Coexistence, Competition or Convergence: How Do 5G and Wi-Fi 6 Get Along?

【Introduction】Wi-Fi is a wireless local area network (LAN) technology that is mainly used indoors, such as at home or in the workplace. The cellular network used by operators is a wide area network (WAN) that can be used both indoors and outdoors. In the industry, the debate around the convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular networks has always been there. With the introduction of a new generation of wireless technologies, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, a new round of debate has reignited – are the two converging, coexisting or competing?

The two different types of wireless technologies, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, have coexisted for years, with Wi-Fi and cellular standards increasingly intertwined. Industry bodies including the Wi-Fi Alliance, IEEE, Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN), and 3GPP are also joining the discussion, from standards development to potential applications, to enable 5G and Wi-Fi -The interaction and integration between Fi is the main attack direction.

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G

Two wireless technologies go hand in hand

The network standard of Wi-Fi is a variant of IEEE 802.11, and there are different versions such as IEEE 802.11a, 802.11b, and 801.11g. The working frequency band is 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, of which the 2.4 GHz frequency band supports the IEEE 802.11b/g/n/ax standard, and the 5 GHz frequency band supports the IEEE 802.11a/n/ac/ax standard. Wi-Fi 6 is the Wi-Fi Alliance’s industry name for the IEEE 802.11ax standard in the IEEE 802.11 family of local area network equipment and Internet access standards. Limited security, scalability, and efficiency have always been challenges faced by traditional Wi-Fi technologies. Wi-Fi 6 based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard has significantly enhanced efficiency and performance, it can provide 4 times higher capacity and 75% lower latency, and the speed is almost 3 times that of the previous generation Wi-Fi 5.2.

As the number of Internet users continues to increase, Wi-Fi 6 is gaining enough market traction. According to the latest research report “Wi-Fi 6 Market Global Forecast to 2027” released by Markets and Markets, the global Wi-Fi 6 market size is expected to grow from USD 11.5 billion in 2022 to USD 26.2 billion in 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) reached 17.9%, of which ease of deployment is one of the important reasons for Wi-Fi 6 to lead. If the enterprise just upgrades the existing Wi-Fi network to Wi-Fi 6, there will be no significant increase in cost, because Wi-Fi 6 is fully backward compatible, and the original previous generation Wi-Fi equipment It doesn’t have to be eliminated, it can still be used.

5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for cellular networks. Launched by 3GPP Release 15 in 2018 and commercialized by mobile network operators in 2019, 5G is considered a major upgrade to 4G and LTE. 5G networks offer 50 times the speed, 10 times the latency and 1,000 times the capacity of 4G/LTE. Its improved performance, such as increased speed, coverage, reliability and security, is expected to enable a host of new applications across a wide range of industries. Compared with Wi-Fi 6, the advantages of 5G are mainly reflected in service delay, mobile roaming and outdoor coverage. The disadvantage is that the cost of deploying 5G networks indoors is high, and there is a problem of poor terminal compatibility.

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G represent the latest emerging wireless standards in unlicensed and licensed spectrum, respectively, and both Wi-Fi and cellular technologies have come a long way over the years and have remained largely parallel. Neither technology alone can serve the full range of enterprise services and applications. It can also be said that cellular and Wi-Fi indirectly promote each other’s development. As users increasingly rely on high-speed Wi-Fi connections at home or in the office, this drives the need for the same connection quality over cellular networks. Likewise, the ubiquitous nature of cellular connectivity has sparked similar expectations for Wi-Fi, leading to increased emphasis on the development of features such as open roaming.

Coexistence, Competition or Convergence: How Do 5G and Wi-Fi 6 Get Along?

Figure 1: Over 20 years in technology, Wi-Fi and cellular

Following the path of parallel development (Source: Wikipedia)

If we must make some comparisons between Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, from an application perspective, Wi-Fi 6 is superior to 5G in terms of spectrum, device ecosystem, network cost, ease of deployment, flexibility, and management requirements. . The shortcomings of Wi-Fi 6 are also obvious. It does not perform well in large-scale outdoor coverage scenarios and cannot meet ultra-low latency requirements (<10 ms).

