'5G vs. WiFi6: will the winner take it all?' Takeaways from the Beltug N-sight of 15 Dec 2020

There are two new communication protocols on the horizon: WiFi6 and 5G. Both are wireless broadband protocols, but that is where the resemblance ends. Why would you choose one over the other? Can you use them in tandem, or in parallel? We brought together two speakers to discuss the ins and outs, advantages and weaknesses, hurdles and opportunities of both. From Huawei, we got a look and the similarities and differences of the technologies. Then NTT described the status of deployment, and why both have gotten stuck in the starting gate this past year.


Presentations from the speakers and the recording of the event are available to our members (after log-in).



Wifi6 vs. 5G: what are the real advantages?


Our first speaker was Dennis Tossijn, Senior IP Solution Sales Manager at Huawei. He described that, as more and more devices get connected today, we are moving towards a world of:


This ‘intelligent world' comes with a set of challenges for capacity, bandwidth and latency. Both 5G and WiFi6 can help in overcoming these challenges. And while 5G and WiFi6 have their own areas of suitability, they do share some technologies, enabling us to try to get the best of both worlds.


The shared technology means that the race between 5G and WiFi6 is quite close. But there are several distinguishing factors that will tilt the balance towards one or the other. Dennis illustrated the four main differing factors:



Some would add network slicing (i.e. a dedicated part of the network) to this list. However, Huawei has developed a technology called BSS colouring that can achieve somewhat similar results in WiFi6. So the jury is still out on this factor.


The final choice between 5G and WiFi6 will thus depend on your specific use case. As mentioned, both WiFi6 and 5G share a lot of similarities in technology, making them interchangeable to some extent. Huawei provided us with a White Paper comparing both technologies in greater detail than is possible here.


What will be the (r)evolution of Wifi6 and 5G after their ‘false starts’?


Our second speaker was Filip De Maeyer, Regional Practice Manager - Enduser Compute at NTT. Filip spoke at an earlier Beltug session on the potential of 5G. He began by focussing on the recent implementation hurdles for both 5G and WiFi6. The Covid-19 pandemic stalled deployment for both technologies. The Belgian spectrum licence auctions for 5G were postponed, and are now scheduled for the second half of 2021. While private and test licences are available, neither allows for a full 5G roll-out.


With the mandatory homeworking situation, many companies put off WiFi6 deployment in their buildings. In some cases, this was because they don’t need WiFi6 in an empty office building. For others (such as hospitals), deployment was postponed because they had other priorities.


So as we see, neither technology was going anywhere.


Filip does see a clear advantage for WiFi6 at present, because the technology is ready for deployment, and WiFi6-based services are presently available. The advent of smart buildings could also boost WiFi6, which is better suited to an indoor environment than 5G.  And to a certain extent, WiFi6 benefits from the licence issues that are plaguing 5G at present.


But this doesn’t mean 5G is out for the count. In neighbouring countries, 5G is slowly making headway: Germany is currently the most advanced. NTT has a 5G proof-of-concept running in Germany in the manufacturing industry (details are in Filip's slides). Keep in mind that this is a 5G private network, dedicated to the environment in which it is deployed.  Possibly the most interesting part is that it uses what some consider 5G’s ‘killer’ feature: network slicing. For each use case, a dedicated slice was created within the network. To ensure the reliability of the proof-of-concept, there is a fall-back on the public 5G network.


Both speakers presented interesting views on the state of play of 5G and WiFi6, with no clear winner but lots of potential to be uncovered.



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