With the launch of every new cellular standard, the doomsayers come out in force declaring that Wi-Fi is dead. Both 3G and 4G LTE were supposed to make Wi-Fi redundant, and neither of those predictions came true, and the same thing is being said about 5G as well.
Now the advent of 5G networks does promise to bring next level speed, capacity, and reliability to cellular networks and that will have a far more significant impact than just making your smartphone faster. 5G has the potential to accelerate the development of self-driving cars, take drone usage to new heights (excuse the pun) and enable virtual and augmented reality to be enjoyed outside of the home.
However, the current hype around 5G is almost endless, with much of the noise from the cellular network providers aiming at the cable broadband companies and home networking. 5G devices and networks are still in the nascent stage of delivery, and pricing is still relatively unknown as carriers test market acceptance and competition starts to heat up.
5G technology uses higher “millimeter” frequencies to enable more communication channels to be simultaneously carried than current cellular technologies, with each channel moving higher data rates. However, millimeter waves can cover a much shorter range than existing 3G and 4G transmission towers implying that many more cell towers will be needed to cover a given area – increasing the costs to deploy.
Now, there are real situations where 5G connectivity will disrupt the cable networks and potentially out-pace legacy Wi-fi systems – especially in more remote areas. But the story is more than just a simplistic either/or scenario – it goes much deeper than that.
Firstly, Wi-Fi standards aren’t standing still – the latest high-efficiency wireless, 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6 standard began rolling out in 2018 and allows home Wi-Fi networks to reach Gigabit speeds and reduce latency across the network. However, neither of these new network technologies solve the most common issue faced around the home – that of Wi-Fi or cellular dead spots.
In contrast, mesh networks have been developed to take the incoming cable signal and propagate it around the house or office seamlessly. This allows customers to use the best value incoming broadband connection and spread it as far as they need.
The most significant advantage of wireless mesh networks — as opposed to wired or fixed wireless networks — is that they are genuinely wireless while also meeting customer demands for high-speed, reliable performance, particularly when compared to regular Wi-Fi networks.
Most traditional Wi-fi systems need each access point to be wired to a router or a range extender, and in large wireless networks, Ethernet cables need to be buried in ceilings and walls and throughout public areas.
In a wireless mesh network, only one node needs to be physically wired to the incoming internet signal – whether that be a cable broadband connection or a mobile broadband link. That node then shares its internet connection wirelessly with all other nodes in its vicinity – when nodes are added they increase the size of the wireless network.
This means that mesh network routers can provide enhanced reliability and better speeds when compared to regular Wi-Fi routers. Mesh network nodes cooperate with each other, and in the unlikely event that a node fails or needs restarting, the mesh system will “self-heal” and route data via other nodes – enabling the system to continue without interruption.
Nodes can be added simply and easily to a system and can eliminate dead spots even in hard to reach basements or internal rooms where getting a cell signal can be impossible.
So, does 5G mark the end of Wi-Fi?
Well, in a word – no!