5G and Wi-Fi6

Convergence or competition?

With 5G being heavily invested in media and advertising, one might expect that the next generation of wireless networks in the enterprise will revolve almost entirely around 5G, with Wi-Fi 6 being supportive at best. Is this really the case? Not so, as revealed in Deloitte’s 2021 Global Advanced Wireless Survey of 437 networking executives from nine countries. Of the respondents, 45% of enterprises are testing or deploying both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G in order to enable their advanced wireless network deployments. Nearly all respondents (98%) expect their organizations to use both technologies within three years. Over the next three years, 48 ​​percent of business spending on wireless networks will be on Wi-Fi and 52 percent on cellular technology.

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G share some similarities, such as their ability to achieve gigabit speeds and low latency. But the differences are also stark, mainly in terms of coverage, mobility support and cost.

Because of the lower cost of deployment, maintenance and expansion, especially if the access point needs to serve a larger number of users, Wi-Fi technology is well suited for smaller, less expensive local area networks and has become a popular choice in home and business environments. leading technology. Our commonly used PCs, tablets, smartphones, streaming media devices, televisions and printers are connected to the Internet almost exclusively by Wi-Fi technology.

While cellular networks such as 5G are mainly used for indoor and outdoor wide area networks, devices that move across large geographic areas, in addition to smartphones, 5G is now being deployed on a large scale in connected cars, smart cities, and even large-scale manufacturing operations. Given the extensive experience operating cellular networks, network providers can provide critical functions such as network security, privacy, etc. For some mission-critical services, such as those that require protection from device interference, 5G has clear advantages.

With the better integration of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, network operators are also starting to direct and optimize traffic on both networks, for example, by shifting more traffic to Wi-Fi networks to reduce congestion on cellular networks. As 5G’s key partner in advanced wireless solutions, Wi-Fi 6 will play an important role in maximizing benefits for businesses through next-generation wireless connectivity. From the perspective of complementary advantages, most of the application scenarios we see are the mixed use of 5G and Wi-Fi6 technologies.

According to IDC, by 2025, more than 152,000 Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be connected per second globally. The advent of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G promises reliable connectivity for mission-critical IoT devices.

in retail business

Analyzing the data collected (purchasing history, inventory trends, and footholds, etc.), forecasting what products should be displayed where, how much of each product should be displayed, and how to develop the products, these decisions will become a breeze.

in manufacturing

Advanced wireless networks consisting of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 play a key role in connecting machines and equipment to drive smart factory solutions.

in healthcare

As 5G and Wi-Fi 6 work together, the healthcare sector can introduce telesurgery and remote diagnosis.

in supply chain and logistics

The rollout of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 has really changed the last mile interaction issue with end consumers.

in the Internet of Vehicles

A connected car can provide in-car Wi-Fi to the user’s device, while the car itself is connected to a 5G cellular network.

Typically, 5G is likely to take the lion’s share of public communications, but sales of Wi-Fi 6 devices are quietly surging. According to Deloitte, shipments of Wi-Fi 6 devices will surpass 5G devices by at least 2.5 billion in 2022, compared with about 1.5 billion 5G devices. Smartphones, tablets, and PCs are the most commonly used Wi-Fi 6-equipped devices, and Wi-Fi 6 is now being used on a large scale including wireless cameras, smart home devices, game consoles, wearables, and AR/VR headsets and other equipment.

