5G vs Wi-Fi 6: A Comparison of Wireless Technologies

"Charting the Course: Exploring the Boundless Potential of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as Pioneers of Wireless Connectivity in the Modern Era."
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In the world of wireless communication, two technologies have recently taken center stage: 5G and WiFi 6. Both are the latest iterations of their respective technologies, promising faster speeds, lower latency, and the ability to connect more devices simultaneously.

5G, or fifth-generation technology, is the latest iteration of cellular technology, engineered to increase the speed and responsiveness of wireless networks. On the other hand, WiFi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the newest version of the 802.11 standard for wireless network transmissions.

While both 5G and WiFi 6 aim to improve upon their predecessors (4G and WiFi 5, respectively), they do so in different ways and across different applications. This has led to a lot of discussion and, at times, confusion about the two technologies.

We will embark on a journey from the beginning of both 5G and WiFi 6. We will explore their origins, the key milestones in their development, and how they came to be the technologies we know today.

Following this, we will delve into a detailed comparison of 5G and WiFi 6, examining their similarities and differences, and understanding their respective strengths and weaknesses. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of these two pivotal technologies, shedding light on their potential impact on our digital future.

Evolution of Wireless Technologies: From 1G to 5G

Each generation has brought significant advancements, leading to the high-speed, high-capacity networks we see today.

  • 1G – Launched in the late 1970s and early 1980s, 1G was the first generation of wireless cellular technology. It was analog and primarily supported voice calls. The sound quality was low, and there was no security.
  • 2G – Introduced in the early 1990s, 2G marked the shift from analog to digital communications. It introduced features like text messaging (SMS) and picture messages  (MMS). It also provided better quality and capacity.
  • 3G – Launched in the early 2000s, 3G brought about a significant increase in data speeds and network capacity. This enabled mobile internet access, video calling, and mobile TV.
  • 4G – Launched in the late 2000s, provided even faster data speeds and lower latency. It enabled improved mobile web access, gaming services, HD mobile TV, video conferencing, and 3D TV.
  • 5G – The latest generation, 5G, offers extremely fast data speeds, ultra-low latency, and the ability to connect a vast number of devices. It’s designed to support a variety of applications from mobile broadband to IoT.

Wi-Fi Evolution: From 802.11 to Wi-Fi 6

Each iteration of the 802.11 standard represents a leap forward in wireless technology, enhancing speed, capacity, and reliability to meet the demands of an increasingly connected world. These advancements have paved the way for the development of high-speed, high-capacity wireless networks that underpin modern communication and connectivity.

802.11 (1997):

Introduced in 1997, the original 802.11 standard marked the inception of wireless networking technology, providing the foundational protocol for communication within local area networks (LANs). Operating at speeds up to 2 Mbps, this standard laid the groundwork for subsequent advancements in wireless connectivity.

802.11b (1999):

Two years later, the 802.11b amendment revolutionized Wi-Fi technology by boosting data rates to a theoretical maximum of 11 Mbps. This enhancement significantly expanded the practical applications of wireless networking, making it a commercially viable and widely adopted solution.

802.11g (2003):

In 2003, the introduction of 802.11g brought further improvements by combining the widespread 2.4 GHz frequency band of 802.11b with the enhanced data rates of 802.11a, achieving speeds of up to 54 Mbps. This standard’s compatibility and performance made it a popular choice for both home and business networks.

802.11n (Wi-Fi 4, 2009):

Wi-Fi 4, also known as 802.11n, emerged in 2009 as a significant milestone in wireless technology. It supported dual-band operation (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) and introduced Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology, enabling speeds of up to 600 Mbps. This standard addressed the growing demand for faster and more reliable wireless connections.

802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5, 2013):

By 2013, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) set a new benchmark for wireless performance, operating exclusively in the 5 GHz frequency band and achieving data rates of up to 6.8 Gbps. This standard introduced advancements like wider channel bandwidths and more efficient modulation techniques, catering to bandwidth-intensive applications and multimedia streaming.

802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6, 2019):

The latest iteration, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), introduced in 2019, addresses the evolving needs of modern wireless networks. Operating in both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, Wi-Fi 6 supports speeds up to 9.6 Gbps, reduces latency, and enhances network efficiency through features like Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and Target Wake Time (TWT). This standard is designed to accommodate the increasing number of connected devices and deliver superior performance in dense deployment scenarios.

