Dean Anthony Gratton
With 5G Does Wi-Fi Have a Future?
With the excitement and furore surrounding 5G, the next generation of cellular technology, some are now doubting the future of Wi-Fi, which I think is rather silly. So, to answer my headline question, “Yes, Wi-Fi has a future alongside 5G,” but let me explain…
Connectivity must provide you with stability
We can often become lost in the wonder of a new technology. Indeed, some may become over-excited and start to reach for claims that aren’t necessarily there or, dare I say, realistic. 4G, for example, whilst still patchy across several cities around the world, let alone the rural areas across the nation, potentially provides us a sensible connectivity service for a wireless broadband backhaul yet, no-one has mentioned that Wi-Fi should necessarily leave the building and take a sharp right on its way out!
Unfortunately, we regularly hear or read of companies that echo the empty notion, “We’ll take connectivity to the next level,” and, with this statement in mind, I can’t help but wonder where are we going? What is it at this so-called ‘next level’ that we have yet to discover? I must admit, this yarn is so vague and nothing more than hyperbole. More so, when we get to this next level, how do we know we’ve arrived? In fact, it’s a bit like “The blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there”. You see, all I expect from a fixed or wireless connection is stability. For me, this should be the essential principle of any mantra echoed by all and any telecommunication provider.
Empowering consumers with a choice
Now, Wi-Fi and 5G have their place in the market, where both technologies specifically service their own application space. And, for those who don’t know, Wi-Fi is a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) technology that extended the traditional LAN, ‘wirelessly’. 5G and other cellular technologies form the Wide Area Network (WAN) so, from a purist’s topologist perspective, they serve quite different connectivity contexts insofar as they achieve the same result, which is being connected to the internet (that is, the WAN) but are doing so differently. Likewise, the office or business LAN, still needs peripheral devices interconnected, where you have the choice of fixed or wireless connectivity but, let’s be honest, you are not likely to enable your printer, for example, with 5G since it would be overkill. However, your office may use a cellular backhaul to connect to the WAN.
What’s more, those having a pay-as-you go subscription with their operator, may favour a Wi-Fi connection in a shopping centre or at an airport, for example, because access to the internet is free and not subject to data charges; whereas those subscribers on a monthly paid contract would have access to either connectivity service, so would no doubt prefer the fastest route to the Internet – nevertheless, they have a choice.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Now, with pervasive technologies such as 4G and 5G, such traditional networking topologies have become blurred, so much so, that they have indeed become disruptive to the topologist’s perspective – alas, it has become more difficult to make a clear distinction between one topology and another. In essence, it probably doesn’t matter, since we simply want to connect irrespective of how we achieve it.
I was asked a question some time ago, as to whether a company should consider replacing their entire fixed infrastructure with 5G. When I picked myself up from the proverbial floor, my firm answer was “No” – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Instead, I suggested that they should perhaps consider a hybrid solution, where remote or mobile workers, for example, could access the company’s resources through either a fixed or wireless connection. For me, it doesn’t make any financial sense to remove something that is already working.
6G will be much better than 5G!
You might recall my celebration piece “20 Years of Wi-Fi: What did we ever do without it?” acknowledging the joy of Wi-Fi over two decades and more, where nowadays we simply take it for granted. I also touched upon how the technology continues to evolve to satisfy the increased demand and expectation of data-hungry consumers, applications, and services. Wi-Fi has remained popular with everyday consumers and businesses, and as a user myself, I often switch between Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity, depending on my location and how healthy the service is. Wi-Fi has come too far forward to be forgotten and, based on my experience with the Wi-Fi Alliance, they are not likely to give up easily as I’m sure they know, like me, that this short-range wonder has a future, alongside 5G.
We have 5G-ready phones but, realistically, it may take a few more years for the technology to penetrate every corner of our neighbourhoods across suburbia, the corner shop, the bakers and even the remotest rural areas. Just look at the claims that most operators are currently making about their availability of 5G – let’s remain realistic, it’s ever-so patchy! We must walk before we can run and avoid making ridiculous and empty promises to a consumer-base who are clearly eager to welcome in the technology. Let’s stop overselling something that is realistically still a few years away since, in my experience, implementing and deploying such an enormous infrastructure upgrade will take time. We need to continually test and validate to ensure the smooth operation for all those who will benefit. It’s human nature to want that little bit extra and I have no doubt that, as 5G does become more pervasive, the shouts of “6G is on the way” will be heard in the distance which, I admit, will equally be as annoying!
Until next time…
I want the farmer on his land, in his tractor, cultivating his fresh produce, to sit in his cab and receive a notification from his son that he’s now a grandfather. The farmer will be able to receive a live stream quite flawlessly where there’s no ‘circle of death’ and, rather, he has an exceptional experience with his connectivity in the remotest part of his farm. That, for me, is the trigger needed to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Yes, we have delivered 5G for all!”
So, this is where a ‘utopianly connected’ Dr G signs off.