The Winding Road to 5G


The future of Wi-Fi is tied in many ways to the future of 5G. Although there is no clear definition of 5G, one thing is clear, some of the key trends currently driving developments in the Wi-Fi ecosystem will be fundamental to the creation and growth of 5G.

The NGMN Alliance published a white paper in March of 2015 that summarizes what industry stakeholders are thinking about the core goals of 5G. Essentially, the vision for 5G is to create network that:

  • Provides far greater throughput, lower latency, and higher connection density
  • Can cope with a wide range of use cases and business models, a high degree of flexibility, and scalability by design
  • Leverages foundational shifts in cost and energy efficiency
  • Offers the end user a consistent customer experience achieved across time and service footprint
  • Is a truly global 5G ecosystem, free of fragmentation and open for innovations


In the Beginning, There Was Analog

The evolution of wireless networks can be described as an ongoing effort to fix the flaws of the previous technology. The first generation of mobile network technology emerged in the 1980s using analog technology. In the 1990s, GSM was introduced to fix the security flaws of analog telephony. Then 3G came along to fix GSM’s lack of mobile data. After that, 4G arrived to increase data speeds and make consuming data more of a pleasant experience. Today, we are in need of a new technology that must meet a long and growing list of data demands. Enter 5G.

Learning from the Wi-Fi Community

Those involved in the 5G effort stand to learn a great deal from the Wi-Fi community. That’s because they share a variety of challenges. Those challenges include creating a unifying access layer for an enormous number of device types and protocols as well as meeting the current and future demands of the IoT.

Wi-Fi, because of its open ecosystem, is a flexible platform that can adapt easily to new devices and use cases. Additionally, it has the capability to unify an incredibly diverse ecosystem. It is these essential qualities that enable Wi-Fi to drive the market.

One of the fundamental challenges for 5G is to find a more flexible way to use the limited number of spectrums. Fortunately, the Wi-Fi community already has knowledge in this area. Their real world experience comes from the 60 Ghz and WiGig efforts. Also, the Wi-Fi community has a long history of dealing with increased reliance on spectrum sharing.

The contributions of the Wi-Fi community don’t stop there. Their understanding of how to manage densification, virtualization, ultra-low latency, and expansions of MIMO smart antennas can help speed up the development and implementation of 5G.

5G and the Internet of Things

Until recently, mobile communication has been focused on human-controlled devices. The primary concern was providing speed and capacity for our smart phones, laptops, and tablets. Now, we are beginning to focus more heavily on autonomous devices and machines, and how they communicate with each other. This means that the road to 5G will help us develop and manage the IoT.

A significant challenge in this area is getting the mobile industry involved in the standardization process. That’s because we are entering an era where consumers are expecting to have a satisfying customer with wearables, household appliances, and their cars. On the business side, companies in the automotive, energy, healthcare, industrial, and retail markets will expect their devices to be fast, low cost, secure, manageable, reliable, interoperable, and scalable.

Clearly, the broadening of the ecosystem will accelerate with the evolution of the IoT. An ever-growing universe of use cases will continue to drive the development of both 5G and Wi-Fi. We will be providing more insights ahead of the release of the new report on carrier Wi-Fi sponsored by the Wireless Broadband Alliance to be released at the Wi-Fi Global Congress next month. 

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).