5G versus Wi-Fi 6: What Are They and How Do They Differ?

With the advancement of networking technologies, we have seen the rise of many improved methods of connectivity including 5G and Wi-Fi 6. Although both technologies are different means to a similar end, they each have specialized use cases that caters to differing needs. It is important to highlight that rather than treating 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as competitors, it would be better to classify them as complementary to one another as we’ll explain next.

What are 5G & Wi-Fi 6?

5G and Wi-Fi 6 are wireless broadband technologies; they both aim to provide wireless Internet access or computer networking to a variety of connected objects. However, there are many special cases in which using one over the other is preferable.

The 5G technology is a much more improved version of its predecessor, the 4G (LTE). In a nutshell, when compared to 4G, 5G networks are theoretically able to provide:

  • 50 times higher speeds
  • 10 times lower latency
  • 1,000 times more capacity

Similarly, Wi-Fi 6 is also a more improved version of its predecessor, Wi-Fi 5. Based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard, it will deliver 4 times higher capacity, 75% lower latency, and nearly triple the speed in contrast to Wi-Fi 5.

5G vs. Wi-Fi 6 Use Cases

Cellular networks like 5G have been used by telecom operators over wide areas including outdoors and long distances in general, and most recently for home internet (fixed broadband).

Unlike cellular networks, Wi-Fi networks are used mainly indoors in places such as offices, homes, and coffee shops. Due to the fact that Wi-Fi networks have a comparatively lower cost of operation & maintenance, their use has been more widespread in home and business environments. Thanks to its ability to connect employees, customers, and many more industry applications, Wi-Fi 6 has been used as a means of connectivity medium for non-mission critical environments such as university campuses, hotels, conventions centers, and non-critical usages in general.

In addition to the usage of 5G networks by telecom operators, many private or public enterprises too have decided to utilize 5G whether via private 5G cellular networks or through operators who provide these services. When it comes to 5G, we see that with its advancements compared to its predecessors, enterprises have decided to utilize private 5G networks for many applications that are either mission-critical or require low latency and high reliability. 5G networks enable real-time feedback and provide high “Quality of Service” (QoS), which comes in handy for industries that operate large scale connected machinery such as autonomous vehicles, sensors, and robots. For 5G use case at home, you may check "How 5G will impact your smart home".

5G vs. Wi-Fi 6 Technical Comparison

Both 5G and Wi-Fi use Quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM). QAM is the name given to a general group of digital modulation methods. QAM helps combine two amplitude-modulated (AM) signals into one single channel, thus doubling the effective bandwidth. Although they both use QAM, they use 2 different types. 5G uses 256 QAM whilst Wi-Fi 6 uses 1024 QAM. 1024 QAM is a slightly improved version of 256 QAM, with about 25% efficiency improvement. To illustrate the difference, 256QAM modulates eight bits per symbol, whereas 1024 QAM modulates 10 bits per symbol.

In terms of how secure both technologies are, we are presented with 2 different types of solutions. 5G technologies utilize embedded SIM (eSIM) or SIM authentication while Wi-Fi 6 utilizes WPA3. With the development of 5G technologies, it is expected that eSIM usage will also increase to become the main wireless access technology. Thanks to many advantages of eSIM authentication over WPA3 in terms of security and reliability, 5G access is much more secure when compared to Wi-Fi 6.

5G and its eSIM authentication aims to add to the privacy and secrecy to the identity of the user by enabling credentials encryption to generate a Subscription Concealed Identifier (SUCI). In addition to the security advantages of 5G, with its increasing adoption and usage of eSIMs, the devices that utilize 5G will possess robust processing power thanks to edge computing.

The two technologies differ the most when it comes to how they operate over the radio medium. Wi-Fi 6 uses an unlicensed spectrum, meaning that multiple Wi-Fi networks can exist at the same location. This may lead to high interference and lower Wi-Fi performance.

5G networks are mostly managed by telecom operators and use mostly licensed spectrum that requires subscriptions to access. In cases when 5G is not managed by telecom operators, enterprises may choose to run their own private LTE/5G networks using eSIM and:

  • licensed spectrum (e.g., CBRS priority access in the US) for mission-critical operations
  • unlicensed spectrum (e.g., CBRS general access in the US) which is vulnerable to interference and is mostly used for less critical operations

Final Notes

All in all, it is important to remember that both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are going to expand the footprint of connectivity of our modern world and increase opportunities for digitization across all industries. Coupled with eSIM technology that is facilitating digital & secure access to LTE & 5G networks, it’s becoming more feasible that ever to deploy such networks. Whether it is a coffee shop that uses Wi-Fi 6 to offer high-speed internet access to its customers or a power company that uses 5G to connect to thousands of sensors and meters, both technologies will only help pave the way for a future where people, devices, enterprises and other mediums are connected better than ever.

CELITECH is the world's 1st cellular data platform-as-a-service, enabling any business or app to offer eSIM and better engage with mobile customers. Reach out to learn more about our eSIM platform.

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