December 08, 2021

3 min

5G and Wi-Fi 6: Which Is Right for You?

When deciding between these wireless technologies, business and IT leaders must consider the use cases they’re looking to support.

5G and Wi-Fi 6 offer dramatically better performance compared with previous wireless networking standards. Both can achieve gigabit speeds and low latency. 5G is actually somewhat faster than Wi-Fi 6 (marking the first time that a current cellular standard has delivered better performance than a current Wi-Fi standard). But Wi-Fi offers organizations more control over their networking, and organizations can build out their own infrastructure, rather than relying on telecom companies to deliver a signal through the air. Scalability and cost are also major factors for organizations to consider when deciding between Wi-Fi 6 and 5G.

So, which standard will organizations use in the coming years? It depends on the use case.

5G Is Suited to Outdoor Use Cases

It’s important to note that 5G is not yet fully rolled out, and most organizations will be dependent on service providers to access 5G connectivity. That said, 5G is likely to power mostly outdoor networks, which is how people and organizations have typically used cellular service. But 5G is a whole new ballgame in terms of speed, with  a new suite of potential applications. 5G networks will be 50 times faster than 4G/LTE networks, with 10 times less latency and 1,000 times more capacity. 

In particular, look for 5G to power autonomous vehicles, outdoor networks for large campuses and connectivity for geographically dispersed assets in fields such as energy exploration. Dedicated 5G connections may also support some critical indoor applications, such as remote surgeries for healthcare organizations.

Wi-Fi 6 Remains a Strong Option for Indoor Spaces

Wi-Fi 6 will continue to be the dominant wireless connectivity option for homes and businesses. It will be less expensive for organizations to build out their own Wi-Fi networks for the bulk of their needs, rather than purchase 5G connectivity. In fact, Wi-Fi 6 will likely be the best option even for some outdoor use cases — such as sports stadiums — where so many people are packed together that they overwhelm cellular services. In addition to traditional office spaces, Wi-Fi 6 will support environments such as retail, manufacturing and other largely indoor spaces where internet connectivity is readily available.

Combining 5G and Wi-Fi 6 Opens New Options

For some use cases, organizations may lean on both 5G and Wi-Fi 6, depending on the specific environment. For instance, Wi-Fi 6 can be used to support virtual reality and augmented reality applications in office settings. But these tools may also be used offsite for training, inspections or other tasks, in which case organizations may rely on 5G connectivity. Similarly, business and IT leaders will decide whether to use 5G or Wi-Fi 6 to support Internet of Things applications depending on where sensors and other IoT tools are located. For onsite sensors, such as those on a manufacturing floor, Wi-Fi 6 will be the natural choice. But for more distributed use, such as smart city and connected campus applications, 5G may be a better fit. 

5G has been slower to roll out than many people predicted, but it’s moving forward. And most organizations will adopt the Wi-Fi 6 standard when the time comes to refresh their existing wireless infrastructure. Soon, most of our connectivity will be powered by these emerging wireless standards. And, as has happened with every previous improvement in networking, these faster speeds will help organizations to adopt cutting-edge applications.

Story by Tim Xia, a networking solution architect with CDW for 15 years.