Why Wi-Fi 6 and 5G provide today’s optimal wireless IoT connectivity and ready the market for 6G and Wi-Fi 7

Wi-Fi is in the middle of a period of renewed excitement and interest. Innovations in IoT have seen increased adoption of the technology to support everything from factory robots to vending machines and the increased throughput offered by Wi-Fi 6 and, later, Wi-Fi 7 is demonstrating how the technology can be applicable to a raft of use cases. In some situations, this makes Wi-Fi a more appealing connectivity option than cellular as it brings the same wire-free benefits but at lower cost.

The central point about Wi-Fi 7 is that it offers an extremely high throughput utilizing the 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz frequency bands. The move to Wi-Fi 7 will see a substantial uplift in overall capacity alongside decreased latency and faster speeds. It represents a significant change over Wi-Fi 6, which itself offers fast connectivity. The specification suggests that Wi-Fi 7 will deliver a maximum speed of 46Gbps to a single client, which puts the already-fast 9.6Gbps offered by Wi-Fi 6 in the shade. However, Wi-Fi 7 specification will not be finalized until 2024 and the technology is still under development.

This leaves the real world with Wi-Fi 6, which is no bad thing since the technology offers excellent options for connecting devices with relatively low latency, fast speed, high device density and a future upgrade path. In many respects, Wi-Fi 6 has set the stage for Wi-Fi 7 because it has created market recognition that Wi-Fi is an excellent option for many deployment scenarios. Wi-Fi 6 is more than sufficient to support innovative use cases such as automated guided vehicles, industrial robots and many other applications. In indoor locations such as stadiums, large venues, offices and hotels, Wi-Fi 6 has attractive attributes. In addition, the technology is being utilized in the automotive industry to enable applications such as infotainment, monitoring, maintenance and upgrades by the manufacturer alongside greater personalization of vehicle features.

These strengths have seen Wi-Fi 6 adoption start to dominate deployments. IDC estimates that Wi-Fi 6 will account for 79% of all Wi-Fi product shipments within the next two years. The firm anticipates two billion Wi-Fi 6 device shipments in 2021, accounting for more than 50% of all Wi-Fi shipments. The firm expects to see more than 3.5 billion Wi-Fi 6 product shipments in 2022 with nearly 20% of all Wi-Fi 6 device shipments able to support 6 GHz this year.

Momentum is swinging behind Wi-Fi 6 as revealed by comparing the 2021 Deloitte Study of Advance Wireless Adoption with the firm’s 2020 study. The 2020 study found that US-based networking executives still viewed 4G/Long Term Evolution (LTE) and current or previous versions of Wi-Fi as the most critical wireless technologies for their businesses with most viewing 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as set to arrive over the next few years. Attitudes have shifted quickly and global networking decision-makers now regard 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as the most critical wireless technologies for their business initiatives.

The consulting firm found that Wi-Fi 6 adoption is well past the planning stage with two-thirds of respondents’ organizations either running pilots or deploying Wi-Fi 6 solutions already, while 58% are doing the same with 5G. Enterprise applications are expected to be a significant part of the market for Wi-Fi 6 and analyst firm ABI Research expects Wi-Fi 6 enterprise access point shipments will increase from 4.3 million in 2021 to 13.4 million in 2026, at a CAGR of 25%.

Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing, connected vehicles and infotainment industries are all looking to utilize Wi-Fi 6 and 5G. It’s therefore important to assess both technologies in parallel and recognize that each has compelling characteristics to bring to enterprises. This is set to see both technologies co-exist with each having a significant role to play in the future of wireless and unlike past generations of wireless, it’s not an either/or decision. 

5G cellular and Wi-Fi 6, and later Wi-Fi 7 and 6G, networks will be able to interoperate with each another and are seen as complementary technologies in the wireless ecosystem. The Deloitte study uncovered that organizations indicate that they prefer Wi-Fi 6 for indoor, on-campus and fixed network situations while they will turn to 5G for outdoor, off-campus and mobile networks. Adopting the technologies in parallel makes sense and 45% of survey respondents are already deploying both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G in their business or piloting/experimenting with them, with another 35% actively preparing to use both. Nearly all expect their organization to be using both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 within the next two to three years. Projected investment reflects co-adoption with Deloitte reporting that from 2021-2024, these organizations expect to split their wireless spending between Wi-Fi (48%) and cellular technologies (52%).

In the automotive market, Quectel sees substantial applications for Wi-Fi 6 with access points designed to support gigabit in-car hotspots and for delivery of efficient Wi-Fi connectivity throughout the vehicle, supporting ultra-high definition (ultra-HD) video streaming on multiple displays, screen mirroring from compatible devices and wireless back-up cameras. Wi-Fi 6 also features full MIMO client capability designed to extend range at high data rates for connecting to external access points for automotive services, such as vehicle diagnostics, software updates and automatic check-ins when pulling up to dealerships. In addition, the technology will deliver improved connectivity and enhanced in-vehicle experiences. As vehicle connectivity continues to advance from 4G to 5G, Wi-Fi 6 is an integral part of the connectivity evolution, as it enables seamless connections, across multiple devices, and in congested environments.

Even with Wi-Fi 7 already advanced in its development, Wi-Fi 6 is a new generation of Wi-Fi and will therefore exist for a long time in-step with the IoT industry’s growth. As IoT device deployment hits mass scale, more and more devices require high throughput such as virtual reality devices. Others demand low latency such industrial controls or require low power consumption such as those that use battery power. Wi-Fi 6 is well-positioned to serve these needs and also deal with radically increased device density that the multi-billion device era demands. 

By using OFDMA, MU-MIMO, TWT, BSS coloring and Spatial Reuse Technique, Wi-Fi 6 products achieve substantially improved performance that address the density and interference issues. When aligned with 5G, IoT organizations can adopt Wi-Fi 6 and access the most appropriate connectivity for their deployments with the confidence that each technology can co-exist and will be available to support devices for the long-term. We are in the era of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 today and this sets the scene and provides the sound basis and upgrade path for the future’s 6G cellular and Wi-Fi 7 offerings.

Download the Quectel’s whitepaper to learn why Wi-Fi 6 goes hand-in-hand with cellular to enable the hyper-connected enterprise future.

Dominikus Hierl

Dominikus Hierl is Senior Vice President Sales EMEA at Quectel Wireless Solutions, the global IoT solutions provider, and is responsible for the European business.

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