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Wi-Fi 6E vs Private Cellular: Which one should you choose?

Confused about the differences between Wi-Fi 6E and Private Cellular? We've got you covered in this comparative blog.

As Industry 4.0 takes hold within the enterprise, reliable network connectivity and mobility are no longer nice to haves.

Fortunately, when it comes to expanding the network, organizations have a range of new and compelling options to consider. Two of the most highly hyped options are private cellular (4G/5G) and Wi-Fi 6E.

At Celona we have demonstrable experience working with both of these technologies, so we thought it important to help you understand more about these technologies to help you make a more informed decision.

Let’s first start with Wi-Fi 6E…

What is Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E supports the operation of Wi-Fi in the unlicensed 6 GHz band. It is effectively an extension of the existing Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax) standard (which operates in the 2.4 GHz & 5 GHz bands) which is known to improve the overall network performance using technologies such as OFDMA, BSS coloring, target wait times etc. Thus, the sole benefit of Wi-Fi 6E is using 6 GHz. However, that does oversimplify the benefits that entails using 6 GHz.

For one, there are no known non-Wi-Fi interferers on 6 GHz thus, making it an enticing option for providing the least interference prone operations. I say least interference because there are some incumbents (services such as broadband, satellite) that make use of the 6 GHz spectrum. To protect these incumbents from interference, 6 GHz APs can either operate in low power mode or in standard mode. In the latter, a central FCC database will provide APs with a permissible list of allowed frequencies & power levels to operate within. Sounds familiar? This is a first for Wi-Fi but is exactly how private cellular has been operating since the start.

Historically, optimum 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi performance is obtained by operating in three non-overlapping channels (1, 6 and 11), however, it has prominent non-Wi-Fi interference from Bluetooth devices, video cameras, microwave ovens as well as interference from neighboring 2.4 GHz based Wi-Fi networks.

5 GHz expands non-overlapping channels to 24 distinct channels but also experiences Wi-Fi interference not only from neighboring Wi-Fi networks, but also from radar. Additionally, there are now known 5 GHz interferers such as certain LED lights & DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems). Note that 6 GHz too will be prone to Wi-Fi interference from neighboring 6 GHz access points. 

Another benefit of using 6 GHz is the amount of spectrum available. In US, 1200 MHz worth of spectrum (Europe is 500 MHz) is made available which is by far the largest across any Wi-Fi band. This results in 14 - 80 MHz wide channels (or 7 - 160 MHz wide channels). This is more than double of what is available in 5 GHz (6 - 80 MHz wide channels). Practically though, most 5 GHz deployments use a maximum of 40 MHz wide channels (12 such channels are possible). Thus, 6 GHz is expected to provide (at a minimum) more than double the capacity seen with 5 GHz.

6 GHz deployment

Although the density of 6 GHz APs won’t increase as much as when you transitioned from 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz, it will still increase due to challenges with signal propagation. Some Wi-Fi vendors recommend designing for 5 GHz as the propagation model & coverage patterns won’t vary as much for 6 GHz. However, to take advantage of the high data rates supported by 6 GHz, you will need more APs than a 5 GHz deployment. This obviously results in higher capital and operational costs.

Even if you augment your existing Wi-Fi deployment with 6 GHz capable APs and don’t do a rip and replace, you will still need additional cable runs/drops, switch ports, power (more on this below), RF design considerations (channel, power) & finally additional management & troubleshooting. 

Multigigabit Ethernet

Packing three radios in an AP along with the support needed for high throughput & data rates offered by 6 GHz translates to demand for more power (PoE++/802.3bt) & multigigabit (802.3bz) capable switches. Consequently, the question thus you need to ask is “do I currently have (or will in the future) apps requiring such a high aggregate throughput to warrant upgrading my switching infrastructure?” For most, the answer is going to be no. And for the ones who still nodded yes, may I implore you to take a look at your WAN link as well.

In addition to the above, an increase in power consumption would directly translate into an increase in operational expenditure along with adding to the existing carbon footprint. For organizations looking to achieve their carbon neutral or carbon negative goals, this can prove to be a deterrent.

Security protocols

To connect to a 6 GHz network, client devices must support one of two new security protocols: WPA-3 or OWE (depending on the level of security). Some Wi-Fi vendors provide a transition mode supporting both WPA-2 and WPA-3 at an SSID level. But how optimal is the device experience on such an SSID remains to be seen. Avoiding the transition mode and opting for a 6 GHz only SSID too may not be a feasible approach due to lack of band 

redundancy. Thus, you are now left with troubleshooting yet another roaming scenario of a device moving between 6 GHz and 5 GHz (or vice versa) along with 2.4 GHz if you have legacy devices which you have to support.

