Think 5G will kill off Wi-Fi? Here’s five reasons why you’re wrong

Image credit: Kamon Supasawat /

For all the hype over 5G’s capabilities, Wi-Fi will remain the de facto standard for organizations for a long time yet. Here are five reasons why.

At the recent 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, we heard the news that 5G networks revolutionized VR broadcasting and the likes. But did you know that these 5G networks also powered sensor signals to deter wild boars from roaming the mountainous terrain surrounding the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium?

Venue operators are closely watching the progress of 5G as they consider their needs to keep up with connectivity demands and use cases. The development of AR/VR, ultra HD video quality, and the growth of IoT denotes an explosion of user numbers and data traffic. Which also means that the lure of expanding network capacity and coverage is increasingly appealing – not only to mobile providers, but to any business owner wanting to keep on top of these growing technology demands.

The promises of faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity means 5G can support data-intensive and time-sensitive applications. For the everyday user, it’s about streaming video in ultra HD while commuting without interruption. For businesses, it’s all about maximizing proficiency, i.e. automating entire factories.

Given the eventual and inevitable mass adoption of 5G, many have begun to question the relevance of Wi-Fi – where does Wi-Fi stand in a world with the new standard of 5G networks? This is also fueled by the popular misconception that 5G is set to replace Wi-Fi, yet this cannot be further from the truth. 5G is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before it matures. In many instances, Wi-Fi will remain the de facto standard for organizations and will likely coexist with 5G in years to come. ‘

Not convinced? Here are five reasons why:

1. The cost of a major technology upgrade

With every new mobile communications standard comes the inevitable topic of cost. Even so, 5G is estimated to cost mobile phone companies, chipmakers, device manufacturers, and even software developers $200 billion a year in research and capital spending for it to be fully utilized. As a result, end users will likely need to pay a high price for it.

This makes Wi-Fi a more affordable alternative. Not only does Wi-Fi offer similar benefits to 5G, a significant majority of devices in the market are already Wi-Fi enabled whereas only a handful are compatible with 5G.

2. 5G set to commercialize by 2020, but how long will it really take?

5G took center stage at this year’s CES and MWC, with the likes of Huawei, Intel, Sprint and Telstra announcing 5G smartphones and launch plans in hopes of a larger slice of the 5G pie.

Though commercialization is expected to materialize by 2020, widespread adoption of 5G may come later. Why? The answer is simple – existing network infrastructure. Wi-Fi infrastructure for countries everywhere has been deployed and utilized for years. It would cost and take too long to unearth existing infrastructure to make way for new ones. For wide scale 5G adoption to happen in Asia alone, up to 90 to 100 million homes will require the installation of devices that help boost cellular reception indoors, also known as femtocells.

3. Wi-Fi remains king for dense deployments

5G signals, like 4G, are a shared resource which will dilute as it serves more entities. Imagine a room with ten people sharing a 1-Gbps connection – this would mean each user only enjoys 100 Mbps. Expand this into a larger, denser setting and you’ll understand why it is so hard to get connected at festivals, events and concerts. As a result, 5G will need to rely on femtocells to improve capacity, coverage and data range in congested areas. Compared to other wireless access technologies, Wi-Fi already has the capability to scale according to demands.

4. The Wi-Fi market is flourishing more than ever

The Wi-Fi market is expected to triple from $5.96 billion in 2017 to $15.6 billion by 2022. The explosion of mobile devices and rapid adoption of BYOD and IoT within enterprises are cited as some of the major factors driving this growth. At the same time, new Wi-Fi developments such as the upcoming 802.11ax [PDF] will deliver even faster speeds and perform better in environments with a large number of connected devices – ideal for today’s device explosion. With market predictions as such, it is pretty evident that Wi-Fi is here to stay.

5. The growing need for secure connectivity

Cyber security is shaping boardroom conversations, and business leaders are seeing the need to connect their organization securely, especially in the age of mobile, IoT and cloud. Public Wi-Fi used to carry a bad reputation due to its unsecured network – however, its technology has progressed tremendously, and it is now a reliable and safe way to connect. While cellular connectivity is known to be safe, innovation has a long lead time – and cyber attacks wait for no one.

Wi-Fi’s robust, stable and mature technology displays the strength and ability to handle exceptional data traffic loads especially at large venues. Research suggests that by 2023, monthly mobile data traffic per active smartphone in Asia Pacific will reach 15GB per month and it’s no surprise that new solutions – ultimately leading us to the rise of 5G – are coming up. Overall, moving forward together is key to staying ahead of both end-user and business demands for more data beyond just the Olympic and World Cup bubble.

Justin Chiah, senior director and general manager for Southeast Asia and Taiwan at ArubaWritten by Justin Chiah, senior director and general manager of South East Asia and Taiwan at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

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