Mar 10 2021

CDW Tech Talk: With Emerging Wireless Tech, Something’s in the Air

Learn why Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are friends, not foes — and how great tech can lead to great customer service.

For more than a few reasons, a pair of competing wireless technologies — Wi-Fi 6 and 5G — have gotten the lion’s share of attention in the networking field in recent years.

Both are exciting. Both are here now. And it’s a big change from a time when everything needed to be wired up to get the most out of it.

For businesses, it’s important to understand the differences between these technologies and how they will affect implementations. During the latest edition of the CDW Tech Talk series, Scott Stanton, the senior director of Americas Enterprise Networking for Cisco, said the factors that matter most in network infrastructure have changed with the times.

“When you step back and you think about network design, the issue is not so much around things like coverage and throughput,” he said. “It’s really about how you accommodate the density of clients that we’re experiencing thanks to IoT and personal devices.”

Ultimately, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G tackle the same problem in different ways.

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G Strike a Complementary Balance

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G should by no means be seen as competitors, Stanton said. Rather, the technologies complement each other by offering different strengths.

For example, Wi-Fi 6 does particularly well in internal environments, such as schools and medical facilities, where a lot of devices are competing for bandwidth. On the other hand, the differing variants of 5G (ultra-wideband, millimeter wave) tend to do best outdoors — and struggle with walls.

“For organizations that are thinking that 5G is penetrating buildings and they’re going to get huge amounts of throughput, that’s probably not going to happen in the vast majority of cases,” Stanton said.

And while 5G could prove useful inside buildings, it requires a big investment. Given the costs — which Stanton pegged at about $2 per square foot for 5G, compared with about 50 cents for Wi-Fi 6 — 5G may not make sense for many businesses.

READ MORE: Learn how businesses can choose the right infrastructure for their needs.

Citing the example of medical facilities, whose equipment broadly uses Wi-Fi these days, Stanton said that existing infrastructure will probably keep many offices on Wi-Fi 6.

“We think they’re going to continue to adhere to Wi-Fi silicon over the foreseeable future,” he said. That doesn’t mean 5G isn’t useful for doctors and emergency services personnel. “It just means that the majority of clients, because they’re going to compete to a certain degree on price, won’t be able to endure the costs and consulting required to move to 5G.”

(Tech Talk host Matt McLaughlin explained that cities are one area that might benefit from more in-depth infrastructure upgrades, citing the example of San Diego.)

Wi-Fi 6 will offer many benefits to organizations, but because of concerns about uptake, many businesses may be slow to adopt it, just as they were with the 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) standard. Still, infrastructure-level changes to the Wi-Fi 6 standard may make it desirable even for older devices because it can more effectively manage more devices at scale.

“For the first time, we have a Wi-Fi standard that can benefit any client, any legacy client,” Stanton said. “In fact, it benefits all clients that are on your network, regardless of what kind of radio they have, because the infrastructure is going to become flexible.”

Additionally, the updated Wi-Fi 6E will offer an added source of wireless spectrum, around the 6GHz band, which could significantly speed up next-generation implementations.ly keep many offices on Wi-Fi 6.

Stronger Customer Service Through Technology

Of course, whether you’re building a strong wireless network or a stronger infrastructure, offering effective customer service is important. CDW is a great example of this in action.

During the Tech Talk, David Chapman, CDW’s vice president of sales for the West region, explained that CDW evolved into a company like this over time, as it moved away from simply selling boxes to selling services.

“Whether you’re engaged with us in the domestic U.S., in the broader North American market or globally, or whether you’re engaged with us around a device, a routed network, a broader solution or a use case–driven outcome,” Chapman said, “CDW provides that one-company look and feel that will give you the predictability, the consistency and that seamless experience that you come to expect out of a partner such as us.”

This focus on service has led the company in the direction of acquisitions. Chapman cited a couple of recent CDW acquisitions: the IT services management firm Aptris, now known as ServiceNow Solutions, and IGNW, a digital velocity services provider that CDW acquired last year. Chapman said both acquisitions emerged organically based on consumer needs.

“We’re going to continue to really expand and go down the path of looking at incremental opportunities for us to add value where we don’t have capability today for that point in time,” he explained.

The goal of these acquisitions is stronger customer service, covering service gaps in areas big and small as CDW grows its global reach.

“We are not only focused on the direct customer of CDW, but our customer’s customer,” Chapman said. “And that’s the feedback and response and anecdotes that we’ll receive from our customers, that they see that embodied through every engagement that we have with them.”

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of the CDW Tech Talk series here. Insiders can register for the event series here.