At the Crossroads of 5G and Wi-Fi 6

 By Tomas Hasselrot

 

The debate whether cellular or Wi-Fi technology would prevail is long gone. With the introduction of 5G and Wi-Fi 6, it is obvious that the two technologies are complementary and will converge. Cellular networks provide coverage and mobility across wide areas, and Wi-Fi networks high-capacity indoor coverage.

Enea is one of the very few vendors offering solutions in both domains, which allows the company to serve our customers with a unique value proposition. The Enea 5G Core solution supports policy and access control for 4G/5G and Wi-Fi networks, and can manage mobile phones as well as devices for Internet of Things services (see figure 1).

 
Figure 1: Enea 5G Core solution supporting 4G/5G and Wi-Fi networks

Operators need to develop strategies on how 5G and Wi-Fi should be combined for the most cost-efficient solution with the best performance. The strategic choices have an impact not only on the network architecture but also on business models.

The challenge for operators is to make a return on investments in new network infrastructure under the current market conditions with modest growth rates and low margins. While accommodating public and private 5G networks, Internet of Things applications, self-driving cars, remote surgery, and more, operators have to keep capital and operational expenditure at an acceptable level. A key element in this scenario is the right cellular and Wi-Fi combination.

Since the launch of 4G in 2008, operators have doubled the number of cellular subscriptions and the mobile broadband traffic has grown by a factor of ten. Consumers will continue to expect unlimited data bundles and high service quality. Today, the penetration rate of 4G stands at 69 percent globally with mature markets fully saturated.

An obvious question is how operators can find new revenue sources and save costs when rolling out 5G networks. Two of the answers are that Internet of Things applications will create new business opportunities and that off-loading traffic to Wi-Fi networks can reduce capital expenditure.

Parts of the mobile industry has previously been skeptical towards adopting Wi-Fi as carrier-grade technology. It was viewed as a best-effort service due to a lack of scheduling mechanisms and relied on the use of unlicensed spectrum. Fortunately, Wi-Fi technology has evolved at such a rapid pace that wireless connectivity is on the cusp of a paradigm shift.

Enea believes that Wi-Fi will be the perfect complement to cellular in the 5G era for four reasons:

  1. The new Wi-Fi 6 technology has the same scheduling capabilities as cellular technologies and lots of new unlicensed spectrum, which will improve connectivity speeds, capacity, and quality in a very cost-efficient way.
  2. Most 5G frequencies penetrate poorly to the indoors and Wi-Fi is needed as a complement to deliver seamless indoor coverage and capacity, which is critical since at least 80 percent of the smartphone traffic is generated indoors.
  3. Around 80 percent of all Internet of Things devices are connected by means of short-range technologies such as Wi-Fi, which makes it the dominant Internet of Things technology by a wide margin.
  4. Carrier-grade service management solutions such as seamless engagement and monetization methods, and SIM or certificate-based connectivity, are mature, secure, effective, and readily available for operators and service providers.

For further information, please refer to the recently published Enea white paper “Wi-Fi in the 5G Era – Strategy Guide for Operators” (see link below).

References

White Paper: Wi-Fi in the 5G Era – Strategy Guide for Operators
https://www.aptilo.com/news/blog/get-the-strategy-guide-delivered-to-your-inbox/?utm_source=Enea&utm_campaign=strategy_guide