5G vs. WiFi 6: An In-Depth Comparison

Dan Omalley

Dan Omalley

Expert in 5G
5G vs. WiFi 6

5G vs. WiFi 6 – indeed, this topic has gone too far, as many of us need clarification about picking between them. Which one is better: 5G or WiFi 6? Or are they the same? Well, bot network technologies are evolving to serve end users (like you and me). Both markets are growing for the macro trend of connecting devices and analyzing their generated data.

You can experience increased speed, reduced latency, and improved flexibility of wireless services using any of 5G or WiFi 6. However, there’s a catch!
5G or fifth-gen network provides faster speeds of up to 10 Gbps. It may transform the way we live and work. Regarding speed and performance, 5G networks can provide 50x more speed, 10x less latency, and 1,000x more capacity than 4G/LTE.

Alternatively, WiFi 6 or 802.1ax, the latest WiFi standard, offers faster connections, lower latency, and improved battery life for some devices. Yet, it is expected to continue evolving to support new and emerging applications on the same wireless LAN infrastructure.

After reading the blog, you will get complete ideas about the 5G vs. WiFi 6 comparison. As a tech enthusiast, I will explain things with proper details simply so you can realize the scenarios.

5G - The Fifth Generation Cellular Network

2G, 3G, 4G or LTE, - these are the predecessors of 5G. This cellular technology offers better data speeds and network capacity. Also, the latency of 5G offers seamless wireless communications. It supports new Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) applications. Also, 5G's connectivity is more secure and stable than its predecessors.

5G offers faster connection speeds, more reliable connections, and lower response times than previous networks. It enables new technologies like wide-scale Industrial IoT, automated robotics, and augmented reality.

This network offers users quicker downloads and improved streaming quality - for instance, we watch HD and 4K videos without lagging in our smart devices for 5G networks. We can connect more devices per unit area with higher availability and coverage.

In short, 5G is transforming how we use the internet to access apps and social media by slowly replacing 4G/LTE networks.

WiFi 6 - The Latest Form of Wireless Fidelity or WiFi

WiFi 6 (or simply WiFi) is a wireless standard IEEE defines. It builds upon former generations' capabilities but aims to improve efficiency and speed. Hence, it is a substantial upgrade over its predecessor, with technologies like traffic prioritization, OFDMA, and beamforming contributing to its rate.

WiFi provides more control over data packet division. It allows for dynamic fragmentation based on available signal space, unlike older WiFi standards that divide data packets into fragments of uniform size. It also includes the latest security standard, WPA3, and supports encrypted public WiFi networks.

It operates on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, with WiFi 6E extending into the 6GHz band. Again, WiFi 6 delivers about 4x greater wireless performance in congested settings than WiFi 5 for its improvements in the directional antenna’s Multiple-in Multiple-out (MIMO) capability.

Suppose you want to use WiFi in a heavily congested area. In that case, you can use WiFi for better performance, increased network efficiency, and accommodation of multiple devices. Like 5G, WiFi 6 enhances performance and supports the growing demand for universal connectivity and smart devices.

What are the Components of 5G and WiFi 6?

5G Components

5G Components

5G technology utilizes antennas like Massive MIMO. This MIMO is a preferred option for large-scale deployments to improve end-user experience, capacity, and coverage. Again, these antennas are beneficial in enhancing data rates and capacity. They provide ultra-low latency and high reliability.

You can install these smaller antennas (than traditional ones) on light poles and atop buildings. Then again, phased array antennas are also crucial in 5G technology. They can help attain wider bandwidths, extended coverage,  and better capacity at the millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum.

Increasing the number of antennas in a 5G MIMO antenna array can significantly improve efficiency and capacity. Other 5G network technology components are base stations, small cells, and radio antennas.

WiFi 6 Components

WiFi 6 Components

Significant components of WiFi are routers, access points, and radio signals. They connect devices in a specific range. However, it employs orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) to serve multiple users simultaneously. It also uses multiuser MIMO or MU-MIMO to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously.

Likewise, several manufacturers produce WiFi 6 chipsets, including Intel, NXP, Qualcomm, and Broadcom. In 2020, Broadcom unveiled the BCM4389, the world’s first WiFi 6E customer device. It expanded capabilities to accommodate the 6 GHz band and broader 160 MHz channel bandwidths.

Other manufacturers like Infineon (Cypress), MediaTek, On Semiconductor, MaxLinear (Intel), and Renesas (Celeno) entered the market in 2020, followed by Synaptics, Realtek, Espressif, and Beken in 2021-2022. All these WiFi 6 solutions offer high-speed performance, low latency, and enhanced security, especially in dense environments.

Performance Comparison Between 5G and WiFi 6

In this part, I will discuss the differences between 5G and WiFi regarding various factors.
5G vs. WiFi 6 Performance Comparison

5g vs. WiFi 6 Speed and Data Rates

5G and WiFi 6 are both significant upgrades over their predecessors. They offer promising increases in speed and data rates.

