Opinion: Could embedded 5G/LTE kill Wi-Fi?

Ivan Franco

Posts: 241   +9
Staff member

With less than three weeks to go before the big Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show in Barcelona, there’s a lot of attention being paid to wireless technologies, particularly 5G. The next generation cellular network is expected to make a particularly big splash this year, as the first devices that incorporate the technology are expected to be on display.

In addition, many are expecting to see a rash of telecom infrastructure equipment suppliers unveiling the latest components necessary to power 5G networks, telecom carriers announcing their pricing and planned rollouts of 5G services, and just about everyone else trying to make some kind of connection between what they’re offering and the new network standard.

But 5G won’t be the only wireless technology making some important debuts in Barcelona. At long last, we should also see the first client devices that incorporate the latest version of Wi-Fi: 802.11ax, more recently dubbed Wi-Fi 6.

According to FCC documents discovered by DroidLife, for example, it appears Samsung’s next generation Galaxy smartphones, predicted to be announced at their upcoming pre-MWC event, will include support for the faster new Wi-Fi standard. In addition, there are rumors of many more Wi-Fi 6-equipped smartphones and other gadgets being introduced at this year’s MWC. Many of these new devices are expected to be powered by the recently unveiled Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, which includes built-in support for Wi-Fi 6.

Interestingly, even though 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are different technologies, there are a surprising number of similarities between them, at many different levels. In fact, there’s enough of them that some have wondered if one of the wireless network standards might eventually subsume or replace the other.

First, at a high level, each of the new standards contains a wireless data connection protocol that builds on previous generations and is specifically designed to increase the density of wireless networks. One of the biggest problems limiting the performance of both cellular broadband and local area wireless networks is clogged airwaves—too many people and too many devices trying to leverage a limited amount of space. It’s a classic data traffic jam.

As a result, both 5G (and many of the enhancements introduced with gigabit LTE—which AT&T is misleadingly labeling 5Ge) and Wi-Fi 6 are using some of the same basic technical principles to help alleviate the congestion. Though there are differences in implementation between 5G and Wi-Fi 6, both are using technologies like enhanced Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO), OFDMA, advanced QAM, and beam-forming to make more efficient use of the defined radio spectrums for each technology. Taken together, these enhancements should help each technology reach theoretical peak transfer rates in the high single digit gigabits per second range as well.

Just to add to the complexity, there are also a number of efforts, such as LAA (License Assisted Access) and MulteFire, which are designed to allow cellular radio signals to travel over the same, unlicensed 5GHz radio spectrum used by Wi-Fi. Concerns have been raised that this combination of cellular and Wi-Fi could lead to interference with Wi-Fi operation, however. In addition, telco carriers, who exclusively license the radio spectrum they use for broadband cellular connections, have voiced concerns about losing access to what could become “private” LTE or even 5G networks.

Despite these issues, a number of wireless vendors, including Qualcomm and Intel, have discussed the potential opportunity for companies to build these kinds of private cellular networks—in essence, replacing Wi-Fi with 5G or LTE. Though this would require all devices connecting to the network to have an integrated cellular modem—no small feat right now—the idea is that this could improve coverage across a campus environment or in a factory, and wouldn’t require any type of log-in process that you typically need with Wi-Fi.

At the same time, some similar benefits of integrated LTE (and eventually 5G) in PCs and other devices is also starting to take hold. The ease of having a single network connection that doesn’t have to be changed or be remembered or be logged into (if you even can) no matter where you are becomes much more appealing the more you get used to the concept. Throw in the critical fact that cellular connections are considered more secure than Wi-Fi, and you can understand why you should expect to see a lot more devices with integrated cellular broadband over the next few years.

Of course, as appealing as a single network may sound, there are still a number of critical issues that exist. First, telco carriers still have a long way to go to make this a financially attractive and realistically practical option. Yes, the “add a device for $10 more a month” model does exist for most people, but it’s not consistently available, a number of limitations often apply, and it’s still not easy to manage multiple devices on a single account. This is particularly true for companies that have thousands of employees, each of whom could easily have 4-5 different connected devices.

