We live in a world where every minute counts — whether you are in a business, hospital, meeting, or other kinds of transactions or interactions — physically or virtually. With this in mind, mobility, collaboration, and accessibility are among the top advantages of being connected wirelessly.

Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and smart wearables are all examples of wireless networking devices that we use nowadays. Its usage is increasing day by day, making its importance much higher than traditional wireline networks. In fact, wireless connectivity is now abundant through various means such as cellular mobile networks, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and satellite networks.

More so, having the cloud as a preferred mode of storage and communication platform, users tend to access and maximize resources further with wireless connectivity. With the user no longer tied to a particular location or device to upload, access, or share data, rapid growth in wireless demand continues to explode.

CTIA industry data predicts that there would be 31 billion connected devices by 2023. This shows that both personal and business users would add more mobile/computing devices. 80% of Americans consider wireless service indispensable, supporting wireless connectivity position as “the fourth utility” as smartphones and interconnectedness become a way of life.

Fifth-generation (5G) is one of the hottest advancements in wireless technology today — claiming to be exponentially faster, with lower latency than prior generations. In addition to this mobile advancement is Wi-Fi capability. Wi-Fi 6 is the newest generation of Wi-Fi connectivity that supports 802.11ax technology. Like 5G, Wi-Fi 6 is an effort to support multiple user devices, the surge of IoT, and higher data rates. While 5G and Wi-Fi 6 have different technology implementation requirements, both work in tandem to provide gigabit broadband to users.

Technology innovation in combination with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 wireless infrastructure development brings great potential to enable important connectivity benefits to various industries. Since 2005, CTIA exhibits that over $315 billion has been by wireless companies in America. Thus, planning wisely for these two technologies with an understanding of wireless infrastructure is important to be sustainable in the long run.

Status check

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are built with the same foundation – high throughput, low latency, and high capacity and purpose in mind — enablers of immersive experience (supporting new applications and use cases) and IoT at scale (supporting the explosion of access, traffic, and devices).

Both are also technologically superior to their predecessors (4G LTE and Wi-Fi 5). While Wi-Fi 6 is mainly utilized for indoor or local area deployments, 5G is more suited for applications that require reliable outdoors or on-the-move connectivity and wide-area deployment.

From a wireless perspective, we’re seeing greater Wi-Fi utilization in enterprises and individuals. In fact, more than half of US internet traffic transits through a Wi-Fi network. Moreover, approximately 70% of 5G mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by next year to alleviate pressure on cellular networks. Wi-Fi 6 is designed to effectively handle increasing traffic demands, capacity, coverage, and network intelligence. Having said that, North America is expected to be the second-largest Wi-Fi 6/6E market with a 25% share in 2026.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are likely to reach 628 million by 2023, and 11% of this would be compatible with Wi-Fi 6. Some of the major use cases of Wi-Fi 6 hotspots include airports, public transportation, retail, healthcare, and stadiums.

Between Q1 and Q2 2021, 124 million 5G connections were added to the world, based on Omdia. Out of this, North America had a total of 44.6 million 5G connections by the end of Q2 2021. During the same period, ten 5G commercial networks went live globally, bringing the global total count to 182 networks. By end of 2023, the number is expected to reach 323.

In terms of 5G investment, GSA identified 481 operators in 144 countries/territories by December 2021. 177 operators from these are launching 5G mobile services, with the others offering 5G fixed wireless access (FWA).

As per Open Signal, North American users observed their fastest average download speeds for 2021 on the TELUS network. It is worthy to note that Canada’s wireless carriers have only had access to the valuable 3.5GHz spectrum deployment in the last few months of 2021. Moreover, it is quite evident that various decisions around the timing, availability and pricing of the critical 5G spectrum may be leading to constrained 5G deployment.

PWC’s industry specialists expect 5G to hit a tipping point in 2023, with US mobile operators collectively covering 75% of the country with 5G already by the start of 2021. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, US cellular, and C Spire are among the most common carriers for Americans.

Core benefits

As Wi-Fi and cellular technologies evolve, both technologies will continue to be complementary. Indirectly driving each other’s growth, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 address the dependency of apps and users for high-speed connectivity. Wi-Fi connections at home or in the office are expected to have the same connection quality over cellular when users are away from their Wi-Fi networks.

For operators, the integration of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will open new ways to optimize traffic across access networks, support the best user experience, and reduce overcrowding. The integration of Wi-Fi in 5G networks can be done at multiple levels, mainly improving device signal strength.

Wi-Fi is already viewed as a source of revenue and differentiation in both residential and business markets. Hence, in the thriving 5G and IoT era, operators that utilize Wi-Fi 6 gain the capacity, coverage, and performance required for many lucrative industry 4.0 use cases such as connected vehicles, smart cities, immersive entertainment, manufacturing, and healthcare.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) stated in a report that in Canada, 5G adoption will enable transportation and mobility; precision agriculture; energy management; and rural connectivity. Another contender to support these applications is Wi-Fi 6 which operates on unlicensed spectrum of 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and potentially 6 GHz.

Citing an example, AR/VR and multi-room gaming will benefit from the latency and capacity benefits of the 802.11ax technology and 5G will get a proper companionship solution for offloading as well as 5G mmWave backhauling solution. The great potential for innovation – from broadband access to entertainment, enterprise, and industrial – is also anticipated with Wi-Fi 6+6E Tri-Band (2.4 + 5 + 6 GHz).

Recently, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has backed up the FCC’s decision to open up 1,200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use. In the future, Wi-Fi 6E routers will work at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz plus the new 6 GHz band, putting more reliable and efficient use of the spectrum.

Overall, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are equal in significance. As service providers continue to build 5G networks, incorporating Wi-Fi 6 into those plans seems viable for new, sustainable revenue streams.