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5G is almost here, WiFi 6 … too!

The two wireless communities, the one led by telecom industry and the one by the computer industry are delivering their next generation connectivity … Image credit: Rawpixel

5G is just round the corner (a few are claiming it is already here but I beg to differ) and it will bring very little perceivable changes to 99% of what we are doing. You will be very hard to tell if you are talking using 5G or 4G (or 3G…). Actually, it will be unlikely that you will be using 5G when making a voice call! 4G initially did not support voice calls, it was limited to data connection, than Operators started to implement VoLTE (Voice over LTE) and we started also talking using 4G (but we couldn’t tell the difference). Same will happen with 5G. Actually, a WhitePaper released by Huawei is urging to keep expanding VoLTE as a way to move towards Vo5G (Voice over 5G).

There are several data services letting us to make voice calls and each of them uses its particular way of coding the voice, resulting in different quality and using different amount of bytes. Here n the graphic a test of several voice over data providers measuring the amount of bytes per minute of voice call. Credit: Android Authority

Notice, by the way, that a portion of our voice calls are actually … data calls. That is the case when using Skype, Whatsapp and the likes (see the graphic to learn how much a minute of voice call means in terms of data communications).

So, it should not come as a surprise that we will be start using 5G for data communications (that by the way is what we normally do with our smartphone!) and in data communications the most perceivable advantages will derive from small cells, since these are the ones that will support higher bandwidth, and we will be able to appreciate the difference.

Of course the problem with small cells is that .. they are small, so it takes quite a bit of investment to cover a large area. Indoor, the story is different, since indoor you are forced to have small cells.

However, indoor is the place where we also use WiFi and WiFi is not sitting still waiting to be taken over by 5G.

Over these last 20 years of wireless evolution we have seen the parallel, uncoordinated evolution of computer driven wireless (basically the IEEE 802 standards) and the Telco driven wireless evolution (basically the 3GPP standards).  The 5G architecture is designed to cooperate and provide seamless integration of WiFi by transferring the session control to the device, like the smartphone (whether Operators will be willing to hand over the session control to terminals is quite a different story).

WiFi has already deployed its version 5, that is IEEE 802.11ac that on the 5GHz band can reach 1.3Gbps of bandwidth.  Now WiFi 6, aka IEEE 802.11ax,  is about ready, it should arrive in a few months, and support a bandwidth of 4.8Gbps over the 5GHz band (and 1.1 Gbps over the 2.4GHz band). You can get a nice overview of WiFi evolution and of the coming WiFi 6 here.

Although WiFi 6 will become the standard for PCs, tablets and smartphones in the coming years, it is most likely that it will be firstly adopted by building hosting offices, where increased bandwidth provide a stronger advantage.

A nice characteristics of WIFi 6 is that its coding mechanisms is less sensitive to interference (hence it is able to sustain higher bit rates even when several WiFi areas overlap) and is less power hungry, thus extending our devices battery life. It also uses a better MIMO version (Multiple Input Multiple Output) that supports multiple bi-directional communications (today’s WiFi support only multiple downloading at the same time but not multiple uploading -requests). Like for 5G, today there are only very few devices and network gateways that support WiFi 6 but by the end of 2019 their number is bound to explode.

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