5G and Wi-Fi are both network options that provide high speeds, low latency and large user capacities. While Wi-Fi and 5G are often pitted against each other, both technologies are needed to take full advantage of the internet of tomorrow. 5G undoubtedly comes in handy in many situations, while Wi-Fi is still being developed and updated and will continue to be useful in many other circumstances. Ideally, these systems can end up working together to improve the wireless network.

What’s the Difference?

Wi-Fi and 5G mobile communication bring different strengths and limitations to the table; both Wi-Fi and 5G can meet gigabit speeds with low latency suitable for gaming and other applications. There are, however, a few key places where they differ:

  • Flexibility, capacity and scalability: Generally, Wi-Fi is easier to deploy and can support large organizations that need to connect many users in relative proximity. On the other hand, 5G offers plenty of flexibility; once the infrastructure is in place, 5G can support a massive range of distributed users and applications across various devices and can keep a more stable level of performance even when a large number of users are connected at once.
  • Privacy and security: Wi-Fi networks authenticate user access, while 5G authenticates device access; both can be configured to meet compliance and security standards. It's hard to say which is "more secure." Although 5G's approach to network segmentation and device authorization has its advantages, Wi-Fi 6 has also improved.
  • Speed, latency and resilience: Wi-Fi typically exceeds mobile networks in speed and latency. However, 5G is comparable to Wi-Fi in terms of overall speed; specifically, the latency in 5G is comparable to that of Wi-Fi. Furthermore, resilience is one of the strengths pushed by 5G proponents in its ability to divide mobile bandwidth into “slices.” This has led many to see 5G as a resilient network solution, which is important for IoT networks, where 5G is most likely to be deployed.
  • Device adoption: Consumer computers haven’t adopted the additional hardware needed to provide 5G connectivity. In addition to supporting Wi-Fi connections, these devices lack support for 5G and associated hardware (like SIM cards), which means that switching computers in and out of use isn’t possible on 5G, nor is supporting users and bring-your-own-device situations. Wi-Fi, however, will remain backward compatible with associated bands.

Is Wi-Fi or 5G Best for Businesses?

Eventually, most businesses will use a combination of 5G and Wi-Fi technologies, including local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs), which are secure and compliant with Wi-Fi standards; 5G mobile networks using secure Wi-Fi resources; and IoT devices with 5G connectivity that run on cloud platforms over Wi-Fi and fiber.

Nowadays, Wi-Fi local networks are still recommended over 5G for most enterprises with commercial spaces based on the differences noted above because they are flexible, reliable and cost-effective. In addition, they can provide the security and customization needed to meet dozens of different applications. It is not an either-or situation. The challenge today is that enterprises often deploy several different types of connectivity solutions, each linked to a specific application or use case, and therefore have to manage the complexity of having fragmented systems and a large number of interfaces.

The reality is that private cellular networks (LTE or 5G) will continue to co-exist with Wi-Fi and other connectivity solutions. It’s a combination of different fixed and wireless connectivity solutions known as hybrid networking, and it’s expected to continue in the predictable future. Ultimately, enterprises should focus on understanding where and when each connectivity solution is best suited, finding potential network synergies and taking advantage of any opportunity for consolidation.

According to Statista, 5G subscriptions are forecast to increase drastically worldwide from 2019 to 2027, from over 12 million to over 4 billion subscriptions, respectively. Moreover, according to a report by MarketsandMarkets, the global Wi-Fi market size is projected to grow from US$12.3 billion in 2022 to US$31.3 billion by 2027, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.4% during the forecast period. The increasing adoption of BYOD and CYOD trends among organizations is driving the growth of the Wi-Fi market.

Most of us rely on a Wi-Fi network at home, in the office and in coffee shops and switch to mobile networks when stepping out the front door and moving out of range of the router. Phones switch automatically, and no one gives it any thought; the important thing is simply having a good connection at all times. That scenario will continue to be the case for the vast majority of people as 5G continues to roll out. The difference is that both mobile networks and Wi-Fi are going to see their performance improve.

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