5G and Wi-Fi: What do they mean for your organization?

Wondering about 5G and Wi-Fi? We discuss what they are, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how they can work together within your enterprise network.
Private Mobile Network Blog
5G LAN

What Are The Key Differences Between 5G and Wi-Fi?

Private 5G and enterprise Wi-Fi both offer high speeds and high device density. Both have similar costs to deploy and maintain, but each are ideally suited to differ use cases. Oftentimes, both will be deployed together and will complement each other with their respective strengths.


Private 5G vs. Enterprise Wi-Fi: Which Should I Choose?

When comparing 5G and Wi-Fi, many think they must choose one over the other, but that is simply not the case. Both Wi-Fi and 5G networks can and should coexist as separate solutions, enabling different set of use cases and serving the needs of different digital initiatives within the enterprise.

Enterprise Wi-Fi can be easily set up and serve businesses of all sizes with little maintenance. Wi-Fi is an affordable and ubiquitous solution that meets many of the speeds and capacity requirements many businesses demand.

As businesses look for predictable performance, guaranteed service levels, uninterrupted mobility for fast moving machines / devices, and interference-free operation for specific use cases, they often find that private 5G solutions can meet the challenge. With the ability to offer large coverage area indoors and outdoors with ~25% less radio infrastructure compared to Wi-Fi, private cellular network is an attractive way to open an express lane of enterprise wireless connectivity across multitude of industries.

In some cases, solutions, such as fiber backhauls or Wi-Fi range extenders, are often used to meet the growing demand for speed and coverage. Additional Wi-Fi access points, controllers, and bridges can add cost and complexity to the network as the business applies these to certain use cases. Even with additional hardware, enterprises may find that Wi-Fi isn’t the best solution, as latency-sensitive applications demand improved uptime.

Organizations are now turning to private 4G LTE and 5G cellular, in addition to their existing Wi-Fi network, to serve critical applications that must run 24/7 with zero downtime or need to operate in environments more conducive to cellular wireless propagation, such as outdoor campuses, parking lots, ports, and similar venues.

In these cases, private 5G is an agile solution for both growing businesses as well as established enterprises. Industries such as transportation, manufacturing, and logistics leverage 5G performance for ruggedized device connectivity, in-vehicle networking, improve predictive monitoring, and support new robotics infrastructure with guaranteed service-level agreements (SLAs) for critical applications.

Private 5G has the added advantage of supporting existing and future Internet of Things (IoT) technology more effectively, as the underlying software stack has been designed to integrate with a variety of compute environments. IoT sensors enable businesses to proactively monitor their digital infrastructure and processes by using inexpensive network-connected sensors.

In short, enterprises and large organizations can see significant cost and performance benefits when using private 5G. Private 5G networks can be deployed next to an existing Wi-Fi network, making it a simple operational model as network access and QoS policies are defined across both networks simultaneously.

Such an installation of a private 5G network, and the enablement of new cellular capable devices to take advantage of the new network, do not require downtime within the existing Wi-Fi network. This further delivers additional value as a second “wireless highway” to increase the coverage and capacity of the organization’s digital initiatives.


How Does 5G Work?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology that brings considerable performance benefits over both Wi-Fi and its 4G LTE predecessor. For consumers, public 5G services are distributed via mobile carriers, such as Verizon and AT&T. Carriers spend millions of dollars building their infrastructure for cellular base stations and have options for leased services through subscription plans to individuals and businesses. For users to receive all the benefits 5G offers, they must use a device with a compatible 5G chipset.

5G uses a series of high, mid, and low bands to provide service across long and short distances. For example, high-band 5G provides the fastest speeds across short distances while low band offers slower speeds and longer ranges.

High-band 5G is often seen in densely populated city centers while low-band 5G is used to reach remote worksites and rural environments. Mid-range is the most popular band of 5G that mixes both speed and range to serve most suburban areas.

Cellular devices connect and authenticate through Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards rather than through network passwords. SIM provisioning provides an extra layer of default security that helps provide access control. This provisioning can be done by physically inserting a SIM card into a device or configuring it digitally via eSIM.

Now, with the private spectrum options such as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum band in the United States, organizations can purchase, deploy and operate their own 5G network. For the first time ever, this gives businesses the power to build their own mobile network completely independent of commercial carriers - enabling secure and predictable connectivity for enterprise owned and managed device and application mix.

Organizations can avoid lengthy contracts and unexpected rate increases by moving a portion or all of their cellular connectivity services within their enterprise facilities to their own private 5G network and infrastructure.

How Does Wi-Fi Work?

Wi-Fi operates on an unlicensed spectrum, meaning that anyone can launch their own wireless network wherever they please. While convenient, this can cause interference issues, especially in more densely populated areas. Wi-Fi’s simplicity makes it one of the most popular wireless choices for both consumers and businesses alike.

Wi-Fi networks can be secured through centralized encryption and device / user level authentication, such as Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS). In larger environments administrators typically segment guest Wi-Fi networks and private networks through different IP subnets and firewall rules to secure corporate data.

