What Are the Differences between 5G and Wi-Fi 6?
Private 5G and enterprise Wi-Fi 6 both offer high speeds and large user capacities. They offer similar costs to deploy and maintain but are ideally suited to different use cases. Sometimes, both will be deployed together and will complement each other with their respective strengths.
What Is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of cellular wireless that succeeds the 4G standard. This new standard offers improvements to data speeds, network capacity, and low latency wireless communications. 5G networks will enable new technologies, such as wide-scale Industrial IoT, automated robotics, augmented reality and more.
While most of us are familiar with commercial 5G, we’ll be comparing Wi-Fi 6 to private 5G technology. Like W-iFi, Private 5G allows businesses to own and control their cellular network, infrastructure, and resources using unlicensed spectrum, similar to how administrators manage enterprise Wi-Fi networks today.
What Is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) offers improvements based on the IEEE 802.11 network standard. These improvements include faster speeds using higher order 1024 QAM modulation, improved throughput, and reduced latency among other things. Like 5G, Wi-Fi 6 aims to improve wireless performance and support the growing demand for ubiquitous connectivity and smart devices.
5G vs. Wi-Fi 6: What You Need to Know
While 5G and Wi-Fi 6 make use of OFDMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access) each uses distinctly different frequencies and media access methods. Organizations can use both 5G and Wi-Fi at the same time to achieve specific objectives. For example, autonomous vehicles are better suited for 5G while typical office devices can rely on Wi-Fi 6.
Given its ubiquity and ease of use, Wi-Fi has proven to be an ideal connectivity technology for general indoor internet access within the enterprise. Meanwhile cellular technology has proven to be the go-to technology for consumer voice communications worldwide. Yet, until recently, the ability for enterprises to deploy their own, private cellular networks has effectively been out of reach.
Unlike Wi-Fi 6, Private 5G uses coordinated spectrum allocation to protect communications from interference. 5G is also capable of broadcasting at a longer range thanks to a higher transmit power and the use of OFDMA subcarriers.
Despite its advances, Wi-Fi 6 remains a best effort wireless technology.
One of the most common misconceptions with Wi-Fi 6 is that it will operate like a network switch. Although seemingly similar, a network switch uses carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA-CD) where Wi-Fi uses carrier sense multiple access with collision avoidance (CSMA-CA). In the end, both are used to avoid frame collisions while transmitting; collision detection allows for full-duplex transmission, while collision avoidance allows for half-duplex transmission.
That means client devices must still contend or fight for access to the wireless medium.As environmental conditions change, clients are forced to connect and reconnect to the network with no network-wide central coordination.
In stark contrast, Private 5G uses sophisticated network scheduling to allocate dedicated wireless access to clients for a given period of time.5G uses higher radio frequencies that are less cluttered.
Wi-Fi 6 broadcasts over an unlicensed spectrum, allowing anyone to quickly implement wireless networks. While convenient, this can create congestion, interference and general reliability issues in enterprise networks with neighboring networks. Wi-Fi 6 is limited to a lower transmit power, meaning more access points are needed to increase the coverage area.
Wi-Fi 6 Quick Comparison
In short, Wi-Fi 6 is a great option for businesses looking for reliable coverage in and around the office. Wi-Fi chipsets are affordable and compatible with practically any wireless device.
Due to its popularity and vast number of supporting devices, Wi-Fi 6 will likely remain a staple for home networking, consumer electronics, and small-to-medium-sized businesses looking to provide simple Internet access to customers and staff.
Private 5G Quick Comparison
5G offers specific benefits that cater to large enterprise operations that demand 24/7 uptime and strict performance service levels. Hospitals, industrial IoT operations, and college campuses can use private 5G to expand their networks much further with less hardware.
Unlike Wi-Fi 6, private 5G offers both licensed and unlicensed spectrum access meaning enterprises can design extremely reliable networks that are protected from interference.
New 5G LAN architectures have been developed to enable enterprises the ability to now easily own and operate their own private mobile network in a familiar form and framework toWi-Fi . 5G LANs are designed to deliver greater flexibility and control over their mobile network such as providing granular resource control for each application. This enables administrators to guarantee specific throughput and latency requirements for each device, contextual group, or application.
5G vs. Wi-Fi 6: How Do They Compare?
Both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 offer secure methods of communication with 5G excelling slightly more with better privacy and default security. Wi-Fi 6 networks use WPA3 certification, which enables strong 256 bit AES encryption. WPA3 also allows devices to join via QR code to accommodate the rise in IoT sensor support.
With robust end-to-end encryption built into the technology, 5G uses SIM authentication rather than usernames, passwords or certificates for gaining access to the network. Many of us are familiar with the SIM cards in our cell phones that provide service. Much more difficult to compromise, SIM data contains identity and subscriber information to determine what level of access the user and device has to the network. Administrators can use physical SIM cards or eSIM to provision devices via QR code.
In the end, 5G offers a better security experience for devices that support SIM authentication. This is good news for enterprises that are looking to securely deploy a large number of devices or orchestrate many IoT sensors.