In addition, there are a number of attractive, lower-cost and relatively easy alternatives. Right now, Wi-Fi signals are nearly as ubiquitous as cellular connections, and in most cases, they’re free, which is always tough to compete with. Plus, some of the enhancements for Wi-Fi 6 will likely fix the frustrations that people often have with Wi-Fi in dense environments (and which typically trigger the switch to a cellular broadband connection—such as at a trade show, etc.). On top of that, tethering a Wi-Fi enabled device to a cellularly connected one is getting much easier, particularly now that Google just announced that the automatic tethering features of some ChromeOS devices are coming to most all Chromebooks and a wide range of popular Android-based smartphones.

Ultimately, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 aren’t really competitive technologies, but complementary ones—at least for now. In fact, it will probably be difficult to find a new 5G device that doesn’t also support Wi-Fi 6—the two technologies can work hand in hand. For most people, 5G will handle the wide-area wireless connection, and Wi-Fi 6 will handle the local wireless connection. Eventually, however, there could certainly come a time when only one of them will be necessary.

It may seem crazy to think that Wi-Fi could go away, especially given how pervasive it is today. But if you fully take into account the advances that 5G is expected to bring—not least of which is a huge number of small cells that can be used indoors and other places where Wi-Fi has typically reigned—the idea may not be as far-fetched as it first appears.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

Image credit: rawpixel via Unsplash

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jobeard

Posts: 13,896   +1,763
Risk of Radio Frequency is proportional to RF strength and inversely to distance to the source.

BTW, all those "smart meters" for your power meter operating as a Mesh Network are at least twice the risk of any WiFi and in some cases FOUR times more risky.
 

GreenNova343

Posts: 436   +327
The biggest hurtle is wi-fi is unlimited while even "unlimited" cell phone plans are limited in speeds

^^^^THIS^^^^

Cell provider: "Great news! We've upgraded all of our systems to 5G, so you can download 5 times faster now!!!...but we left you with your same data caps as before to serve you better!"

Consumer: "So...instead of hitting my data cap on day 20 of my plan, I'll hit it on day 4, & have to pay even more overage charges?"

Cell provider: "Exactly! We'll monitor your data usage even more closely to serve you better!"

Consumer: "..."
 

yeeeeman

Posts: 311   +259
I really don't like how 5G is pushed these days.
First of all, it is VERY obvious that it is forcefully pushed forward. They bring arguments like amazing speeds, great coverage, blah, blah, blah, but then, all this stuff already works great on 4G networks. An 8k video on youtube consumes a very little amount of bandwidth of the 2Gbps capable on the latest 4G modems (something in the region of 30-40mbps). So you still have 1960mbps to play with, no need for 5G.
Other things that are obvious is that this technology is not yet ready:
- phones need a lot of antennas to just get basic reception
- 5G phones will be bulky;
- 5G phones will eat a lot of power, so batteries will last even less;
- 5G has very bad penetration characteristics and it is very short range; I suspect that the 6Ghz spectrum will take the heavy lifting and it will be very crowded;
- 5G means more radiation, bad for health, for animals, for everything; the studies about health impact are done, they say it is bad for health and actually a risk, but hey, business is business;
- 5G will have better speeds, but we don't need it right away. Ok, I get it that in a few years, we will move to 16K resolution, we will have pettabytes drives and we will need faster data rates. But until then, 4G is quite good, it has good reception (imagine how 5G will fare in reception if nowadays in many places phones revert to 3G, just to get reception).
I really believe qualcomm is the hungry sheep here. They want to earn a lot of cash, but I really do hope this will not take off and people will still buy 4G phones for at least 2-3 years.
As for data plans on 5G, you have to be utterly stupid to pay for it, instead of a fiber to the home plan.
 

hahahanoobs

Posts: 2,982   +1,175
Faster download speeds are nice, but it isn't the be all to end all solution for consumers. You will need a fast and expensive SoC to back it up in day to day use to get the most out of it.

Thanks but no thanks.
 
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