Revisiting Wireless Internet Connectivity: 5G vs Wi-Fi 6

Telecommunications Policy


In recent years, significant attention has been directed toward the fifth generation of wireless broadband connectivity known as ‘5G’, currently being deployed by Mobile Network Operators. Surprisingly, there has been considerably less attention paid to ‘Wi-Fi 6’, the new IEEE 802.1ax standard in the family of Wireless Local Area Network technologies with features targeting private, edge-networks. This paper revisits the suitability of cellular and Wi-Fi in delivering high-speed wireless Internet connectivity. Both technologies aspire to deliver significantly enhanced performance, enabling each to deliver much faster wireless broadband connectivity, and provide further support for the Internet of Things and Machine-toMachine communications, positioning the two technologies as technical substitutes in many usage scenarios. We conclude that both are likely to play important roles in the future, and simultaneously serve as competitors and complements. We anticipate that 5G will remain the preferred technology for wide-area coverage, while Wi-Fi 6 will remain the preferred technology for indoor use, thanks to its much lower deployment costs. However, the traditional boundaries that differentiated earlier generations of cellular and Wi-Fi are blurring. Proponents of one technology may argue for the benefits of their chosen technology displacing the other, requesting regulatory policies that would serve to tilt the marketplace in their favour. We believe such efforts need to be resisted, and that both technologies have important roles to play in the marketplace, based on the needs of heterogeneous use cases. Both technologies should contribute to achieving the goal of providing affordable, reliable, and ubiquitously available high-capacity wireless broadband connectivity.

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