WiFi and 5G: complementary technologies

Etienne DETRIE
Feb 4, 2020 10:37:43 AM

Some customers and prospects ask us about the competition between WiFi and 5G. This is a legitimate question as you can find many different answers on the internet! WiFi and mobile networks are, and will remain, structurally complementary technologies. It was said that 4G would negatively impact on the use of WiFi networks, and yet WiFi has never fared better! A 2018 AppOptix data study shows that mobile users with an unlimited data plan continue to use WiFi with their smartphone for more than 70% of their consumption!

The growth in global IP traffic will rely on WiFi. Cisco explains that by 2022, WiFi will represent 51% of total traffic (vs. 20% for mobile networks and 29% for wired).


As regards usage, video streaming will be by far the driving force behind this growth.



1. Similar theoretical speeds

As far as the general public is concerned, developments in WiFi are certainly less visible that those of mobile networks. However, WiFi standards are evolving significantly, and more frequently! History:

  • WiFi 1 (802.11b) launched in 1999
  • WiFi 2 (802.11a) also launched in 1999
  • WiFi 3 (802.11g) launched in 2003
  • WiFi 4 (802.11n) launched in 2009
  • WiFi 5 (802.11ac) launched in 2014
  • WiFi 6 (802.11ax) launched in 2019

WiFi 6 will gradually be rolled out as terminals and compatible equipment are updated. To date, only some very high-end smartphones, such as the iPhone 11 and the Galaxy S10, incorporate WiFi 6.

The theoretical speeds of a WiFi 6 terminal are four times greater than for WiFi 5 and are higher than those of a 5G antenna. When you use dozens of terminals in the same establishment, you immediately understand the power of a WiFi network in terms of traffic flow!


2. Indoor coverage: designer WiFi!

We've all faced network coverage issues with our mobiles, especially in ground floor apartments, offices and large public facilities. Mobile phones struggle to penetrate walls and the new HQE standards accentuate this problem: for example, the glazing used in buildings meeting HQE standards must incorporate a metal film that acts like a Faraday cage (a metal structure that is impervious to electric or electromagnetic fields) and blocks the waves.

WiFi is the perfect technology for optimal and flawless indoor and deep indoor coverage. With WiFi, we can provide tailor-made solutions at lower cost and cover all parts of a building, including the car park! The following illustration shows some examples of potential uses for either one of these technologies.

Illustration WiFi 4G-5G EN

3. WiFi is what keeps consumer equipment running

WiFi is the most universal wireless technology on today’s market. All electronic equipment contains WiFi chips, and connectivity is at the very core of product functionality.

So WiFi is what drives smartphones, tablets, connected speakers and other connected objects. The biggest hardware manufacturers, Google, Samsung, Apple and Amazon, etc., have put their money on WiFi because it is universal, powerful and economical (WiFi chips are inexpensive).

4. Only WiFi can offer private networks

With today's 4G and tomorrow's 5G, our devices can access the internet but can’t interact directly with each other. In order to do so, the devices need to be on the same LAN (Local Area Network) or VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network). WiFi, however, manages private networks perfectly (this is the case, for example, with all consumer internet boxes). With WiFi you can use a Chromecast or Google Home device and send a print command to a WiFi printer connected to the same network as your smartphone.

In the public WiFi context in which we operate at Wifirst, we can even replicate this WiFi "just like at home" thanks to our Room Area Network technology. We can offer each user private Wi-Fi networks, while maintaining a shared physical WiFi architecture.

Room Area Network

5. Easier access to certain user data with WiFi

Where collective WiFi is used in an establishment, the service operator is able to access a certain amount of information that can be shared with the customer, through a captive portal and with the permission of the end users. Thus, the use of WiFi can help the customer establishment to enhance its CRM, unlike mobile networks which cannot be used to take advantage of any data.

For all these reasons, we are confident in our technological choice at Wifirst and continue to innovate massively in our managed WiFi solutions. Regarding 5G, we finally have an interest in seeing it as a credible alternative WAN collection solution in certain situations. In France, the allocation of 5G frequencies will certainly be carried out in the first half of 2020.

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