Wi-Fi was fundamentally designed to provide short-to-medium-range coverage whereas cellular was built to cover a significantly larger area. 5G often delivers a three to four times greater coverage area indoors and up to ten times the coverage outdoors when compared to Wi-Fi 6. This is thanks to increased power outputs, with up to 50 watts of power for every 10 MHz of 5G spectrum.
5G offers better capacity best suited for organizations looking to deploy or support many devices at once. 5G offers improved uplink and downlink capacity, up to 1Gbps in many cases along with improved concurrent client support over LTE.
5G leverages multiple bands to help deliver the best signal given the environment and distance between two devices. For example, the low band allows signals to span many miles and reach remote locations while the high band provides high-speed connections over a short distance. Organizations use these bands to penetrate certain obstacles and communicate with devices over distances well out of the range of Wi-Fi 6.
Businesses poised for rapid growth should consider 5G as an overlay to their Wi-Fi networks. 5G can broadcast alongside Wi-Fi 6 without interference and provides a larger coverage area with a more reliable connection. For more details, check out our 5G coverage comparison video below.
Both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G can theoretically provide gigabit speeds, which are often more than enough for most businesses. In a controlled environment, Wi-Fi 6 can achieve 9.6 Gbps while 5G can do up to 20 Gbps. In most cases, 5G will be faster but not all 5G is created equally.
While most users won’t notice a difference between 5G and Wi-Fi 6 in terms of speed,they will experience notable improvements in range, reliability and consistency. Some technology requires ultra-low latency to function properly. Live data streaming, augmented reality, and robotics require low latency to react to live changes and provide the most accurate data.These are ideal use cases for 5G technology.
When it comes to prioritizing latency and responsiveness, 5G comes out ahead of Wi-Fi 6. Recently a remote surgery was performed from over 50 kilometers away that was made possible through a low-latency 5G connection.
One of the biggest differences between 5G and Wi-Fi 6 comes down to reliability. Because everything is centrally controlled and scheduled by the network, 5G offers a more reliable connection with seamless handoff between base stations and protection from interference through the CBRS spectrum.
The CBRS spectrum spans 3.5GHz to 3.7GHz and offers both licensed and unlicensed access for private businesses. PAL licenses are protected from interference by Federal Communications Commission regulations. General authorized access (GAA) is managed through FCC-approved Spectrum Access Systems, which manage the use of wireless communications operating within the CBRS spectrum.
Wi-Fi 6 uses an unlicensed spectrum that can suffer from interference from neighboring networks. While interference is a monitor inconvenience for most businesses, hospitals, and industrial plants can suffer greatly if their connection is interrupted.
In short, businesses looking to support mission-critical applications should consider using 5G for additional reliability. In many cases, enterprises use both Wi-Fi and 5G, with 5G reserved for use cases that require strict quality of service requirements to operate properly.
For a deeper dive into how 5G stacks up to Wi-Fi 6 in terms of reliability, check out our video below.
Wi-Fi typically has a lower initial cost when it comes to hardware, as 5G chipsets are more expensive than wireless network cards. For enterprises, 5G hardware is typically more affordable over time because it requires less hardware to provide a larger coverage area when compared with Wi-Fi 6.
In a private 5G model, cellular service is typically much more affordable than relying on commercial carriers. With a private mobile network, organizations can avoid overage and data usage fees as well as data throttling by using their own fiber or Ethernet backhaul.
Now with plug-and-play private cellular networks organizations no longer need to hire experts or pay for expensive integrations into their IT infrastructure. Companies looking to support a few offices will likely find Wi-Fi 6 to be the more cost-effective option, while enterprises will save money with 5G by covering larger areas with less hardware.
Wi-Fi 6 Use Cases
Wi-Fi 6 builds off the success of Wi-Fi 5 but has limitations in terms of coverage and reliability when compared to 5G. However, a few uses cases for Wi-Fi 6 include the following:
- Home Offices
- High performance hotspots
- Higher education classroom and dormitories
- Consumer IoT
- Small & Medium-Sized Businesses
5G Use Cases
5G offers the highest levels of coverage and reliability currently available from any wireless technology. This makes 5G an ideal option for applications that require 24/7 uptime and mandatory performance requirements. Private 5G is naturally a great fit for businesses with larger environments that support more devices. A few uses cases for 5G include the following:
- Hospitals & Clinics
- Colleges & Universities
- K–12 Education
- Hotels & Event Venues
- Stadiums & Arenas
- Theme Parks
- Enterprise Office Space
- Railroads, Buses & Public Transportation
- Airports & Airfields
- Oil & Gas Fields
- Manufacturing & Industrial IoT
- Distribution & Warehousing
- Farming & Agriculture
The Celona Solution
Celona partners with enterprises to enable private 5G connectivity for their critical operations and applications as a seamless turnkey solution. Plug-and-play indoor and outdoor cellular access points can be quickly deployed throughout their facilities, while proactive monitoring ensures network service levels, such as throughput and latency requirements, are consistently being met.
Celona uses cloud networking principles to make implementing private mobile networks an out-of-box experience.Network deployment and integration can be easily performed alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.
If you’re building your network for the future, Celona can help. Check out our network planner to see what your network would look like on the private cellular spectrum, or test-drive the Celona Solution for yourself through our free trial.