Will wifi and 5G converge?

By Paddy Smith
A report from the Wireless Broadband Alliance says there are plenty of benefits to be had for operators and businesses if wifi 6 and 5G converge...

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has released a report suggesting the many benefits of converging over-the-air 5G and traditional wifi data streams.

The paper expands on a previous convergence white paper from 2019, which extolled the benefits of wifi/5G convergence. The WBA thinks there are a number of advantages:

Public and enterprise wifi

Increases deployment possibilities and scenarios for operators and access providers, allowing them to deliver a more seamless user experience and maintain better visibility and overall control of the networks.

Industry 4.0

The potential use of both 5G NR and wifi access dramatically improves connectivity and traffic steering on the factory floor across both accesses, facilitating greater utility of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Smart cities

5G NR and wifi access can interoperate to create uninterrupted connections, and traffic to data-hungry edge applications can be more easily managed.

At home

The availability of both accesses allows a mix of traffic options in residential applications to boost connectivity and provide a more well-rounded end-user experience.

Wifi only devices

Convergence enables the availability and reach of 5G services and applications to more devices in many more locations with the support for wifi only devices.

Tiago Rodrigues, WBA CEO, said, “The convergence of wifi 6 and 6E and 5G is a win-win scenario for end-users, cellular and wifi players. The continued development of 5G and wifi 6 and 6E networks presents almost limitless potential for industry 4.0, residential connectivity, connected smart cities and more, but convergence is critical for all parties if we are to truly capitalize on the potential this technology has to offer. This paper provides a path forward for regulators and industry bodies that stands to benefit all, giving stakeholders the ability to cost-effectively improve performance while also retaining control and maximizing their return on investment.”

Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer at BT Group said, “Historically, cellular and fixed/wifi services have been delivered and consumed as independent offerings, limiting the service experience for customers. With advances in convergence, the dividing lines are beginning to blur, and that’s great news. Customers can increasingly focus on what they use their connectivity for, rather than how it is delivered. End users and the industry at large stand to gain massively from convergence between wifi and 5G, but only if we, as operators, infrastructure and device vendors, act together to fully define and deliver these new converged solutions.”

WBA Member Quotes

Gabriel Desjardins, director of product marketing, Broadcom, and board director at WBA
“Operators are increasingly utilizing the high capacity, low latency and low-cost of wifi 6/6E to control the elevated capital expenditure associated with 5G systems rollouts. The ubiquity of wifi and wifi only devices, with an active installed base of more than 13 billion devices, provides a low-cost coverage option for the delivery of standalone 5G services. This is particularly true for indoor environments where wifi is the access technology of choice that can support new and emerging use cases such as mobile broadband access, AR/VR experiences, industrial IoT, distance learning, telepresence, to mention just a few. The seamless and secure integration of wifi access technology in 5G systems is a game changer for operators, over the top providers and their customers alike.”

Matthew MacPherson, CTO of wireless at Cisco, and board director at WBA
“Ensuring the best application experience is the ultimate goal, and we can only do so with technologies and an ecosystem that are designed to work together. It’s no longer a decision about whether to use wifi or 5G, but how to use wifi and 5G in combination. Only by bridging the gaps that currently exist between wifi and cellular, and between enterprise and mobile carriers, will we be able to unlock the next stage of wireless innovation to connect more people and things. We’re proud to work alongside the WBA to help identify and address the challenges of convergence, as we believe this convergence will not only benefit the industry but power a connected and inclusive future for everyone.”

Dr. Necati Canpolat, senior staff architect, Intel and board director at WBA
“Wifi 6/6E and 5G offer amazing capabilities and complement each other. Convergence of wifi and 5G will help us work them better together, leverage their capabilities and bring major benefits to users, device manufacturers and operators. WBA’s work exploring the opportunities and highlighting the challenges that we need to address in the industry is a significant step in enabling converged solutions.”

Claire Chauvin, director strategy, architecture and standardization at Orange 
“The convergence of wifi and 5G is an important asset available in delivering services to an operator’s customers. Convergence can help improve network reach as well as enabling innovative services to exploit the opportunities an integrated 5G environment presents to its users. It is an important facet in delivering the Smart Home, to provide optimised connectivity for customers and traffic management for operators.”


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