Wi-Fi 6, 5G Vie for Place in Next-Gen Network Design



By Jeffrey Schwartz

Wireless LAN access points that implement Wi-Fi 6 started to appear late last year, but a new industry-standard certification program is now in place that validates multivendor interoperability.

The new Wi-Fi 6 Certified program, launched last week by the Wi-Fi Alliance, provides a logo to vendors that have undergone testing and certification requirements.

Certification is an incremental but critical step forward for many customers who require that equipment based on industry standards has undergone compatibility testing. The Wi-Fi 6 Certified program promises to accelerate deployments of infrastructure based on the new standard, also known as 802.11ax. But it also comes as 5G services from major carriers start to proliferate, along with the availability of enterprise 5G infrastructure for private networks.

Experts widely agree that the two serve different purposes, but customers in some circles may wait and see for that to play out before upgrading their current wireless access points (APs) to support the new standard. Mobile networks in the past could be five times more expensive than Wi-Fi, according to Ana Tavares Lattibeaudiere, head of North America for the GSM Association, a trade organization that represents 800 mobile operators.

In a presentation at this month’s Channel Partners Evolution in Washington, D.C., Lattibeaudier said enhanced LTE networks and emerging 5G networks are becoming more feasible for a wide variety of enterprise functions, notably at the edge and for IoT in areas such as health care, smart cities projects, utilities and manufacturing. “When you’re talking about, asset tracking, wearables, servicing vending machines and fridges for example, all of those things become a much more attractive use case for mobile technology than they were in the past,” Lattibeaudier said.

While there’s some validity that 5G may address some of the shortcomings of mesh-based wireless LANs in those scenarios, it’s not an alternative to Wi-Fi, said Neil Anderson, director of World Wide Technology’s network solutions.

“You have two different technologies that are complementary to each other and they solve different problems,” said Anderson, who attended Lattibeaudier’s session at Evolution, which preceded his own talk on Wi-Fi 6. “It’s kind of like, do you use a pickup truck or a Cadillac to pick up a load of mulch at the store? There are tools for different purposes.”

As 5G networks roll out in the coming year and push the capabilities of mobile data connectivity, Wi-Fi 6 also improves wireless LAN connectivity by an order of magnitude. As the number of endpoint client devices that enable Wi-Fi 6 connectivity increase, organizations must install new access points to support its new capabilities, including policy management, up to 10 Gbps of bandwidth and the ability to maintain reliable connectivity.

Nevertheless, in situations such as hospitals or utility operators, there are various scenarios where both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will mix well together, according to Anderson.

“That’s why you see mobile operators investing in their own Wi-Fi networks,” he said. “It’s a very nice as an offload network to get that bandwidth off of the macro network and onto something that’s a very cheap and high speed that doesn’t have to necessarily consume bandwidth on the tower,” he said. “It just makes sense for both of them to be together.”

It will likely be another year before 5G is broadly available in major markets, and much longer before coverage becomes as ubiquitous as LTE. The rollout for Wi-Fi 6 is …

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