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5G vs Wi-Fi 6: The Future of Internet Connectivity


Updated: January 24, 2022

5G vs Wi-Fi 6: What’s the Difference?

The world of wireless connectivity is advancing rapidly. In the past few years, we’ve seen Wi-Fi 6 and 5G enter the market in full swing, and there’s been a lot of attention on both technologies. But what makes these technologies differ from each other, and what does the future of internet connectivity look like? If we have 5G, will we need Wi-Fi?

Before answering these questions, let’s discuss what exactly Wi-Fi is and its development over the years.

Wi-Fi

Wireless Fidelity, more commonly known as Wi-Fi, is the wireless technology that connects your computers, tablets, and smartphones to high-speed Internet access. It allows you to stream television shows and movies, video chat, and send emails effortlessly with your wireless devices.

Three essential elements are needed for the network to operate: radio signals, an antenna, and a router. These elements work together to connect your device to high-speed internet access in your home, school, shopping mall, and many other indoor spaces.

Wi-Fi History

History of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi first appeared in the consumer landscape in 1997 with the creation of IEEE 802.11 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Committee. IEEE 802.11 is a set of standards that define communication for wireless local area networks, essentially the first generation of Wi-Fi (Source: Purple AI). This protocol allowed for 2 megabytes of data to be transferred wirelessly between devices each second. In 1999, link speeds upgraded to 11 megabits per second. This significant increase sparked Wi-Fi’s popularity.

Since the initial release of IEEE 802.11 in 1997 and its upgrade in 1999, Wi-Fi technology has drastically improved, leaving the first generations obsolete in the modern world. Here is a brief timeline of the past two decades of Wi-Fi’s history (Source: Cable Free):

What’s the Deal with Wi-Fi 6?

You may have heard a lot of talk about Wi-Fi 6, but what makes it different from previous Wi-Fi generations?

Wi-Fi 6 is the latest update of Wi-Fi technology in the market, and it’s the fastest most reliable version out there. According to Science Direct, Wi-Fi 6 provides 4x higher capacity and 75% lower latency than Wi-Fi 5. This allows for faster data transfer speeds and better performance in crowded areas where many people use Wi-Fi-connected devices.

Wi-Fi 6 also enables better battery life. In the past, being connected to a Wi-Fi signal often drained your device’s battery power. However, Wi-Fi 6 now utilizes “wake time targets” to combat battery draining. Wake time targets are essentially notifications sent to your device to signal when the Wi-Fi can sleep between transmissions and when it should be connected (Source: Community Connection). The added downtime between messages conserves battery power in your laptop, smartphone, or tablet, unlike previous cellular generations.

Wi-Fi 6 is also enabling innovation.

With its numerous technical improvements such as increased speed, reliability and accessibility, Wi-Fi 6 will make it easier than ever to utilize the Internet’s capabilities and take technology to the next level. For example, wireless applications like 3D diagnostics, 4K video streaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and video conferencing become much more feasible and efficient with Wi-Fi 6 (Source: Juve Patent). Technology is being implemented in many industries across the world, and a high-speed, low-latency Internet connection is the key to enabling efficient technology performance and future innovation.

5G

5G, the fifth-generation mobile network, has been the major global push in connectivity in the past 5 years.

Today, it’s creating buzz because of its power to connect everything – people, devices, machines, and industries. 5G is enabling the productization and use of artificial intelligence (AI) internet of things (IoT) in our businesses and everyday life. But what makes it so different from previous cellular generations?

Cellular History

The history of cellular generations began in 1979 with the launch of the first generational network (1G) in Tokyo, Japan, alongside the first Motorola cellphone. Since then, the mobile industry has had several subsequent cellular generations that have significantly advanced the technology world. Here is a brief timeline of the history of cellular generations:

5G Technology: Fueling Innovation Across the Globe

5G is now being installed and deployed worldwide, creating opportunities for people, businesses, and society. The fifth-generation is more than just an updated cellular network – it is part of a technological revolution working towards a brighter and more sustainable future for the world. 

One of the main reasons 5G enables innovation and opportunity across industries is its fast and efficient network connectivity capabilities. Data traffic grows at about 60% per year because of a higher number of connected devices (Source: Ericsson). This is important to note because there’s a limit to how much information radio waves can carry. If we reach the maximum limit, other devices’ speed and capabilities slow down. 5G fixes this problem by creating a higher capacity for data, allowing more devices to connect simultaneously with efficient connectivity and high speeds.

5G isn’t just for cell phones either.

Its fast and reliable connectivity helps transfer data quickly and enables a range of other technologies such as AI, big data, cloud services, IoT, and more. It’s estimated that 5G will unlock $150 billion of additional GDP growth over the next 20 years, which will help strengthen Canada’s economy (Source: GSMA).

By providing flexible, high-speed and low-latency networks, 5G enables the mass use of automation and collaborative technology on the cloud and in our daily lives.  This will result in new applications and use cases that are supercharging all sectors of the economy, leading to growth and increased productivity for the country. 

5G vs Wi-Fi 6 – Benefits and Setbacks

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are both leading technologies in the wireless communication world, but how do they compare?

