There are three aspects of 5G that have wondered whether Wi-Fi will become the next redundant technology. This result is particularly true in a COVID-19 world where people have to work from home. This week, I interviewed a new company called Celona, a solution that uses private 5G access points connected to the wired network to address unique problems that I think could spell the end for Wi-Fi. Let me explain.
5G For Home
Before I met with Celona, I already heard that companies had begun to deploy connected LTE or 5G laptop solutions instead of Wi-Fi for their now remote workforce. A considerable number of schools were doing the same thing. The reason was that you could deliver a plug-and-play solution where the user just needed to power the thing up. IT didn’t have to worry about the Wi-Fi access point’s age, whether it had been properly patched, or the employee’s internet provider’s bandwidth and security.
This 5G/LTE pivot was particularly powerful for schools that didn’t have the IT resources to provide dedicated networking support and where teachers just wanted to teach and not become networking or PC techs. And this is before most of the coming home 5G/Wi-Fi access points have begun to replace cable modems or 5G home IoT devices have hit the market (both are coming).
But things get interesting when you learn where Celona has been successful.
The Advantages Of 5G Over Wi-Fi
As I noted in the heading, 5G has four key benefits that could eventually make Wi-Fi redundant. It has very low latency, making it better for simulations (games), robots, and sequenced equipment like you find on a manufacturing floor. It tends to be more robust in noisy environments, particularly over Wi-Fi 5, and it is also more secure. Also, in large areas (like factories and warehouses), the ability for 5G to rapidly hand over the data traffic is critical to mobile unit operations and significantly better than Wi-Fi can currently provide.
Now for latency shops that have deployed 5G access points tend to be heavily automated. This technology was critical for what may be the largest fully automated warehouse in the world. This warehouse has lots of mobile robots that are centrally controlled. This low latency and resistance to noise were critical to assuring the site could operate without collisions resulting from command delays. And, given the workaround would have likely been autonomous robots, the use of this technology significantly reduced the costs of those robots. By centralizing, rather than distributing, much of the intelligence, you gain economies of scale and cost benefits. This deployment’s security aspect is a given because a breach could cause catastrophic failures, and even non-autonomous robots aren’t cheap.
But where security played an even more significant role was with telephones. Some hospitals that use this provide dedicated cell phones to their employees when they start their shifts and turn them in when they go off work. These phones connect to the dedicated and networked 5G access points with dedicated SIMs assuring the calls all route through the system security. Besides, they open the door for better tools often used in wired telephone environments, block phishing and spam calls.
Other implementations allow Cell Phones with dual SIMs to route business calls to the user’s cell phone while still allowing them to make personal calls off their SIM. This solution reduces corporate call costs and eliminates the need for wired dedicated phone handsets.
Wrapping Up: Why Wi-Fi May Become Redundant
The significant advantage that 5G has is greater economies of scale. The natural progression of the network supports cell phones, connected cars, and devices that are placed remotely from homes and offices. Granted, most of these devices also support Wi-Fi but, in those devices, Wi-Fi is redundant because of the limits of Wi-Fi coverage. If you have two technologies that both provide similar benefits, it is always likely that the least critical one, and in this case, Wi-Fi, will eventually get displaced.
That appears to be the path we are on now, but the progression is relatively slow for the moment, and, given 5G service costs, Wi-Fi is cheaper. But with companies like Celona selling 5G access points that are plug-in replacements for Wi-Fi access points, that advantage could, and likely will, be offset, and should these 5G access points get to critical mass, and Wi-Fi is likely done. Timing would be after mid-decade, and there is always a chance that, by then, another alternative technology could emerge, but, right now, companies like Celona suggest we are nearing the end of days for Wi-Fi.