Ever since the earliest days of the internet, the trajectory of download speeds has only moved in one direction – upwards. From dial-up to broadband, LAN to wireless and 2G to 4G mobile broadband, we’ve enjoyed a constantly improving service, no matter whether we’re in the home, out on the street or in a business.
The desire for faster, more reliable internet has driven huge improvements in software and hardware implementations across the globe, and that development shows no signs of slowing down.
All of which brings us to 5G – the next generation in mobile broadband. Taking off where 4G left off, 5G is slated to launch this year in earnest, promising faster downloads (up to 10GB per second) and greater bandwidth for those using their smartphones.
It’s promising to completely transform the mobile internet landscape, but is it poised to replace WiFi? The answer is no, and here’s why:
WiFi is Everywhere
Free and private WiFi networks have become hugely commonplace, to the point where WiFi is one of the most ubiquitous and standardised protocols in the entire world.
Today, everything from the phone in your pocket and the watch on your wrist hooks on to local WiFi networks whilst your fridge, smoke alarm and even television make use of the same networks. This install base means that 5G, which requires dedicated hardware to connect to it, simply can’t replace WiFi in homes and business across the world.
Couple this with the fact that according to the WiFi Alliance (the group behind the standard), over half of the worlds internet traffic was carried over WiFi last year and you have some indication of just how important WiFi and guest WiFi is.
WiFi 6 & WiGig are Coming
WiFi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) is on its way, and it’s promising a raft of changes which will fundamentally improve the WiFi experience. Like 5G, this means new hardware will have to be purchased to make use of its features.
However, WiFi 6 features total backwards compatibility, so that no legacy device is left behind. New features include flexible channel sizes for smart network management, support for the 6GHz spectrum, multi-user MMO uplink & downlink and much, much more.
WiGig, also known as 60GHz Wi-Fi is also slated for improvements, with a second-generation standard expected to launch midway through 2019. It’s primary advantage? Speeds up to 10GB per second, just like 5G.
Mobile Internet Remains Impractical
Aside from issues regarding customer uptake and available infrastructure, the fact remains that for the vast majority of customers, the thought of relying on mobile internet alone is an uncomfortable one. The reason for this is twofold.
Firstly, many customers are (and will continue to be) locked into long-term contracts with strict limits on the amount of data they can use. Mobile broadband as a solution for powering every internet-able device, therefore, remains practical.
Secondly, 5G internet relies on frequencies which don’t travel very far and struggle to penetrate buildings. For internal usage then, 5G has a long way to go before its truly usable.
Together, these facts indicate that whilst 5G will indeed revolutionise mobile broadband for a great many around the globe, it won’t replace WiFi in the process.