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Wi-Fi6 and 5G

30th October 2019

Do you ever hear people complaining that “this Wi-Fi” is better than “that Wi-Fi”? that’s because not all Wi-Fi is the same! Clearly hardware makes a significant difference to the “perceived quality” of Wi-Fi but the differences are actually much more fundamental than that; relating to the design and capability of the Wi-Fi version being employed.

Wi-Fi ( a common misconception is that the term Wi–Fi is short for “wireless fidelity,” however this is not the case. Wi–Fi is simply a trademarked phrase that means IEEE 802.11) was first released for consumers in 1997 as the original 802.11 standard; and has kept evolving (improving?) with the latest “version” released this year. The issue with variation in the “perceived quality” of Wi-Fi is down to the fact that most users are not experiencing the latest version of Wi-Fi.

1999 – 802.11b – 2.4 GHz radio frequency and data transfer rates of up to 11 Mbps and a range of up to 50 meters. At the same time 802.11a was introduced (because the 2.4 GHz frequency was somewhat “crowded”) using the 5 GHz frequency with data transfer rates of up to 54 Mbps, but hardware to support 802.11a was much more expensive than 802.11b.

2003 – 802.11g – 2.4 GHz radio frequency and data transfer rates of up to 54 Mbps

2009 – 802.11n (later renamed Wi-Fi 4) 2.4 & 5 GHz radio frequency and data transfer rates of up to 300~450 Mbps. Using MiMo (multiple input multiple output) technology that uses multiple transmitters and receivers to transfer more data at the same time.

2014 – 802.11ac (later renamed Wi-Fi 5) 5 GHz radio frequency and data transfer rates of up to 433 Mbps (in fact in theory the data transfer could go into multi Gb speed ranges) using beamforming (an adaptive antenna technology by which a wireless access point (WAP) selects an optimal transmit path out of many possible options. It is fundamentally an antenna technology, combining special hardware and sophisticated software) and Mu-MiMo downstream (meaning multi user multiple input multiple output; an enhanced form of the MiMo technology that enables multiple independent radio terminals to access a system) allowing hardware to efficiently connect to multiple devices simultaneously.

2019 – 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) designed for high user density environments and has a data transfer rate some four times faster than Wi-WI 5; potentially in excess of 5Gb/s. Utilises 2.4 & 5 GHz radio frequency simultaneously combined with Mu-MiMo both downstream and upstream; resulting in the ability to support large volumes of mobile devices simultaneously. It is worth noting that before you rush out and buy new Wi-Fi 6 hardware that WAPs need to be connected by Cat6a or Cat7a shielded structured cabling and because Wi-Fi 6 WAPs perform highly complex signal processing they are unable to operate within the 13-watt Power over Ethernet (PoE) budget that supported earlier generation Wi-Fi implementations. New Wi-Fi 6 WAPs must be supported by either a direct DC power connection or cables and connectors compatible with 30-watt Type 2 PoE. Its also worth noting that much of the older technology relating to  Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5 still exists in Wi-Fi 6 hardware, which means older connection devices that aren’t Wi-Fi 6 compatible will still be able to use Wi-Fi 6 WAPs, albeit at the  lower data transfer rates that relate to Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 4.

So what is the difference between Wi-Fi 6 and 5G mobile wireless?

5G and Wi-Fi 6 both provide faster speeds, less latency, and more capacity than (for example) 4G and Wi-Fi 5, and both use advanced technologies like MU-MIMO and beamforming.

Where the two “ wireless” technologies differ is in the envisaged use and scope of deployment

Wi-Fi 6 is essentially a wireless local area network (WLAN) technology that is meant to operate “inside” in an office, hotel, or other” crowded” multi user spaces. 5G is a wide area network (WAN) technology that is designed for “outside” use in high density mobile data, IoT applications, and other “exterior” connections.

Wi-Fi 6 is somewhat backwards compatible (as are most of the previous version) but 5G is a completely new technology that isn’t backwards compatible, which means that new hardware is needed to broadcast and receive 5G signals. Existing non-5G devices won’t be able to connect to 5G networks, even at lower speeds. That’s why even the latest iPhone 11 isn’t 5G compatible even though it gets more out of 4G than previous iPhone models.

In short; if static use Wi-Fi6 and if moving use 5G