5G and Wi-Fi 6—Evolution and revolution

In BICSI Bytes, News by info@bicsi.com.au

Both technologies promise great increases in the data handling capabilities, enabling a new generation of applications. All the marketing hype says 5G is upon us – mobile telephone carriers are touting their plans to roll out 5G, although specifics about the timetable, fees and applications are difficult to come by. Wi-Fi 6 is more obscure because the branding has never really caught on with the equipment makers who instead opted to describe their gear with the string of numbers and letters referencing the IEEE standard which defines the technology. Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax.

Article re-published with permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com/

5G and Wi-Fi 6 are different sides of the same coin. Both mean communicating without wires and both are necessary to support the revolution promised for the next generation of devices and applications. Both promise great increases in the data handling capabilities of the system, enabling a new generation of applications.

5G operates over regulated spectrum, purchased at great cost, along with considerable investment in infrastructure. Unlike 5G, Wi-Fi 6 uses unregulated spectrum, basically a set of channels shared by equipment manufacturers. It operates on low power with very limited range. Nonetheless, it has served so well, it is ubiquitous.

Combining the two technologies, smartphones have formed an end-to-end solution where we use cellular technology for data and voice connections outside our homes and offices, but incur data-usage charges; whereas inside our home and offices, we program our smartphones to recognise our Wi-Fi networks, seamlessly switching as soon as we walk inside.

We now frequently find Wi-Fi ‘Hot Spots’ available outside our homes. These can be free, such as those found in some government buildings, airports and stores. Or they can require a login, such as those associated with a specific carrier.

5G is not one single advance, but rather a series of technology advances. An apt analogy is increasing the number of cars onto a single-lane highway, while adding lanes to the highway, as well as building completely new highways. So, part of what will result from the fifth generation will be evolutionary. For example, video will move to high definition; navigation will become more responsive; broadcast distribution will become easier; and security will become more robust end-to-end.

But it’s the revolutionary possibilities which are most fascinating, and more speculative. The Internet of Things (IoT) will extend our connected world to the point where everyday objects are instrumented and embedded with electronics giving them a wide range of capabilities. These devices communicate and interact and can be remotely monitored and controlled.

5G/WiFi6 will both provide the missing network infrastructure to make IoT a reality and open a wide range of new frontiers.


Professor Carla Chiasserini from the Department of Electronic Engineering and Telecommunications, Politecnico di Torino, along with Anthony Magnan, a Senior RF Planning Engineer at an automobile manufacturer in Detroit and a contributing member of the Wi-Fi Alliance predict in an IEEE white paper new services they say will be game changers for the automotive sector:

  • Vehicle platooning: vehicles dynamically forming a group, driving together, and proceeding at a very short distance from each other;
  • Advanced driving: vehicles sharing driving intentions, sensor data, and videos gathered through onboard cameras with roadside infrastructure, other vehicles, pedestrians and network servers, for safety and traffic efficiency applications, as well as semi- or fully-automated driving;
  • Remote/cloud computing driving: a remote driver that operates a vehicle traveling in dangerous environments, with impaired passengers onboard, or public transportation vehicles.

Future Factories

Today, communication standards in factory environments are mostly ‘wired’ rather than ‘wireless’. The wired deployment prohibits flexible adjustments of production lines and are more sensitive to problems. Part of this has been the lack of standards to facilitate communication between the myriad different devices from many manufacturers.

But there is also the issue of ‘latency’ – the delay in a network between the issuance of a request and the receipt of a response. In basic sensing or monitoring, a small lag may not be critical. But in a manufacturing process, latency becomes a limiting factor.

Analyst Gabriel Brown says that 5G and especially WiFi6, promise to greatly decrease the latency between data exchanges, adding: “5G does not itself redesign factory production lines or define industrial processes; it can, however, be an enabler of new operating models. To be successful in this, 5G must become embedded in the industrial automation process. In the first instance, this means replicating the functionality of today’s wired industrial Ethernet systems to support existing controllers, switches, sensors and actuators. In the second, there is an opportunity to make 5G integral to the evolution of industrial IoT as machines and production lines are themselves re-designed, improved and automated.”

Considerable effort has gone into codifying these concepts in what many call “Industry 4.0.” Germany has gone so far as to make the transition to Industry 4.0 a government industrial goal, reasoning that the more fully automated factory is essential to enable manufacturing to compete with countries that have lower labour costs.

5G home

The current products marketed for use in the ‘connected home’ have not lived up to the hype, but most analysts believe 5G/WiFi6 will allow many of those products to exceed expectations.

With the security and interoperability provided by the WiFi6 technologies, smart-TVs and smartphones will be able to serve as controllers tying together temperature and security sensors and accessing the various ‘voice-assistant’ products already in the market to allow homeowners have total control of their homes, even from remote locations.

5G healthcare

The growing number of medical monitoring devices, both wearable and implantable, have provided tantalizing glimpses of a future where medical services can monitor people and detect health problems before they reach a critical stage. Already being used on a limited basis for the most at-risk individuals, 5G systems provide the capability to handle the tremendous volume of data these IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) devices generate and to transmit that data in a secure and reliable manner.

An Allied Market Research report predicts IoMT will generate US$137 billion world-wide by 2021. As devices get more sophisticated, they will not only send information to healthcare provides who can sound the alarm when a medical emergency is detected, they will also be able to trigger intervention devices that can administer medications or trigger other treatments automatically. The data they provide will also provide input for regular doctor-patient consultation, with a goal toward designing patient-specific plans to deter medical problems in advance.

The unknown

The most dramatic advances to result from the 5G/WiFi6 revolution are probably ideas which haven’t been hatched yet. Noted above was the ability of new network technologies to handle the massive amount of data generated by IoT devices. But this is a two-way street: new technologies put the resources of the cloud wihin reach of every small IoT device, enabling it to function with intelligence far beyond its own limitations.

That cloud intelligence is clearly invaluable for the medical devices intervening to save a life when seconds count. It’s also necessary in the transportation domain, giving the smallest of devices a situational awareness of a much larger environment. But what else will this next generation of communication technology bring? We shall see.