How Will Wi-Fi 6 and 5G Work Together? (Part 1)

As 5G and Wi-Fi 6 technologies have developed in parallel, the necessity for them to “play nicely together” has grown. While convergence (i.e., the integration of Wi-Fi into a mobile or cable operator’s core network) does not appear to be in the cards in the immediate future, a functional coexistence is well-established. In this article, we’ll look how coexistence plays out today, how convergence might look in the future.  

The State of Coexistence Today

According to the Wireless Broadband Association (WBA), there are two ways to consider coexistence: from the network operator’s perspective (looking at the physical layer interaction) and from the user’s perspective (focusing on providing the best connection experience in areas where Wi-Fi and 5G overlap).

The biggest challenge around coexistence at the physical level is eliminating harmful interference between the two technologies, which operate in the same frequency band. To combat this challenge, the WBA has been working on developing industry-standard threshold levels and automated frequency systems for each type of technology, to ensure peaceful coexistence.

From the user’s perspective, the coexistence question is framed by ensuring users receive optimal service at all times, sparing them the frustration of flipping back and forth on a device between cellular and wireless coverage to achieve the best available connection. The WBA’s answer to this challenge is its OpenRoaming framework. This framework provides automated, secure connection, and prevents a device from automatically switching to wi-fi below a specified data rate threshold.

Future Convergence

The next step beyond coexistence is full convergence, which would take the automation of the OpenRoaming framework a step further to ensure optimal performance for all users. Because Wi-Fi 6 and 5G share frequencies it is increasingly likely that the same distributed antenna systems (DAS) in the carriers’ networks will serve both technologies, which could simplify network architecture challenges. Furthermore, from a service standpoint, it’s a win-win from each side: mobile operators will be more able to offer enterprise wi-fi management services, and existing enterprise wi-fi customers will gain access to 5G services.   

For more information on 5G, check out our past coverage. Additionally, stay tuned to our blog next week, when we run through some potential use cases for 5G and Wi-Fi 6 convergence.

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