As 5G and Wi-Fi 6 technologies have developed in parallel, the necessity for them to be compatible with each other has grown. While convergence (i.e., the integration of Wi-Fi into a mobile or cable operator’s core network) does not appear to be an option in the immediate future, a functional coexistence is well already established.
In this article, we will look at how functional coexistence is playing out today and how convergence might look in the future.
The State of Functional Coexistence Today
According to the Wireless Broadband Association (WBA), there are two ways to consider coexistence: from the network operator’s perspective (looking at the physical layer interaction) or from the user’s perspective (focusing on providing the best connection experience in areas where Wi-Fi and 5G overlap).
The biggest challenge around coexistence at the physical level is eliminating harmful interference between the two technologies; which operate in the same frequency band. To combat this challenge, the WBA has been working on developing industry-standard threshold levels and automated frequency systems for each type of technology to ensure coexistence.
From the user’s perspective, the coexistence question is framed by ensuring users receive optimal service at all times, sparing them the frustration of flipping back and forth on a device between cellular and wireless coverage, trying to achieve the best available connection. The WBA’s answer to this challenge is its OpenRoaming framework. This framework provides automated and secure connections. It also prevents a device from automatically switching to Wi-Fi below a specified data rate threshold.
The next step beyond coexistence is full convergence, which would take the automation of the OpenRoaming framework a step further, ensuring optimal performance for all users. Because Wi-Fi 6 and 5G share frequencies it is increasingly likely that the same distributed antenna systems (DAS) in the carriers’ networks will serve both technologies, which could simplify network architecture challenges. From a service standpoint, it’s a win-win situation for each side. Mobile operators will be better able to offer enterprise Wi-Fi management services, while existing enterprise wi-fi customers will gain access to 5G services.
Next week we will run through some potential uses for 5G and Wi-Fi 6 convergence.