Wi-Fi 6

Wi-Fi 6 Benefits

Wi-Fi 6 Benefits and Setbacks
Faster Wi-Fi Speeds (9.6 Gbps)

One of the main benefits of Wi-Fi 6 is that it has the fastest speeds compared to any previous generation of Wi-Fi. A maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps is a significant upgrade from Wi-Fi 5’s 3.5 Gbps (Source: Community Connection). Not to mention, Wi-Fi 6’s improved technology decreases the congestion of nearby devices to ensure high-speed connectivity for everyone. Faster speeds and lower congestion are significant improvements for the user experience.

Safe and Secure

Wi-Fi 6 enables WPA3 certification, providing more robust encryption algorithms and enhanced management (Source: Info Security). WPA3 certification is an excellent advantage for IoT technology as your devices and data are safe from computer intrusions and cybersecurity threats.

Battery Life

Wi-Fi 6 enables longer battery life for your laptops, smartphones, and tablets. The “target wake time” function sends signal notifications to your devices to communicate when they should connect to Wi-Fi and when they can sleep (Source: Community Connection). Added downtime avoids draining your devices’ battery power, providing a great advantage to everyday devices and other IoT technologies used in homes or businesses. 

Wi-Fi 6 Setbacks

Expensive

There are many different Wi-Fi 6 routers on the market, and most of them are pricey. Wi-Fi 6 routers currently range anywhere from $300 – $600, while Wi-Fi 5 routers land in the $60 – $200 range (Source: PC Mag). These prices vary, but it’s evident that Wi-Fi 6 technology doesn’t come cheap. It’s more expensive to implement Wi-Fi 6 in your home compared to previous generations.

Smaller Network Range

Even though Wi-Fi 6 is a major improvement from previous Wi-Fi generations, it’s still limited in its network range capacity in comparison to 5G. Small disturbances or interferences with Wi-Fi signals will impact it’s connectivity  (Source: Mega Interesting). Wi-Fi 6’s network range is smaller than 5G’s range, meaning Wi-Fi 6 is better suited for indoor rather than outdoor spaces.

5G

5G Benefits and Setbacks

5G Benefits

Increased Bandwidth and Faster Download Speeds

More bandwidth means our devices achieve more in less time. A higher number of devices can also use the same network simultaneously, all with a fast Internet connection and reduced lagging. 5G download speeds are extremely fast, with median speeds of 169.46 Mbps, which is much quicker than its Wi-Fi 6 counterpart with an average download speed of 45 Mbps (Source: Minim).

Lower Latency

Latency refers to the time it takes for data to transfer from one source to another. Having a low latency means quicker page loading times and reduced lagging when using the Internet. 5G’s low latency allows for real-time connectivity, which supports and enables new technologies such as IoT and AI (Source: Consosco).

5G Setbacks

Time Consuming and Expensive Implementation

5G infrastructure is not as accessible as 4G or Wi-Fi and will take time to become fully deployed and available to the broader population. Currently, 5G is being deployed in major cities across Canada (Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto) and is slowly being extended to other areas too. However, it’ll take longer to deploy 5G in smaller cities and rural communities.

The broadcasting distance for 5G is limited compared to 4G and requires several towers to maintain a strong connection. Building 5G infrastructure requires extensive time and money, making the practical implementation challenging.

Cybersecurity Challenges

5G’s roll-out also presents new cybersecurity challenges. For instance, 5G is managed by software rather than hardware, making it more vulnerable to hacking (Source: Bookings). With organizations leveraging 5G to automate their processes through connected devices and cloud platforms, cybercriminals now have a lot more access points to target. It’s essential to have proper security measures in place alongside implementing 5G to protect data.

5G vs Wi-Fi: Will I Need Both?

While many see Wi-Fi 6 and 5G as adversaries, the reality is that neither one reigns completely superior. It’s unlikely that one will take over the other in the future as both technologies are specialized for different roles and uses. Ultimately, the future of connectivity requires using both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 to take full advantage of the innovation to come. 

Wi-Fi 6 will continue to be the primary wireless connection for homes and office space as it’s more easily accessible than 5G. Its fast speeds and congestion management capabilities have made it perfect for indoor connectivity and made it easy for several devices to connect to the same network. For example, common IoT devices like Smart TVs, game consoles, and smart home devices thrive on high-speed Wi-Fi connections.

5G will remain best suited for mobile phone usage that extends beyond the borders of your home. It’ll also be used across several industries to power innovation through technology. 5G is enabling the creation of smart cities, improving the efficiency of our healthcare system, powering self-driving vehicles, and more. It’s truly revolutionizing every industry to establish a more productive and efficient society.

The best approach to fully taking advantage of these modern wireless technologies is to mix and match their usages to fit your personal needs and the needs of your business (Source: Science Direct). Whether we are building a smart city that is completely interconnected or providing strong Internet connections for households and businesses, a mixed approach of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G is the best strategy. Both technologies play an essential role in our modern world, and every advancement in connectivity, whether it pertains to 5G or Wi-Fi 6, leads to the overall growth and innovation of our society. 

Interested in learning how 5G and other NGN technologies will help drive innovation? 

CENGN launched a national study to better understand the Canadian NGN ecosystem and its needs. The International Data Corporation (IDC), a world-renowned global market intelligence firm, was commissioned to complete this study. 

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About the Author

Sasha Moonilal is a Content Writer Marketing student at CENGN (Fall 2021) and a Communications student at the University of Ottawa. Her passions lie in creating compelling content and collaborating with other highly driven and creative people. In her spare time, Sasha enjoys dancing, cooking and reading.

More by Sasha Moonilal

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