Why Wi-Fi 6, 5G Are So Much Better Together

eWEEK TREND ANALYSIS RESOURCE PAGE: This new blended technology cycle is the first time that both the next-generation WAN and next-generation wireless-LAN technologies were designed to interoperate at this level.


SAN FRANCISCO—I attended the Wi-Fi 6 Pro rollout from Qualcomm Aug. 27 here (I travel way too much). For those of us who do a lot of large events, have a lot of IoT devices at home or work, and suffer through poor Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6 promises to be a godsend. This is because Wi-Fi 6 adds substantial capacity and bandwidth, allowing for far more effective loading and a far better experience.

However, it was a presentation by Cisco talking about blending 5G and Wi-Fi 6 that caught my attention.

You see, I carry several always-connected PCs with built-in 4G. But the two things currently don't play well together. Often the 4G modem is disabled, regardless of whether I'm on Wi-Fi or not, and if I go from Wi-Fi to 4G or back, the experience isn't seamless; it is more often a pain in the butt. Well, that's about to change, and this change could make us all far bigger fans of always-connected PCs.

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Let's talk about the coming advantage of 5G + Wi-Fi 6.

5G and Wi-Fi 6

While the technologies behind Wi-Fi and WAN (cellular) networks started very different, the converging requirements forced technology to flow between the two network types. Both networks needed more bandwidth for each user and to be able to handle ever-larger numbers of users without compromising the experience of any of them.

You see this at major events, whether you are connecting through your cell phone or directly to a Wi-Fi access point. Your network performance can drop so much that Indian smoke signals would seem to be an upgrade due to the massive latency, horrid bandwidth and iffy connectivity.

Both network types have gone through significant advancements, so they far better meet this requirement now. In the case of Wi-Fi 6, the new devices will offer up to 12 spatial streams and 1,500 simultaneous users per access point. These all use multiuser buffering and new scheduling algorithms to deliver this massive performance bump.

Qualcomm's New Lineup

Now Qualcomm is rolling out a line of products starting with a four-stream product to a 12-stream product at the high end. That entry-level product is most likely for the home but would also work in a small office. Qualcomm uses the Pro sub-brand and a whole-number numbering scheme ranging from 400 at the bottom to 1200 at the top. As you would expect, the 400 has four streams; 600, six streams; 800, eight streams; and 1200, 12 streams.

CommScope, which owns Ruckus Networks, arguably the strongest provider of industrial-grade high-capacity access points, had a rep on stage confirm that Wi-Fi 6 would be night-and-day better than Wi-Fi 5 addressing. This is, for them, a huge customer satisfaction issue.

It is interesting to note, given the concern that they would have to upgrade their Wi-Fi 5 hardware, that according to Boingo, even those using older Wi-Fi technology saw a significant benefit when they rolled Wi-Fi 6 out in the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. The airport administrator was surprised by how much better network performance was after the deployment.

Now we already know the benefits of 5G include extremely low latency, far higher bandwidth, better loading and vastly higher performance at the edge of the network. One interesting observation was from Cisco's Meraki division, which indicated that another change it needed to address at large venues was the shift from download loading to upload loading, because more and more people want to stream video or send pictures to the cloud.

Wrapping Up: Better Together

Now, while most of the event is focused on how much better Wi-Fi 6 is, it was still the Cisco presentation that caught my eye. When you can better integrate WAN and wireless LAN, you can do things we can't do now. This includes moving seamlessly from inside your home to the road while streaming the same song or watching the same video (I'll bet this last one is something kids do more as we adults have to drive the car, at least for now).

This new blended technology cycle is the first time that both the next-generation WAN and next-generation wireless-LAN technologies were designed to interoperate at this level. Rivet, which specializes in wireless gaming modems for PCs, explained how the new modems can connect to two access points at once, because its software chooses the strongest band for gaming. Rivet forecasts, given the resulting performance, that most gamers who currently live on wired PCs soon will not be. 

That's a reasonable outcome for many of us who are still on wired networks; however, this isn't the end of the advancement. Coming soon is the opening of the 6GHz band, which should increase bandwidth substantially, allow for a huge backchannel for mesh networks and contribute to even lower latency.

All cool stuff, but they had me at the fact that “always connected” will finally mean “ALWAYS” connected. It's about time …

Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.