This article originally appeared in Spiceworks on September 20, 2023.
Wi-Fi® – particularly Wi-Fi 6E – plays a critical role in transforming enterprise connectivity. As the first choice for wireless indoor connectivity for a growing number of users and increasingly complex business applications, Wi-Fi is also a complementary technology that supports the performance of 5G applications. The convergence of the two technologies allows for seamless connectivity as users move from place to place throughout the day, providing coverage from the conference room to the parking lot and everywhere in between.
Wi-Fi 6E in enterprise settings
Wi-Fi is responsible for carrying most internet traffic generated by both businesses and consumers, according to a 2021 report from Analysis Mason. As the latest Wi-Fi standard, Wi-Fi 6E unlocks the unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum band to deliver the capabilities needed to support the high-bandwidth applications enterprises around the world depend on every day, including cloud computing, telepresence, and the sophisticated Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors that power daily operations like factory and inventory monitoring. With the lower latency and higher throughput the 6 GHz band provides, Wi-Fi 6E is poised to keep up with the rate of information exchange and virtual collaboration of today’s workplace – and innovation is only expected to accelerate. According to IDC’s latest enterprise WLAN market report, Wi-Fi 6E revenue increased by 14.1% from the fourth quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023, constituting 10.4% of dependent access point revenues in the enterprise market. Currently, there are more than 980 devices certified for Wi-Fi 6E, and an estimated 473 million Wi-Fi 6E devices are expected to ship in 2023.
Part of Wi-Fi’s success is attributed to its affordable and sustainable nature. Wi-Fi connectivity requires minimal external infrastructure, making Wi-Fi implementation cost-effective and less invasive to the surrounding environment compared to the installation and maintenance of cellular towers. As a low-power technology, Wi-Fi does not require the heightened power levels of 5G and other cellular solutions in order to penetrate heavy, insulated exterior walls. Still, some emerging enterprise applications require the support of both cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity to deliver seamless broadband coverage.
Utilizing Wi-Fi with private 5G
Beginning with a strong foundation of Wi-Fi connectivity supports enterprises’ continuously evolving digital needs, many of which occur indoors. While 5G is often implemented to facilitate outdoor connectivity, Wi-Fi 6E and 5G may be paired together in enterprise settings to ensure seamless, cost-effective coverage for critical applications such as chemical leak detection and factory management.
Implementing Wi-Fi and 5G together enables optimized connectivity even when users are transitioning between indoor and outdoor locations, which is especially useful in large industrial campuses. In an interview for The Signal, Kelly Burroughs, Solutions Director for Enterprise at iBwave, shared that network designers should utilize data to better understand their connectivity needs and determine where private 5G might best support various use cases, “turning the technology into more of a roadmap.”
Layering 5G into existing Wi-Fi networks is a key component to building highly efficient networks that support smart cities, allowing for increased reliability in outdoor applications. Smart city devices like water level monitors used to prevent flooding, traffic monitoring hardware, and smart street lighting rely on a private 5G network or carrier-grade Wi-Fi to report data back to city planners. Meanwhile, smartphone users and low-power IoT devices are best suited to remain on a reliable Wi-Fi network.
The future of enterprise connectivity
Internet connectivity is an essential socioeconomic function, and the capabilities of Wi-Fi 6E through the 6 GHz band offer increased capacity, faster speeds, and decreased latency. As enterprises and the technologies that empower them continue to advance, it is up to IT and network leaders to design and implement networks that provide reliable, secure, and efficient connectivity for users. With the standard for enterprise connectivity rapidly evolving, it is vital for businesses to prepare future-forward networks that will further equip their companies for rapid growth and expansion, and this starts with a collaboration between Wi-Fi 6E and 5G.
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