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5G or WiFi: Which Wireless Option is Best For You?

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At the end of June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared Huawei and ZTE national security threats due to their close ties with the Chinese government.  This puts pressure on the rollout for 5G networks by limiting carriers’ equipment suppliers.

Meanwhile, around the same time, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced the development of machine-learning formulas to help different wireless protocols share the same spectrum. 

So, why do we care?  Because both issues affect the development of our own wireless strategies.

Historically, we relied upon wired connections between computers to create our networks.  Once wireless became reliable, IT departments saw an explosion of new use cases that previously had been unavailable. 

New technology and standards seek to solve problems, remove constraints, and provide options to grow business, improve information flow, and address security issues.


5G Solutions


5G networks provide cellular network coverage at very high speeds. However, the signal often deteriorates quickly indoors. 

While many Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Control Systems (ICS) vendors have started to incorporate 5G into some of their newer offerings, those features won’t work deep within a factory or hospital without deploying microcells, repeaters, or distributed antennas.

These added expenses for indoor use dampen the enthusiasm for 5G adoption, and the limited availability of the networks doesn’t help.  However, initial tests show speed tests between 1Gbps and 1.7Gbps, with a latency around 1 millisecond.

If your organization needs high speed wireless access, you should evaluate 5G.  Once the technology becomes more widely available, organizations will be able to consider 5G for a wide range of mobile needs. 

Public safety vehicles, pop-up retail locations, farming equipment, and mines can all benefit from a connection to the main network using cellular networks.  However, only a few organizations have such a strong need that they will pay the current premium for 5G.  

Still, budget-limited organizations can deploy 4G LTE technology to benefit from the mobile connection, and consider upgrading once 5G becomes more widely adopted and prices decrease. 

For those IT managers who use 4G LTE as an alternative or a backup to MPLS for branch offices, full availability of 5G opens up the option to use 5G as the primary connection.  5G’s robust transmission rates and ability to support several parallel access points can improve speeds over the fixed MPLS connections. 

If nothing else, we can expect the increased competition to reduce MPLS rates within the next few years, so we can all win.


Wireless options - 5g - woman using mobile device


Wi-Fi 6 Arrives


Within a building, WiFi usually provides more practical solutions because of the flexibility of deployment, and the many options within the IEEE 802.11 standard. 

In 2020, we will see the launch of products supporting the Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E standards, which are the Wi-Fi Alliance names to market products based upon IEEE standard 802.11ax

Wi-Fi 6 works over the traditional 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies for backwards compatibility. But, the real advantage is the expansion of Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) radio bands at 1 GHz and 6 GHz. 

The increase in operating frequencies promises three-to-five times more spectrum for communication, and will also allow new Wi-Fi 6 devices to operate at different frequencies than the slower legacy devices.

In comparison to 5G, Wi-Fi 6 will not require sim chips, nor will it need to be operated on a cellular network.  This presents Wi-Fi 6 as a potentially lower cost option to provide high-speed connectivity that works with the existing network architecture. 


Other WiFi Options on the Horizon


The IEEE continues to work on other standards that will open new opportunities for organizations to extend wireless applications. 

Here is a quick overview of the newer standards, the Wi-Fi Alliance’s simplified names (where applicable), and potential use cases:


  • 11n – Legacy standard now called Wi-Fi 4 to indicate 4th generation Wi-Fi standards.
  • 11ac – Legacy standard now called Wi-Fi 5 to indicate 5th generation Wi-Fi standards.
  • 11ax
    • 6th generation Wi-Fi standard (see above) now called Wi-Fi 6.
    • Some products supporting an expanded spectrum option may be marketed as Wi-Fi 6E
    • Use cases: reduce congestion in overloaded WiFi Networks by moving new devices to 1GHz and 6GHz frequencies; expanded channel width options for data-intensive applications such as VR, Stadium Screens, etc.
  • 11ah
    • Low frequency (below 1GHz) standard wi-fi using the TV white space bands.
    • Longer distance, lower energy usage.
    • Use cases: Compete with BlueTooth Low Energy; provide longer-range IoT connections.
  • 11ad
    • Very fast wi-fi standard providing 6.7 Gbps data rates at a very high frequency (60 GHz)
    • Short range application only reaching 3.3 meters
    • Use cases: high speed, short distance wireless devices: security cameras, printers, etc.


While there are other standards in the works, their approval and integration into commercial devices still remain on the horizon.  For now, IT managers can focus on these standards for many of their wireless needs.


wireless options - wi-fi 6 - man using wifi connection


Longer Range Options


What if your organization requires long-range wireless options now, and neither 5G nor 4G LTE suit your purposes? 

There are two other options for you to consider: CBRS Private LTE Networks and LPWAN.

The FCC opened up the Citizen Band Radio Service (CBRS) ,which can now be used to operate Private Long-Term Evolutions (LTE) Networks.  Private LTE networks offer longer range and less congestion than WiFi, and are less expensive than 5G cellular solutions. 

IT Managers can use CBRS Private LTE Networks to complement WiFi networks, and move heathcare monitoring devices or industrial robotics to a private cellular network while maintaining WiFi networks for guests and standard computers. 

Private networks operating in the CBRS spectrum will be less vulnerable to casual hackers, and can add a layer of security, higher reliability, and wider reach with less access points than Wi-Fi.

Some organizations need to regularly send small amounts of data over long distances.  Oil companies monitoring oil wells, or logistics companies tracking containers, can add very low cost radio units to broadcast periodic data packets with low energy requirements using Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs).

LPWANs can be implemented either as a private radio network using unlicensed frequencies, or by subscribing to cellular LPWAN services from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.  The cellular versions can be more turnkey because business have the option to rent radio and battery devices instead of investing heavily in hardware.


Making the Best Choice & Getting the Right Support


New technology, such as Wi-Fi 6 or 5G, only solves specific issues for an organization, such as the need for higher connectivity speed, longer range, and/or increased flexibility. 

However, they cannot change the fundamental issues of suitability, integration, and security. We may want higher speeds, but we must be able to afford them within the context of our operations. 

Will the high speeds open up new opportunities or solve existing problems?  For example, for a hospital using Wi-Fi 5 without congestion issues, the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 probably won’t be worth the expense. 


Related: Healthcare IT & Security Tips for 2020


However, if that same hospital is primarily using older WiFi standards, such as 802.11b, and dealing with bandwidth congestion, the Wi-Fi 6 upgrade will yield great improvements.  The suitability of the new technology must be determined for each organization separately.

Each new technology will also need to be integrated into our existing networks and wrapped within layers of security. 

For IT teams already taxed by the everyday demands of the existing environment, tackling new projects can be overwhelming.

Ideal Integrations and Blue Bastion can help remove the barriers of IT department bandwidth.  Our expertise can be applied in many different ways to help you evaluate and integrate new technology projects.

Do you need help with the evaluation and design?  Leverage our experience with many clients to help you understand the advantages and the pitfalls of different options.

Do you need help with integration and security set-up?  We’ll do the heavy lifting on the special project while your team focuses on the day-to-day tasks.

Do you want to have the fun of doing the new project?  We can monitor and maintain your networks to handle day-to-day issues and allow your team the additional bandwidth to do the project right.

Connect with us today for all of your IT needs, and we’ll help you build something special!

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