With the new WLAN standards 6, 6E and 7, came higher bandwidths for wireless data communication and improved efficiency. However, businesses can only benefit to a limited extent from the switch to the new Wi-Fi versions. This is driving interest in the 5G mobile standard.

In 2019, Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 80.11ax) was launched. In the same year, the Federal Network Agency’s licence auction for the roll-out of 5G networks took place and the awarding of licences for campus networks in the 3.7 GHz band began. Thus, many saw a race opening up between the two technologies.

In the meantime, Wi-Fi 6E has also been released, and the final version of Wi-Fi 7 is to follow next year. With Wi-Fi 6 came the expansion of radio operation to the simultaneous use of 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. In addition, the efficiency of data transmission and multi-user operation (MU-MIMO) was improved so that more net data can be transmitted at the same time.

Wi-Fi 6E additionally uses the 6 GHz spectrum. With Wi-Fi 7, MU-MIMO is to be expanded to 16 parallel streams and higher channel widths will be possible. This all helps to further increase transmission speeds.

 

Significant limitations

But speed is not everything. In the Internet of Things (IoT) and in manufacturing environments, there are other requirements for data transmission – and the WLAN standard cannot always meet them adequately.

One of the most critical applications for wireless data transmission has proven to be the control of autonomous vehicles, such as mobile robots or even transporters in intralogistics. If the vehicles move into the radio range of another WLAN cell, it often happens that the handover takes too long – and the controller stops the robot or AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle) for safety reasons.

Since the frequency ranges used by WLAN are completely open, environments cannot be fully controlled – devices brought along can affect radio traffic just as much as outside interference. Decisive QoS management (Quality of Service) is also not possible with WLAN. And last but not least, there is the danger that unauthorised users can hack into the network to launch attacks.

 

Companies need reliability

It is true that a 5G campus network incurs higher costs than the installation of a WLAN environment. Nevertheless, mobile technology can pay off in the long run if the processes run reliably and without interruption.

This begins with security. Only previously defined users who identify themselves by (e)SIM can dial into the network. The cell change functions practically without interruption, so that no hand-over problems can occur. The number of permitted network nodes per area is much higher with 5G than with WLAN. Similarly, 5G offers support for low-power IoT and geolocalisation or asset tracking.

Furthermore, virtual networks with different characteristics can be set up in parallel via network slicing. Demanding applications can thus be set up with a high priority that combines low latency with a guaranteed minimum bandwidth.

In this way, for example, interference-free 4K video streams are possible in the middle of a stadium where tens of thousands of visitors are simultaneously downloading huge amounts of data with their smartphones. Buisnesses can use camera-equipped drones for condition monitoring even in environments with high sensor density, or control critical production processes based on AI applications with countless measurement and environmental data. In the future, TSN (time-sensitive network) applications will also be possible via 5G.

 

Conclusion

If data transmission or the number of network nodes prove to be a bottleneck, the new WLAN standards may be able to provide relief. However, some requirements of professional users cannot be solved even with Wi-Fi 6 and 7.

Especially when it comes to the reliability of data transmission, 5G is of inestimable advantage. The new mobile radio standard has been specifically developed to meet the requirements of the industry, such as quality of service and the security of data transmission.

Our project experience shows that customers often discover further application possibilities with the development of 5G campus networks, so that more and more processes are based on them. On the other hand, WLAN networks remain in operation, where they prove to be the most efficient – and practicable – solution. Because 5G and Wi-Fi are not a contradiction, but a mutual complement.