What’s the difference between 5G and Wi-Fi 6? Compare and contrast these two remarkable—and remarkably different—technologies and learn how they’ll work together to create new connected experiences.
The Difference Between 5G and Wi-Fi 6
For years, two different types of wireless technology have coexisted. Wi-Fi is a type of local area network (LAN) used primarily indoors—for example, inside a home or workplace. Cellular networks, like the 4G LTE networks used by major operators, are a type of wide area network (WAN) used both indoors and outdoors, generally over long distances.
Both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are complementary technologies that provide higher speeds, lower latency, and increased capacity over their predecessors. But what is each technology best for?
What Is 5G?
5G networks will provide 50x more speed, 10x less latency, and 1,000x more capacity than 4G/LTE.1 This means 5G will be able to connect more devices and transmit more data than ever before, delivering fast connectivity and significantly enhanced user experiences. As with LTE, mobile carriers will offer subscriptions to their 5G network, which requires 5G-capable devices.
What Is Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6, based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard, will deliver 4x higher capacity and 75 percent lower latency, offering nearly triple the speed of its predecessor, Wi-Fi 5.2 Anyone can operate a Wi-Fi network—and most of us have one in our homes and offices, connected to broadband service. Wi-Fi 6 devices require a Wi-Fi 6‒compliant access point to get the full speed, latency, and capacity improvements.
How Do 5G and Wi-Fi Complement Each Other?
Wi-Fi and 5G offer complementary functionalities. Where the user experience is concerned, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 can both achieve gigabit speeds and low latency.
Because Wi-Fi has a lower cost to deploy, maintain, and scale—especially where access points need to serve more users—it will continue to be the predominant technology for home and business environments. This provides great support for dozens of data-hungry devices, like PCs, tablets, smartphones, streaming devices, TV sets, and printers, which must all connect to the network. Thanks to its longer range, 5G will be used for mobile connections, like smartphones. It will also be used for connected cars, smart city deployments, and even for large manufacturing operations.
The two technologies handle network management differently. Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum, so you and your whole neighborhood can each have your own Wi-Fi network without getting a license to use it. However, this can mean your Wi-Fi performance is impacted by how many neighbors are using their network at the same time and on the same channel as you. When used in offices and other enterprise environments, Wi-Fi tends to be heavily managed to meet a desired performance goal.
5G and LTE networks typically are managed by operators and use a dedicated, licensed spectrum that requires subscription fees to access. As with LTE, 5G performance will depend on how many “bars” you have—in other words, how close you are to a base station—and how many other people are using the network.
Of course, there are exceptions to these generalizations. At the end of the day, whether to use 5G or Wi-Fi 6 depends on the specific use case.
As Wi-Fi and cellular wireless technologies continue to evolve in parallel, the core networks that are the backbone for all Internet connectivity are transforming as well. This process is known as cloudification, since it extends the use of data center technologies from the cloud into the network. Cloudification lays the foundation for carriers to support the growing volumes of data and billions of connected nodes that enable new use cases.
Intel brings our heritage as a leader in cloud computing to transform the networks that power 5G and Wi-Fi—becoming part of the fabric of the network in the same way that our technologies serve as the backbone of the data center.
Are these network technologies—when working together—key to the future of 5G? The short answer is yes: Wi-Fi 6 and 5G bring next-level, seamless functionality to the wireless world.
Wi-Fi 6 and 5G for Home Networking
Because 5G offers such an enormous boost in performance, service providers can offer consumers another choice in bringing broadband connectivity to the home: wireless broadband through 5G. In this area, 5G may compete with cable or fiber offerings.
However, Wi-Fi will remain the most efficient way to connect the growing number of devices throughout the home, including PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart speakers, home security cameras, thermostats, and appliances.
Powering the Future of IoT and Edge Devices
Some of the most exciting applications for 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will involve the Internet of Things (IoT). Businesses can choose which wireless technology makes the most sense for their needs and still get the high capacity, fast speed, and low latency they need to ensure devices can share data quickly and more reliably.
For example, machine-to-machine communication plays a key role in factory automation. While Wi-Fi 6 may work for a managed manufacturing operation, 5G may augment a large, campus-wide manufacturing environment.
In some cases, Wi-Fi and 5G may be used simultaneously. For instance, a connected car may offer in-vehicle Wi-Fi for users’ devices, while the car itself connects to a 5G cellular network.
Intel® Technologies for 5G and Wi-Fi 6
Intel is at the center of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 advancements, from contributing to standards to providing core compute resources for a range of devices. Intel powers Wi-Fi 6 performance in routers and access points—as well as in PCs and other client devices—with Intel® Wi-Fi 6 (Gig +). On the cellular side, Intel® 5G technologies enable new capabilities for network transformation and optimization for network operators around the world.
Far from being competitors in a zero-sum game, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are technologies that will work together to enable next-generation experiences. Today’s agile networks, enabled by Intel technologies, are evolving to optimize traffic for seamless experiences across all network types.3