Where is 5G used ?

Where is wifi 6 used ?

5G Applications:

  • Mobile Networks: 5G is primarily used in mobile networks to provide high-speed data connectivity.
  • Internet of Things (IoT): 5G supports IoT devices, enabling faster and more reliable connections for smart devices.
  • Autonomous Vehicles: The low latency of 5G is crucial for autonomous driving applications.
  • Remote Healthcare: 5G can support remote medical services, including telemedicine and remote surgery.
  • Smart Cities: 5G technology can be used to connect infrastructure, transportation, and public safety systems in smart cities.

Wi-Fi 6 Applications:

  • High-Definition Applications: Wi-Fi 6 provides predictable performance for advanced applications such as 4K or 8K video, high-density, high-definition collaboration apps, and all-wireless offices.
  • Home Networks: Wi-Fi 6 is commonly used in home networks to connect a variety of devices, including laptops, smartphones, smart TVs, and smart home devices.
  • Public Venues: Wi-Fi 6 is ideal for crowded public spaces like airports, stadiums, and shopping malls, providing efficient and reliable connectivity to large numbers of users.

In summary, 5G is primarily used for mobile applications, IoT deployments, and mission-critical services requiring high-speed, low-latency connectivity, whereas Wi-Fi 6 excels in indoor environments, smart homes, offices, and venues with high device density, offering efficient and cost-effective connectivity. Both technologies play complementary roles in enabling diverse use cases and enhancing connectivity across different environments.

5G and wifi 6 - Strengths / Weakness / Challenges / Limitations

5G Strengths 

  • High Speed: With 5G, you could download a full-length HD movie in seconds, which would take minutes on a 4G network. This is because 5G can offer peak data rates up to 20 Gbps, while 4G tops out at 100 Mbps.
  • Increased Efficiency: It offers a substantial increase in network efficiency compared to 4G.
  • Backward Compatibility: It is backward compatible with 4G and 3G devices.
  • Low Latency: 5G provides ultra-low latency, which is crucial for applications like autonomous driving and remote healthcare.
  • Energy Efficiency: 5G uses less power than 4G since it can rapidly switch to low-energy use when cellular radios are not in use.

5G Weaknesses



  • Infrastructure Cost: Developing infrastructure for 5G networks requires high cost.
  • Device Compatibility: Many of the old devices would not be compatible with 5G, hence, all of them need to be replaced with new ones.
  • Security Concerns: There are concerns about network security with 5G.

5G Challenges and Limitations:

  • Network Security: 5G networks, like their predecessors, are not immune to security threats. However, the risks are amplified due to the sheer volume of devices that will be connected and the sensitive nature of the data they will handle.
  • Cost of Infrastructure Development: The transition from 4G to 5G is not a simple upgrade; it requires a complete overhaul of existing infrastructure. This includes the deployment of new antennas and base stations, as well as the installation of high-speed fiber connections to these sites.
  • Ecosystem Availability: The full potential of 5G can only be realized when a complete ecosystem of 5G-enabled devices and applications is available.

Wi-Fi 6 Strengths 

  • Increased Performance: Wi-Fi 6 delivers about four times greater wireless performance in congested settings than Wi-Fi 5.
  • Efficient Power Usage: The battery life of Wi-Fi 6 client devices has been enhanced due to a new feature called Target Wake Time (TWT), With Target Wake Time (TWT), a Wi-Fi 6 enabled device like a smartphone can negotiate when and how often they will wake up to send or receive data, allowing it to spend more time in sleep mode, thus saving battery life. For instance, IoT devices that need to update their status only a few times a day can use TWT to drastically improve their battery life.
  • High Data Rates: Wi-Fi 6 offers faster data speeds, lower latency, and improved capacity for connected devices.

Wi-Fi Weaknesses



  • Cost: Devices equipped with Wi-Fi 6 technology are expensive.
  • Broadband Connection: You need to have a Gigabit class broadband connection to fully utilize Wi-Fi 6 technology.
  • Network Range: While Wi-Fi 6 has improved performance, its range might still be a concern. For example, in a large house, you might still experience dead zones or areas where your Wi-Fi signal is weak, especially if the router is far away or if there are physical obstructions like walls and floors.

