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For the last decade or so, two different types of wireless technology have happily coexisted.

WiFi is a local area network (LAN) used primarily indoors, inside a home or workplace.

And 3G then 4G is used by all the major mobile operators. It is a wide-area network (WAN) that can be used both indoors and outdoors, generally over long distances.

Now both 5G and WiFi 6 are appearing on the market place. These complementary technologies will provide higher speeds, lower latency, and increased capacity over their predecessors. But what is each technology best for?

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What Is 5G?

The 5G networks will provide 50x more speed, 10x less latency, and 1,000x more capacity than 4G. This means 5G will connect more devices and transmit more data than ever before, delivering fast connectivity and significantly enhanced user experiences. As with 4G, mobile carriers offer subscriptions to their 5G network, which requires 5G-capable devices.

What Is WiFi 6?

WiFi 6, based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard, will deliver 4x higher capacity, offering nearly triple the speed and 75% lower latency of its predecessor WiFi 5. Anyone can operate a WiFi network—and most of us have one in our homes and offices, connected to broadband service. WiFi 6 devices require a WiFi 6 compliant access point harness the benefits of the new standard.

How Do WiFi 6 and 5G Complement Each Other?

WiFi 6 and 5G are extremely complementary technologies.

Both 5G and WiFi 6 can deliver gigabit speeds at low latency that will massively enhance the user’s experience.

When it comes to deployment, WiFi has a much lower cost to rollout, maintain, and scale. For this reason, it will continue to be the technology of choice for the vast majority of home and business environments.

Able to support dozens of data devouring devices, like PCs, tablets, streaming devices, TVs and printers which are prevalent on and must be connected to most networks

Given it longer reach, 5G will be utilised for mobile connections such as smartphones, IoT devices used for smart city deployments, connected cars, etc.

The two technologies handle network management differently. WiFi uses unlicensed spectrum, so you and your whole neighbourhood can each have your own WiFi network without needing a license to use it. However, this can mean your WiFi performance is impacted by how many neighbours use their network simultaneously and on the channel you use. When used in offices and other corporate environments, WiFi tends to be heavily managed to balance usage to meet the organisation’s requirements.

5G and 4G networks are managed by massive operators. They require dedicated, licensed radio spectrum that requires substantial subscription fees to access.

As with 4G, 5G performance will depend on how many “signal bars” you have. In other words, proximity to or how close you are to a base station, and how many other people are using the network.

Of course, there are exceptions to these generalisations. Whether to use 5G or WiFi 6 depends on the specific use case at the end of the day.

As WiFi and mobile technologies continue to evolve in parallel, the core networks that are the backbone for all Internet connectivity are transforming.

Known as cloudification, it extends data centre technologies and concepts from the ‘cloud’ into the network.

Cloudification will lay the foundation for carriers to support the exponential growth in volumes of data as billions of connected nodes find more new use cases.

5G and WiFi 6 for the Home Network

As 5G offers such an increase in real-world performance, the service providers can provide consumers with yet another choice in bringing highspeed broadband to the home.

In this means that in some areas, 5G may an effective competitor to fixed cable or fibre products.

Nevertheless, WiFi will for the future remain the only realistic way to connect the ever-growing number of devices throughout the average home, such as PCs, tablets, smart speakers, phones, home security cameras and monitors, thermostats etc.

Connectivity for IoT and ‘Edge devices’

Undoubtedly, some of the most exciting WiFi 6 and 5G applications involve the whole Internet of Things (IoT) arena. This allows businesses to choose which wireless technology makes the most sense for their needs. And yet still access the high capacity, high speed, and low latency needed to ensure their devices can share data quickly and more efficiently.

For example, M2M (Machine to Machine) communication plays a vital role in the vast majority of factory automation. Whilst WiFi 6 may work for a managed manufacturing operation, 5G may augment a large scale campuswide manufacturing environment.

In some cases, both technologies may be used in concert. A connected car may, for instance, offer in-vehicle WiFi for users’ devices. At the same time, the vehicle itself connects to a 5G cellular network.

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