While 5G was the big story at MWC Barcelona, Cisco officials believe 5G is just half of the story. The vendor argues that 5G should work in combination with Wi-Fi 6 to truly revolutionize wireless connectivity.
Cisco set out part of its view in a recent blog, stating that Wi-Fi 6 “will dramatically improve the wireless experience and it will enable new use cases that weren’t possible before.” The Wi-Fi 6 standard is expected to receive approval from the Wi-Fi Alliance later this year.
In an interview with SDxCentral, Greg Dorai, Cisco’s vice president of wireless product management for enterprise networking, went even further: “Practically, both [5G and Wi-Fi 6] in combination will address all device use cases.”
Dorai, however, did concede that Wi-Fi 6 won’t help in pervasive connections for mobile outdoor uses. “When riding on a bullet train at 200 miles an hour, 5G is better,” he explained. Also, voice handoffs when moving between the two networks will drop calls today, but he said Cisco and others are working on a solution to that problem.
Still, Dorai argued that for the “reliability of the connection and latency, Wi-Fi 6 is as good as 5G outdoors and better indoors.” He said the earliest uses of Wi-Fi 6 in combination with 5G will be to connect many users for immersive video experiences, and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in stadiums.
From a financial stand point, Wi-Fi 6 chipsets are half the cost of 5G chipsets and not subject to expensive patent royalty fees, Dorai said. Wi-Fi 6, which is already supported in the new Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone, will support latency of between 10 milliseconds and 15 milliseconds and avoid signal collision by multiple users that cause connections to drop as what happens with prior WiFi version.
Will Townsend, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, took the Cisco point of view. “WiFi and 5G are better together,” Townsend said. “I don’t see one replacing or supplanting the other. I believe it will be a blended use case for WiFi and 5G … despite what AT&T and Verizon are saying. WiFi and unlicensed spectrum is ideal for indoor deploying and Wi-Fi 6 brings improved coverage and lower latency as well.”
However, others have argued that 5G alone will offer the low latency, speed, and spectrum efficiency to support mission critical apps, especially for control of autonomic vehicles and indoor robotics used in industry settings.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said flatly that Wi-Fi 6 “is not good outdoors and can’t do what 5G does. Nobody would run a mission critical app [such as a robot on an assembly line] on shared Wi Fi spectrum. … WiFi is more for email and web browsing.” He also noted that Cisco is pushing a combined Wi-Fi 6 and 5G approach because Cisco is “not well positioned in the 5G market.”
Cisco “does not have a cellular product base and has largely abandoned their service provider WiFi products,” added Chris Nicoll, an analyst at ACG Research.
Nicoll doesn’t believe that any applications really need to combine Wi-Fi 6 and 5G other than to enhance mobile broadband. If millimeter wave (mmWave) small cells are widely installed as envisioned, 5G alone will “work beautifully indoors since its limited propagation means less interference,” he added.
“From a security and performance and management perspective, I think these two should remain fairly separate,” he said.