For instance, 5G is expected to deliver peak data rates of up to 20 Gbps. But this doesn’t mean it will consistently offer these maximum data rates, as these are theoretical maximums. Actual speeds may vary depending on the number of devices connected to a single 5G network, the proximity to a 5G base station, and the specific spectrum band being used.

In terms of data rates, WiFi 6 can achieve up to 9.6 Gbps (or 10 Gbps). Indeed, it is over 2x faster than the maximum speed offered by WiFi 5. It can reach 600 Mbps with 80 MHz and 1 spatial stream and up to 9607 Mbps with 160 MHz and 8 spatial streams.

Let’s talk about real-world implementations of 5G and WiFi 6. Well, WiFi performance depends on network congestion and the number of connected devices. Alternatively, 5G customers may experience slower speeds than advertised. Still, these speeds have continued to increase over the last few years. For instance, a recent study found that one 5G service provider offered the fastest 5G download speeds, reaching up to 195.5 Mbps.

WiFi 6 is expected to dominate indoor environments. On the other hand, 5G is more suited for outdoor and larger-scale applications.

WiFi 6 vs 5G Latency

Latency is the duration of transferring data packet units from one place to another. Regarding latency, both 5G and WiFi 6 aim to reduce latency significantly.

5G is designed to offer extremely low latency, with a target of 1 millisecond for ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC). So, it is ideal for applications with real-time communication, like autonomous vehicles and remote surgery (21).

WiFi 6 also aims to reduce latency, particularly in high-density environments. Features like OFDMA and multiuser multiple input, MU-MIMO lessen the time it takes for data to be transferred between devices and the network. This is what I am talking about: the latency of a 5G network.

However, a critical functional difference between 5G and WiFi 6 is 5G’s ability to offer macro-area coverage and high-speed mobility. WiFi was not designed to incorporate them. But it is better for handling network congestion.

Capacity and Device Support

Both network technologies can support a more significant number of devices than their predecessors.

5G can connect up to 1 million devices per square kilometer. It is a significant increase from the 4G LTE‘s capacity. In this way, 5G becomes suitable for densely populated areas and to support the IoT.

Alternatively, WiFi 6 also improves capacity and device support. The features I have talked about can support up to 8 devices simultaneously. It was 4 devices with WiFi 5. Then, individual wireless routers and access points can support up to approximately 250 connected devices.

Licensing

5G and WiFi 6 operate on different types of spectrum – licensed and unlicensed, respectively.

5G is a carrier-based cellular technology. It means that operators run cellular networks on licensed spectrum bands. These licensed bands exist to prevent interference between connected devices. However, 5G has departed previous cellular generations. Now, it operates in both licensed and unlicensed bands.

It may create interference between 5G and WiFi 6 signals near one another and requires extra deployment planning to avoid interference. On the other hand, WiFi 6 operates in unlicensed bands. They do not need permission to use.

Authentication

The authentication process also differs between 5G and WiFi 6.

5G has a different authentication requirement than WiFi networks. So, it’s simple and easy for connected devices to gain access. However, 5G uses several authentication types. It may include 5G Authentication and Key Agreement (AKA), Extensible Authentication Protocol-AKA, and EAP-Transport Layer Security to bolster 5G network security.

WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E devices are required to support WPA3 security. WPA3, or WiFi Protected Access Version 3, is currently the best WiFi security standard, introduced in 2018. It includes several variations, such as WPA3-Personal, designed for individual and home WiFi users.

WPA2 (AES) should be used for maximum security if there are older devices on the network. Similarly, WPA3 will be set if the router and devices are newer and support it.

Users typically require a service set identifier (or network name) and password to access a WiFi 6 network. Additionally, WiFi 6 introduces a new authentication type called Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) for added protection against bad actors.

Cost

You can find a significant difference in the cost of building and using 5G and WiFi 6.

5G offers high-speed connectivity but at higher prices. Operators often need to build their 5G infrastructure from the ground up. It needs heavy investments in equipment and components. For instance, 5G chipsets need more expenditure than the network cards used in WiFi.

Enterprises or large corporations may find 5G hardware affordable over time. It needs to provide a larger coverage area than WiFi 6. They also need to purchase the spectrum to use in their mobile networks.

In the case of private 5G networks, operators can save more money for cellular service. It may become costly if they rely on commercial careers. Set up a private mobile network. Using your fiber or Ethernet backhaul, you can avoid overage and data usage fees.

Even the 5G plug-and-play devices are easy to integrate into IT infrastructure. In this case, you may look at NybSys’s plug-and-play devices. It will be beneficial if you have a large company.

