea combines the best of both technologies and will drive the need for more well-engineered and secure WiFi networks – and that is what Ensign do best!

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