Wi-Fi strives for BFF relationship with 5G

The priorities for the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) in coming months include making sure Wi-Fi 6 and 5G become the best of friends, rather than perpetuating any type of friction or other comparisons between the two.

That’s according to Tiago Rodrigues, who was named CEO of the WBA in September. Rodriguez has been involved with the WBA since 2004 and is one of the driving forces behind the deployment of Hotspot 2.0 and SIM-authentication over Wi-Fi.

WBA’s operator members include AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo and Comcast, to name a few. Technology-provider members include Nokia, Google, Facebook, Qualcomm and many more.

One of the reasons for the keen interest in seeing Wi-Fi 6 get along with 5G has to do with the increased convergence between 5G and Wi-Fi 6. A lot of information coming out about 5G would have one believing it’s the best technology ever, but there are cases where it’s not the best choice for, say, an enterprise’s in-building coverage, according to Rodrigues.

“5G should not be seen as just a 5G New Radio technology,” he said, but as a transitional platform that will also have other types of technologies that can be integrated.

By way of example, he said no one is ever going to cover a highway with Wi-Fi; it wasn’t designed to provide mobility at 70 mph—that’s for 5G to cover. But there are scenarios where a 20-floor hotel or an office building needs indoor coverage, and 5G may not be the ideal technology due to costs and device complexity. Basically, “we should not have a narrow view of 5G,” he said.

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In the U.S., Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is sometimes held up as better than Wi-Fi; it’s emerging as a band for deploying private LTE. But Rodrigues said he believes Wi-Fi will remain part of the mix. The decisions for IT managers or CIOs are getting far more complex because there are so many options; they need to be sure of their requirements and goals in order to choose the best solution, whether it be a slice of 5G provided by a carrier or something else.

The WBA and Huawei recently announced a Wi-Fi pilot that involves a series of Wi-Fi 6 verification tests at Mondragon University in Spain, where they’re exploring innovative Wi-Fi 5 use cases. The pilot project is designed to pave the way for immersive education methods such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which are changing the way teachers and students interact on campus. Similarly, expectations call for the trial to include testing Wi-Fi 6 for online live broadcasts and remote education.

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Earlier this year, the WBA completed a Wi-Fi 6 industrial enterprise and IoT trial with Mettis Aerospace, a U.K. designer and manufacturer of components primarily for the aerospace and defense industry. The aerospace company reportedly decided to go with Wi-Fi 6 for its backward compatibility with multiple devices and the longevity of the technology. Its machines normally need to last for a couple decades and Wi-Fi fit the bill, including in the area of security.

While the U.S. continues to focus on finding more spectrum for unlicensed technologies like Wi-Fi, it’s largely the same situation in other countries, according to Rodrigues.

That said, Wi-Fi 6’s big improvement is in the optimization of traffic flows. Until now, Wi-Fi was a “super polite” technology, with only one device “talking” at a time. With Wi-Fi 6, the traffic is better organized and more than one device can talk at the same time. It uses Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access, or OFDMA, a technique commonly used in cellular.