On the other hand, WiFi 6 is typically cheaper to build and use. The unlicensed spectrum doesn’t require license fees to use. Also, WiFi devices are generally more affordable than other networking equipment. However, the coverage will be smaller than 5G.

Network Security

5G networks, while offering new opportunities and capabilities, also present substantial security risks. In fact, these networks are expensive as they involve network security and increased vulnerability concerns. These exposures can arise from factors like misconfigurations, inadequate security or patching, and new vulnerabilities in IoT systems (26).

However, 5G introduces several security concepts. They include security anchor functions, subscription permanent identifiers, and subscription concealed identifiers. These functions enable seamless and secure device reauthentication as a connected device travels between networks. Previous generations like 3G or 4G LTE couldn’t guarantee this.

WiFi security supports the security, particularly with WiFi Protected Access 3 (WPA3). WPA3 bolsters authentication security and encryption and improves upon the shortcomings of its predecessor, WPA2.

Other security measures include encrypting the network and updating all devices with the latest software. Users need to be selective about the apps, programs, and browser extensions for installation. Additionally, using a VPN can provide extra protection on top of built-in router encryption (27).

Where Can You Use 5G and WiFi 6?

5G technology revolutionizes various industries by enabling new applications and use cases. For instance, it can accelerate the application of AI to large-scale data. For example, smart city AI can automatically correlate traffic light data and implement new patterns.

In the construction industry, 5G supports AR and VR for sharing plans and overlaying blueprints on live images of construction sites. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can also benefit from 5G. It can apply to robotic automation on factory floors, autonomous guided vehicles, and real-time predictive maintenance applications.

On the other hand, WiFi 6 is expected to be relied upon in home and office environments. However, here is a chart of common use cases of 5G and WiFi 6 networks:

5G

WiFi6

Airports
Home
Shipyards
Office
Mines
Hotels
Oil & Gas Fields
Academic institutions
Fixed wireless access (FWA)
Hospitals & Clinics
Mobile broadband
Small and medium businesses
Large IoTs
Online gaming
Distribution & Warehousing
Video conferencing
Farming & Agriculture
Consumer IoT
Railroads, Buses & Public Transportation
Stadiums
Smart vehicles
Sports and event venues
Edge computing
Enterprise Office Space
Manufacturing & Industrial IoT

5G Network Slicing for Business

5G Network Slicing

Rather than replacing each other, 5G and WiFi will coexist and work together. In this way, they will create more robust, flexible, and efficient network environments.

5G is seen as a solution for wide-area coverage and high-speed mobility. So, it is ideal for outdoor use cases, autonomous vehicle support, and mobile backhaul. Alternatively, WiFi 6 is better suited for indoor wireless coverage. It offers increased support for IoT-connected devices and high-density wireless service for locations like stadiums and sports venues.

Furthermore, 5G and WiFi can complement each other to enhance network connectivity. For instance, you can use 5G for backhaul connections to WiFi 6 access points. It will provide high-speed internet connections to devices within a local area.

This combination allows the strengths of both technologies to be leveraged. Here, 5G provides wide-area coverage, and WiFi 6 offers high-density local network access.

Interoperability between 5G and WiFi 6 networks also provides seamless connectivity for users as they move between networks. Many modern devices, like smartphones and laptops, now support both technologies. It allows for flexible and efficient use of network resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

WiFi 6 delivers about four times greater wireless performance in congested settings than WiFi 5. In comparison to 5G, WiFi 6 is more accessible and, in most cases, provides a faster connection. However, 5G’s Ultra Wideband technology can offer max download speeds of up to 1 gigabit and average speeds of around 300Mbps. If you are a home internet user, you can choose WiFi; otherwise, use 5G networks.
Definitely, WiFi 6 offers a significant speed improvement over WiFi 5. It can deliver a maximum throughput of 9.6 Gbps(almost 10 Gbps). In practical terms, tests have shown WiFi 6 to be around 177Mbps to 202Mbps faster than WiFi 5. Also, it supports more devices at once.
If you want better internet speeds, faster data transfer rate, and a more stable network connection than WiFi 5, you can use WiFi 6. It increases the number of streams to a new high of 12 across the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, which is 8 in WiFi 5 in a dual-band configuration.

Final Words

So, how was the blog – interesting or complex to understand? I hope there will be no more confusion about 5G vs. WiFi 6. Hence, I am giving you a short concept.
Both networks offer excellent user performance. But in most cases, 5G is good for outdoor applications as it supports a higher band spectrum. It offers around 20 Gbps data rates, 9.6 Gbps in WiFi 6. However, WiFi is better for home and small office uses. You can get better experience with it in such areas.

Our company, NybSys Inc., offers versatile 5G solutions to transform the world. You can contact our team for different networking products and services. We dream of changing the way we think, like public and private 5G vs. WiFi 6 – the discussion you have just read!

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