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.
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.