The focus of the wireless industry in 2019 has been heavily on cellular technologies because of the first deployments of 5G networks in markets like the USA and South Korea. These events have, perhaps inevitably, sparked discussion about ‘standard wars’. Will 5G make Wi-Fi (and other unlicensed spectrum technologies) redundant, especially when it is standardized for unlicensed bands itself? Or conversely, is 5G too late, and facing an uphill battle to unseat Wi-Fi in the enterprise and hotspot markets on which its business case often rests?
Such discussions miss the point which stakeholders in all areas of the communications industry repeatedly make. As the Wireless Broadband Alliance put it: “Wi-Fi will be a core component of 5G communication technologies and Wi-Fi will have a significant impact on the definition of 5G, which will seamlessly integrate with future IMT-2020(5G) standards.”
The new generation of connectivity and wireless services will have to support an unprecedented variety of use cases, each with its own different network requirements. No single technology will support every one of these optimally. Instead, service providers will need to harness a variety of spectrum bands, radio technologies and ecosystems to support all the required capabilities. Increasingly, it will be more realistic to integrate Wi-Fi, cellular and wireline connectivity at multiple layers of the network, thanks to virtualized, converged cores and new network orchestration tools.
All that will culminate in network slicing, a technology that allows a particular service to call up a virtualized, dedicated network for as long as required, combining and re-combining different radio and cloud resources to achieve the optimal end-to-end connectivity.
Slicing is years away from wide-scale commercial implementation, but it is worth mentioning because it highlights the way the industry is going – towards ever-deeper convergence of cellular, Wi-Fi and wireline technologies, to create a massive pool of capacity in which the individual standards are transparent to the user or device, and even the service provider.
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