5G vs Wi-Fi 6: Too Soon to Declare a Winner

By Lee Badman, Blog Contributor
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I recently sat in on a webinar called “Future-proofing Building Communications – 5G, WIFI, CBRS, Bluetooth, In-building Wireless and More” and heard a conversational manifestation of the unsettled backdrop that is the current state of the 5G versus Wi-Fi 6 discussion.  Before I explain, let me first share a couple of facts. I’ve been in the business of doing, analyzing, and covering professional WLAN since the days of 802.11b. I’ve also done my share of contemplation of 5G and such through various articles I’ve written (like this one). I know a lot, but I sure don’t know it all and so I was happy to get in on this webinar. While the panel of speakers offered interesting viewpoints, I still don’t feel we’re at a point to declare 5G or Wi-Fi 6 the ultimate winner. This to me is a reflection of the weird tech times we’re living in ahead of both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 moving beyond the hype cycle associated with each.

Early on in the webinar discussion, the deck appeared to be stacked against Wi-Fi 6 with the moderator putting Wi-Fi 6 on its heels. The discussion shifted later on, however,  when Aruba panelist, Staurt Strickland, pointed out that Wi-Fi 6 is in no way “less than” 5G when individual specs are compared. This back and forth exchange is indicative of the strange technological times in which we live.

Right now there are just sooooo many questions on what the future holds. Everyone agrees that 5G specs are fantastic, and the potential to be transformative is indisputable. Beyond that, there are more questions than answers. As good as 5G will get, Wi-Fi 6 is that much more compelling as it hits all of the performance goals of 5G, without each user’s data usage being metered. There’s only so much money to go around for infrastructure upgrades, and how many organizations feel compelled to divert funds away from WLAN to 5G will be interesting to watch play out.

Middle-ground developments, like CBRS and the Passpoint-style roaming capabilities between LTE and Wi-Fi, in my opinion, make for a more interesting discussion than whether 5G or Wi-Fi 6 eventually “wins.” Even when experts can’t really agree what will be “best” or how that gets measured, and how various constituents will adopt what technology for their buildings and when, it’s still clear that that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will both be embraced, appreciated, and that they will ultimately better the broader wireless world. It’s time to stop the false narrative that one or the other must dominate.

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