Advanced Private Wireless: how is that 5G/Wi-Fi 6E relationship going?

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Aug 18, 2021

via Flickr © wicky-wacky (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © wicky-wacky (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Are we about to see the long-expected convergence - or at least alignment - of 5G cellular and Wi-Fi?
  • There’s a good chance that it will finally happen simply because AI technology could ensure dynamic and smooth handover between one network technology and the other, according to a new report

According to Rethink Technology Research, which has just released a report on the growth and shape of private wireless nets, the most important development for the private radio net situation is that we are now entering a convergence phase enabled by ‘smoother’ handover technology between the different flavours of wireless network - most obviously between Wi-Fi and cellular. The ousting of the rough and the arrival of the smooth has been enabled by the use of AI based techniques and, with a bit of luck and a following wind, should see the beginning of the end of the stark choice facing enterprises on which technology to choose - Quality-of-service performance (cellular tech) or economy (Wi-Fi). 

Lead Researcher Caroline Gabriel sees a future where smoother handover will mean enterprises can use both (and probably several) technologies according to automated ‘always best connected’ principles, which will provide the appropriate network technology for the application in hand according to cost and performance. . 

But, as usual, we’re not ‘quite’ there yet. Clearly public 5G is nowhere near as ubiquitous as might have been expected by now and it’s early days for Wi-Fi 6 and its speedier big brother Wi-Fi 6E. Private 5G is still at an early stage too, complicated perhaps by the current enthusiasm for Open RAN. 

In the end, Rethink sees the inevitable emergence of the heterogeneous networks (hetnets) which should end the religious technology arguments for once and for all… or maybe not. We shall see. 

The report says: “While 5G will account for the lion’s share of the growth over the whole forecast period, there will still be a significant number of 4G private networks being deployed over the next few years. Similarly, on the Wi-Fi front, the last generation 5 is dominant at present but it will be the latest 6E that takes over during the forecast period and offers an alternative to 5G for some of the emerging cases. “ 

In the meantime Rethink Research’s report surfaces some key findings and takeaways concerning private wireless networks:

  • Rethink expects private 5G network deployments to surge over the next few years and reach a peak in 2027 when they will generate $19.3 billion in equipment sales, before subsiding after that as saturation approaches.
  • Wi-Fi is expected to enjoy a similar experience. It will boom in the enterprise thanks largely to the standard Wi-Fi 6E which should offer oodles of speed and capacity, taking it closer to 5G. In performance 
  • However, Rethink expects Wi-Fi growth will be confined to North America and Europe and will peak in 2024, after which sites will tend to adopt 5G for more demanding use cases.

In summary: “Until its 7th generation comes along, WiFi will lack the deterministic behavior required for the most demanding ultra-low latency real time applications, such as control of UAVs. In these scenarios 5G will be preferred but WiFi will continue to coexist for applications where best effort performance is adequate. This will include some of those use cases touted for 5G under the eMBB category concerned mostly with high capacity, although WiFi 6E itself still has to justify investment in the upgrade from WiFi 5. 5G will emerge in some cases as an immediate alternative to WiFi 6E. 

Caroline points out that both private 5G and WiFi 6E will both be affected by chip shortages and other impacts of the Covid Pandemic, including reports of equipment purchase slow-downs as a result of changed working practices during the pandemic and disruptions within the supply chain. 

You can download an executive summary of the report, Advanced Private Wireless Forecast: 5G and WiFi 6E here

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