Once relegated to coffee shops, by 2020 there will be more than 549 million global public and cable company-run Wi-Fi hot spots. As we strive to browse more, stream more, and download more, our networks will need to scale up to meet consumer demands. Enter two different visions on how companies plan to fulfill that need. While cellphone carriers can’t quit Wi-Fi just yet, that doesn’t mean they aren’t eyeing the exit. Developing 5G cellular networks will increase competition between cellular network providers and Wi-Fi connection providers, according to a new analysis from the Wall Street Journal.
Wi-Fi and cellular networks are similar in that both will enable you to stream Netflix’s Black Mirror, or whichever show you’re streaming at present. The major differences are that cellular networks provide coverage over a large area through cellphone carriers like AT&T and Verizon, while Wi-Fi covers a more localized area and delivers a connection to the internet from Internet Service Providers.
5G networks promise to more cheaply link multiple devices to cellphone networks which network providers would love as it means more traffic and more revenue. Ronan Dunne, head of Verizon Communications Inc.’s new consumer-focused unit, told the WSJ that many customers should be able to get rid of Wi-Fi at home once 5G is rolled out and new technologies spread its signal throughout homes. But to see a world without Wi-Fi, device manufacturers would need to replace almost all the internet-connected machines on the market, adding the cost of a cellular chip to gadgets currently without one.
Wi-Fi networks are also growing into a new generation of their own. A trade group of companies which provide Wi-Fi connectivity called the Wi-Fi Alliance recently announced Wi-Fi 6 as the industry designation for its own next generation. Wi-Fi 6 boasts faster download speed, faster even than early 5G spec, although it will depend on the capabilities of your home router.
Both Wi-Fi and cell network providers are in a race to offer the best connection in a bid to win over consumers. While the jury is still out on whether or not 5G connectivity will be beneficial to consumers the Federal Communications Commission is taking the first step in opening up the bandwidth of radio frequencies both forms of next-gen networks will depend on. Impressive strides are being made in an attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of new networks, such as the first 5G-powered surgical telementoring. Whether consumers are ready or not, new networks are coming.
READ MORE: Cellphone Carriers Envision World Without Wi-Fi [Wall Street Journal]