The adoption of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G is seen as a strategic imperative that will usher in a new era of wireless access for businesses. With the convergence of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, businesses can conduct business from anywhere while maintaining employee productivity and the best user experience. In 2021, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) jointly released a report highlighting the benefits of Wi-Fi6 convergence with 5G, noting that many use cases and verticals can be leveraged from both. Benefit from closer integration between technologies. In addition, 3GPP is increasingly looking to add standards to each new release to enable convergence between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Likewise, the IEEE, which is sponsored by the Wi-Fi Alliance, has been discussing potential paths for the convergence of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G for years. Now, 83% of service providers, equipment manufacturers and enterprises worldwide will deploy or plan to deploy Wi-Fi 6/6E by the end of 2022, a key finding from the WBA’s latest cross-industry survey.

The latest development of Wi-Fi6

In April 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously to open the 6GHz band to unlicensed users. The Wi-Fi Alliance named the version of IEEE 802.11ax running at 6GHZ or above Wi-Fi 6E. Wi-Fi 6E can provide low latency and faster data rates, and provides up to seven 160MHz channels necessary for high-bandwidth applications, it greatly expands the available spectrum of Wi-Fi 6, solves the need for billions of words Data transmission problems in applications with knot speed, such as Internet of Things, unified communications, cloud computing, AR and VR, etc.

While Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E are the same technology, their spectrums are different. The frequency band of Wi-Fi 6E is located at 6GHz, which helps to expand the functionality and efficiency of Wi-Fi 6. In terms of compatibility, Wi-Fi 6E access points support backward compatibility, which means that existing Wi-Fi devices can still be used. In terms of shipments, in 2021, more than 50% of Wi-Fi product shipments will be Wi-Fi 6. IDC predicts that by 2025, shipments of Wi-Fi 6 products will reach 5.2 billion, of which 41% will be Wi-Fi 6E.

With the increasing popularity of smartphones around the world, the use of Wi-Fi technology is also increasing. Additionally, governments around the world are building smart cities with public Wi-Fi networks to help various service industries such as education and healthcare. These factors have increased Wi-Fi usage in homes, offices and public spaces, increasing sales of Wi-Fi chipsets.

According to data from the Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi users will demand more efficient, reliable and secure connections in 2022, with nearly 18 billion Wi-Fi devices expected to be in use. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), by 2025, the number of households with computers worldwide is expected to increase to 1,262.47 million. The massive increase in computer usage has created a market opportunity for Wi-Fi chips.

Mordor intelligence forecasts indicate that the global Wi-Fi chipset market will grow at a CAGR of 4.4% between 2022 and 2027.More and more chip products supporting Wi-Fi 6 are on the market

The Qorvo QPF7552 is an integrated high-power front-end module (iFEM) designed for Wi-Fi 6 systems. The iFEM integrates bandBoost technology to create an easy-to-use and extremely compact solution for Wi-Fi tri-band applications that require simultaneous operation in two radios in the 5GHz band. The integrated bandBoost technology reduces the band power in the UNII1-2a to a level suitable for use on the same board. The Qorvo QPF7552 integrates a 5GHz power amplifier (PA), BandBoost BAW filter, single-pole double-throw switch (SP2T), and bypass low-noise amplifier (LNA) in a single device with high integration and small form factor.

Coexistence, Competition or Convergence: How Do 5G and Wi-Fi 6 Get Along?

Figure 2: Integrated high-power front-end module designed for Wi-Fi 6 systems

QPF7552 functional block diagram (Source: Qorvo)

The NXP IW612 is the industry’s first family of single-chip tri-band radios supporting Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2 and 802.15.4, enabling simultaneous transmit and receive, bringing higher performance to smart solutions. In smart homes where Thread or Bluetooth devices need to be connected to the cloud using an integrated Wi-Fi 6 radio, the IW612 is also ideal for border router, bridge and gateway applications.

Coexistence, Competition or Convergence: How Do 5G and Wi-Fi 6 Get Along?