Private cellular

Is private cellular to be the panacea of all wireless issues? Definitely not. But for some latency-sensitive use cases and critical business applications, it’s a welcomed alternative If you are thinking about 6 GHz or a Wi-Fi refresh, you should definitely consider private cellular. This hope is not only based on the fact that private cellular solves many of the aforementioned limitations of 6 GHz specifically (and Wi-Fi in general), but also on the fact that many of your mission-critical apps and devices will greatly benefit from a reliable, predictable wireless connection.

Unlike Wi-Fi, where devices contend for the medium and are prone to interference (unlicensed spectrum), private cellular is more prescriptive. The network, not the devices, determines how clients connect and roam – effectively facilitating the contention for each AP and device along with determining the channel and power each AP operates at via a central database (SAS in USA). This not only makes the wireless connection reliable, but also provides a better connection experience especially when the device is handed off (roams to) to another AP since the core (network) decides when a device has to be handed off. In contrast, in Wi-Fi, the device decides which AP to connect to, at what signal strength, which AP to roam to and when. If this wasn’t enough, each OEM has their own roaming algorithm.

To ensure consistent service quality and predictability across the RAN (radio access network) and the LAN, Celona has patented a technology called MicroSlicing. With MicroSlicing, each app on a device (or group of devices) can be allocated a MicroSlice that guarantees a minimum throughput, maximum latency and/or packet error rate. These QoS requirements per applications are automatically enforced within the network. 

Celona’s private cellular APs (yes, we call them APs & not eNodeBs) have a coverage of 25k sq feet indoors & 1M sq feet outdoors resulting in far fewer APs compared to Wi-Fi APs. Adding to this is the capability of being powered via your existing switching infrastructure thereby having a significantly lower TCO compared to a Wi-Fi deployment (see how over here - Private Cellular TCO and ROI Calculator (celona.io))

Since cellular capable devices connect via SIM cards or e-SIMs, there is inherent security and implicit authentication present as a generic offering of any cellular network (public or private).

Finally, a Celona private cellular network is the only turnkey solution that integrates with your existing LAN - whether it is requesting IP addresses for devices from your DHCP server, routing traffic based on your network configurations or easily recognizing applications used by devices, Celona seamlessly integrates into the same LAN which is setup for supporting your Wi-Fi networks. Additionally, strong mutual authentication and end-to-end encryption along the full data path are native to the Celona solution, whether wireless or wired, and with MicroSlicing, network segmentation can be extended over the air as well.

If the above resonated with you & you would like to learn more, please feel free to visit us at www.celona.io or check out a demo from here - Celona 5G LAN | See it in Action.

In summary, here’s how both the technologies stack up against each other:

Factors to consider Wi-Fi 6E Private cellular Implication
Frequency (Bandwidth) in North America Wi-Fi 6: 2.4 GHz (50   MHz), 5 GHz (480 MHz) 3.55 GHz - 3.7 GHz (150 MHz) Wi-Fi offers higher bandwidth
Wi-Fi 6E: 2.4   GHz, 5 GHz ,6 GHz (1200 MHz)
Spectrum Co-ordination Unlicensed   spectrum used by multiple technologies Full spectrum centrally   co-ordinated by SAS (in US) Co-ordinated spectrum allows for   more dedicated bandwidth with less interference
**6 GHz   standard mode: Spectrum coordinated by FCC (in US)
Interference 2.4 GHz   (3 usable channels): Bluetooth, video cameras, microwaves, other Wi-Fi   systems Minimal, limited to DPA regions Since spectrum allocation is   centrally coordinated, interference levels are minimal with private cellular
5   GHz (24 channels): Radar, LED lights, DAS, other   Wi-Fi systems
6 GHz: Other Wi-Fi systems
Network   deployment More APs, cables and   switch ports. Upgrade switches with support for Multigigabit Ethernet Fewer access points for full coverage Private cellular total cost of ownership about half   of Wi-Fi
Security New protocols for 6   GHz-only operation SIM/e-SIM based authentication SIM/e-SIM based security provides better   infrastructure-based controls
Roaming/Handoff Roaming decisions are   device initiated/driven, unique to each device manufacturer Device handoff controlled/facilitated by the   network Private cellular enables a better device roaming   experience
Traffic handling Based on medium   contention Scheduled/controlled by infrastructure Private cellular schedules traffic and can   guarantee priority, latency, bandwidth per application per device
Quality of Service (QoS) Statistical prioritization due   to contention Optional RF Feedback Loop (802.11kv) Deterministic prioritization due to scheduling Private cellular offers reliable QoS
Mandatory RF Feedback Loop & Controls (CQI, AMC)

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