Wi-Fi 6 Challenges and Limitations:

  • Narrower OFDM Subcarrier Spacing: In Wi-Fi 6, the subcarrier spacing is reduced from 312.5 kHz to 78.125 kHz, making the transmission more efficient. However, this requires good phase noise oscillators and highly linear RF front ends. For example, in a high-speed train, the narrower OFDM subcarrier spacing of Wi-Fi 6 can provide stable and high-speed internet connectivity, but it requires advanced hardware to achieve this
  • Tight EVM Specification: Wi-Fi 6 uses 1024-QAM to achieve higher data rates, which requires a tight EVM (Error Vector Magnitude) specification. For instance, to accurately decode the densely packed information in a 1024-QAM signal, the signal must have very low distortion, which is challenging to achieve in real-world conditions.

Complementary Roles of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 in Diverse Environments

While 5G and WIFI 6  have their unique strengths and applications, they also complement each other in various environments. Let’s explore some examples to illustrate this synergy.

Smart Homes: In a smart home, both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 can play crucial roles. Wi-Fi 6, with its ability to connect more devices simultaneously and efficiently, can be used for connecting smart devices within the home, such as smart TVs, smart lights, and smart appliances. On the other hand, 5G, with its high speed and low latency, can be used for tasks that require real-time response, such as security systems or remote control of devices from outside the home.

Autonomous Vehicles: In the case of autonomous vehicles, 5G can provide the necessary high-speed, low-latency connectivity for vehicles to communicate with each other and with traffic management systems in real-time, which is critical for safe and efficient operation. Inside the vehicle, Wi-Fi 6 can provide high-speed connectivity for passengers to stream entertainment, conduct video calls, or access other online services.                       

Healthcare: In a hospital, Wi-Fi 6 can be used to connect various medical devices and systems within the building, providing reliable, high-speed connectivity for patient monitoring, medical imaging, and administrative tasks. 5G, on the other hand, can enable new applications such as remote surgery, where a surgeon performs a procedure on a patient who is in a different location, using a robotic system controlled over a 5G network.

Industrial Automation: In an industrial setting, 5G can enable real-time control of machinery and equipment, support predictive maintenance, and facilitate the use of augmented reality (AR) for training and troubleshooting. Wi-Fi 6 can provide robust, high-speed connectivity in control rooms, offices, and other areas within the facility.                                                                                                                                                        

Current situation and the Future

5G Technology

Current Situation: As of now, 5G technology is being rapidly deployed worldwide.However, the full potential of 5G is yet to be realized as it requires significant infrastructure investments. In India, 5G is projected to account for nearly 40 percent of mobile subscriptions – 500 million – by the end of 2027

5G Technology

Future: The future of 5G looks promising with expectations of it enabling $13.2 trillion in global economic value by 2035. It’s expected to revolutionize industries by enabling real-time collaboration, supporting high-quality content, and enabling new applications and services.

Wi-Fi 6 Technology

Current Situation: Wi-Fi 6 has been officially released and Wi-Fi 6-enabled hardware is now becoming the norm. However, its full potential is yet to be realized as it requires new hardware and infrastructure investments.

Wi-Fi 6 Technology

Future: Wi-Fi 6 is set to change the future of IoT with its ability to connect virtually every item imaginable. It’s expected to strengthen Wi-Fi’s ability to support high traffic loads, hyperdense deployments, and latency-sensitive services with increased spectrum efficiency, range, reliability, and security.

Final Observations on 5G and Wi-Fi 6

In the landscape of wireless communication, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 emerge as transformative technologies, each with its unique trajectory and potential. 5G, with its high-speed, low-latency capabilities, is set to revolutionize mobile networks, IoT, autonomous vehicles, remote healthcare, and smart city applications. Its deployment is ongoing, and its future promises significant economic value and innovation across various industries.

Wi-Fi 6, on the other hand, enhances indoor wireless experiences, offering increased performance, efficiency, and connectivity for homes, public venues, and enterprises. It is poised to play a pivotal role in the IoT revolution, providing the backbone for a myriad of connected devices.

Together, these technologies are not just parallel advancements but are complementary, each filling gaps the other leaves, and together, they are shaping a new era of connectivity. As we look to the future, the synergy between 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of our increasingly digital and interconnected world. The journey from their inception to their current state underscores a relentless pursuit of progress, and their evolution will continue to be a testament to human ingenuity in the quest for seamless communication.

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