Figure 3: NXP IW612 Single Antenna Application Schematic

(Image source: NXP)

MediaTek’s latest Filogic connectivity chipset, the Filogic 830 Wi-Fi 6/6E SoC, packs multiple functions into a compact ultra-low power 12nm SoC, allowing customers to design different solutions for routers, access points and mesh systems . The SoC integrates four Arm Cortex-A53 processors running at up to 2GHz per core, processing power up to 18,000 DMIPs, dual 4×4 Wi-Fi 6/6E, connection speeds up to 6Gbps, two 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and A series of peripheral interfaces. The Filogic 830’s built-in hardware acceleration engine is used for Wi-Fi offloading and networking for faster, more reliable connections. In addition, the chipset supports MediaTek FastPath low-latency application technology such as gaming and augmented reality/virtual reality.

Dedicated 5G

Can it replace Wi-Fi 6/6E?

In the discussion of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, there is such a word that appears very frequently, that is Private 5G (Private 5G). As the name suggests, private 5G must be related to 5G, and since the launch of 5G, 3GPP Release 16 has introduced 5G New Radio (NR) and enhancements to the 5G core for private networks. According to 3GPP TS 22.261, the following is the definition of a private 5G network:

• Private communications: communications between two or more UEs belonging to a restricted UE set.

● Private Network: An isolated network deployment that does not interact with the public network.

● Dedicated slices: Dedicated network slices are deployed for use by specific third parties only.

Private 5G is a secure and resilient next-generation wireless private network designed for custom enterprise use cases that demand ultra-high bandwidth, speed, reliability, and ultra-low latency on secure and private networks. Since private 5G networks consist of small cells, they provide better coverage. In most cases, dedicated 5G operates on unlicensed spectrum, such as CBRS spectrum in the US. However, operators offering dedicated 5G network-as-a-service can use other available spectrum in their dedicated 5G deployments to optimize their networks. In terms of applications, dedicated 5G will initially be used primarily for critical communications, such as factory automation or operational communications across large venues such as airports or distribution centers.

Compared with Wi-Fi 6/6E, dedicated 5G is similar in spectrum ownership mode, deployment mode and business operation support functions. To this end, there is a saying in the industry that dedicated 5G will replace Wi-Fi 6/6E. The reason is: Private 5G has the same advantages as public 5G networks, such as high throughput, huge capacity, low latency, and inherent security, so private 5G has advantages over Wi-Fi 6/6E in applications.

In practice, technologists have found that this is not the case. Not only will dedicated 5G not be a full-scale replacement for Wi-Fi6/6E, but Wi-Fi 6/6E will remain an excellent access option for low-cost network deployments. First, cheap Wi-Fi 6 network equipment, installation, and maintenance costs simply cannot be achieved with 5G or dedicated 5G. Secondly, in order to achieve wider network access, Wi-Fi 6/6E has been established and has larger capacity, and its transmission speed is comparable to wired.


The benefits of Wi-Fi 6 for enterprises are obvious. It can help enterprises quickly build their own networks, and build these networks according to service changes to meet the customized needs of enterprises. For example, an enterprise establishes an office network, and a school establishes a student network access network. In addition to traditional Wi-Fi scenarios, Wi-Fi 6 is also suitable for enterprise VR/AR/4K applications, warehousing and logistics AGVs, and asset management in supermarkets and factories.

5G focuses on public networks and is deployed in scenarios or endpoints with high roaming and latency requirements, such as autonomous vehicles, drones, outdoor personal network access, and factories with ultra-low latency requirements (less than 10ms).

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are two different technologies that complement each other. Each technology addresses a specific business need or condition. Companies with large outdoor businesses may consider 5G for their wireless network needs. The wireless needs of small and medium businesses can opt for cost-effective Wi-Fi 6 solutions. Organizations with indoor operations or identified access points may opt to use Wi-Fi 6E for their 6 GHz-capable devices. The interoperability between Wi-Fi 6/6E and 5G networks provides seamless connectivity for users’ network applications, and jointly drives the success of network innovation.

As Wi-Fi 6/6E and 5G develop, their respective application areas are bound to overlap. Despite this overlap, the two technologies will remain complementary and neither can replace the other. It is this relationship of integration, coexistence and complementarity that indirectly promotes each other’s development.

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