Made to work together: Two ways Wi-Fi and 5G coexist

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WBA: Wi-Fi and 5G coexist on the physical layer of a network and in a way that delivers the “best connected” experience

Wireless Broadband Alliance’s (WBA) Director Bruno Tomas told RCR Wireless News that the only way in which Wi-Fi and 5G are currently being used together is through coexistence.

“Today, you don’t have convergence,” he said. “Technically, there is no way that you can say you are deploying a converged Wi-Fi and 5G network or even Wi-Fi and LTE. You just have coexistence.”

He went on to explain that, from the perspective of the WBA, there are two ways to think about how Wi-Fi and 5G coexist: coexistence on the physical layer of the network and what Tomas called the “best connected” coexistence. And each scenario comes with its own challenges.

Physical layer coexistence:

The first way to think about the coexistence of Wi-Fi and 5G on a network is at the physical level where the two technologies are using the same bands. The key here is for each technology to “play nicely together” and effectively stay out of each other’s way.

“When you have 5G NR-U coming into play, for example,” Tomas explained, “you’re using the exact same bands that Wi-Fi has been using for years. Firstly, they will come into the 6 GHz band, so the 3GPP spec already includes a way for 5G to operate completely standalone on this unlicensed band and there must be coexistence metrics in place so there is no harmful interference between the two technologies.”

In an effort to aid this type of coexistence, the WBA is working to develop automated frequency systems and threshold levels for each type of technology.

“At an industry level, we need to agree on those systems and threshold,” Tomas stated.

This, after all, is not too different from the way in which Wi-Fi and 4G coexists currently, which each supported different use cases. The difference is that rather than Wi-Fi solely being used as cellular offload in a large venue or stadium, as is common these days, Wi-Fi 6 may be used in other parts of the venue’s network as well, and for other applications.

Best connection coexistence:

The second way of approaching coexistence is by focusing on the idea of developing a way to ensure that when both Wi-Fi and cellular connections are present, the user is always connected to the technology providing the best, most reliable coverage.

We’ve all been there before: sitting in a café, or even at home, toggling the Wi-Fi button off and on, trying to figure out which is faster, cellular or Wi-Fi.

Tomas eluded to this struggle, asking, “If I have an overlapping Wi-Fi and 5G coverage or Wi-Fi and private LTE coverage, where should I connect? If I’m connected to cellular and go into a venue, what is the best metrics for me to switch and still guarantee quality of service and alignment with my subscription plans?”

In a 5G world, this coexistence, and therefore, this obstacle for users will continue to exist, particularly in large venues. The WBA hopes that its W-Fi OpenRoaming service helps alleviate this challenge by automating which network the user’s device connects to achieve the best coverage.

Tomas explained that the OpenRoaming system allows a connectivity provider to never permit its users’ devices to automatically connect to a Wi-Fi network that has below a 5 megabits per second downlink, for example, but to instead keep them on the cellular connection.

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