As devices move through a large Wi-Fi network, they may experience mobility issues when transitioning between access points if they are not well tested to operate within enterprise environments. Since in a Wi-Fi network, connected devices decide when to roam between access points and when to transmit data, the latency for data transfer could be highly unpredictable under high density and/or traffic congestion. This is an inherent problem for Wi-Fi that is often unnoticeable to small business environments but frustrating for large corporations looking to maximize uptime and performance on enterprise wireless.


5G vs. Wi-Fi: How Do They Compare?

Security

Both Wi-Fi and 5G can provide a secure channel of communication; however, 5G offers better security by default. Wi-Fi networks broadcast their identity openly by default, even when their network is encrypted. This inherently can be tempting for outsides to launch attacks against the Wi-Fi network. Weak encryption, access point misconfigurations, and shared passwords can additionally lead to a compromised Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Cellular networks leverage SIM authentication to provide identity and access control for each device, and utilize centralized encryption of device traffic by default. Unlike passwords, SIM authentication cannot be shared or written down. Provisioning is a basic and necessary step each device undergoes before accessing the network resources.

In short, both Wi-Fi and 5G can be used securely, with 5G offering better security and privacy by default.
Capacity

Capacity determines how many devices a network can support. 5G standard has been designed in such a way to enable support for very high density of devices across the public mobile network infrastructure. This support for high density comes as a result of scheduled network access for all devices where the network tells the devices when to wake up, transmit their data and roam between different radios in the network. This level of predictability reduces congestion, interference, traffic collisions, among others.

On the other hand, due to the random access to wireless medium implemented by connected Wi-Fi devices, Wi-Fi networks can practically reach their practical capacity at around 50 devices per radio.

Many businesses may never feel the growing pains of Wi-Fi capacity limitations, but some enterprise environments could in specific instances, such as outdoor campuses. More devices means larger bandwidth requirements in order to support those devices, and not all devices are created equal.

Coverage

Coverage measures how large of an area a wireless network can serve. Thanks to increased power levels and low-band 5G, private 5G can cover hundreds of square miles with speeds ranging from 30 to 250 Mbps. In contrast, Wi-Fi networks extend between 150 to 300 feet from their broadcast point. Wi-Fi networks can extend their range by operating on the 2.4GHz band, or adding additional hardware such as wireless bridges or range extenders.

Proper site surveys must be carefully conducted to ensure that each Wi-Fi access point overlaps with another to avoid dead zones. Organizations looking to cover campus buildings, large factories, or warehouses will find 5G to provide better coverage with less infrastructure costs.

Materials such as concrete, metal lath, and steel all play a role in your coverage as well. Wi-Fi tends to struggle in challenging environments, and suffers from external noise and interference sources much more significanly compared to 5G cellular.

In effect, 5G was specifically designed to cover large areas, while Wi-Fi was designed to provide wireless coverage within the immediate vicinity. Organizations looking to serve large environments in both rural and urban areas will find 5G to be an ideal solution that works in tandem with Wi-Fi.

Reliability
If you’ve ever lost a Wi-Fi connection while moving through the office, you may have experienced poor wireless handoff. Handoff occurs when an access point recognizes your device is moving away from it, and another closer access point takes over.

This process is more noticeable on Wi-Fi than it is over a cellular network. Chances are, you’ve never noticed when your phone has started using another tower for service while on the road. This is thanks to a smooth wireless handoff. Both Wi-Fi and 5G handle this differently, with 5G providing improved reliability for mobile devices.

Cost

For enterprise organizations, private 5G can provide cost savings on infrastructure and commercial fees. While 5G chipsets and devices are slightly more expensive than Wi-Fi, cellular networks provide more coverage per radio, reducing operational expense for installation / operations, and capital expense within the wired network infrastructure.

Private 5G over private spectrum, such as CBRS in the United States, allows businesses to scale more efficiently by eliminating the need for a commercial carrier and their infrastructure. Commercial carrier fees often involve strict contracts or fluctuate based on demand.

Using the private spectrum bands, businesses can predictably scale their network and control their costs through capacity planning.


The Celona Solution

Celona partners with enterprise organizations to provide private LTE and 5G services as a seamless turnkey solution. Celona’s unique 5G LAN solution utilizes cloud networking principles designed for enterprise environments and AI powered automation to make implementing private mobile networks an out-of-box experience. Onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.

Plug-and-play cellular access points can be quickly deployed throughout the campus, while proactive monitoring ensures network SLAs such as throughput and latency requirements are consistently being met.

In 5G networks, network slicing is used to ensure vital applications, services, or devices are getting the level of service they need. Celona takes this a step further by offering MicroSlicing as a core element of the private 5G solution. MicroSlicing allows organizations to build custom SLAs on a granular level to achieve a certain Quality of Service (QoS). This ensures applications, services, and custom groups always get the exact resources they need.

If you’re building your network for the future, we can help. Check out our network planner to estimate the size of your CBRS powered private LTE network, or test drive the Celona 5G LAN Solution for yourself through our free trial.

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