Wireless Broadband Alliance outlined a path to a ‘tighter coupling’ of Wi-Fi and 5G
When it comes to how Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will work together in future networks, coexistence is said to be the only Wi-Fi and cellular combo really present today. However, there is also a strong case for Wi-Fi 6 and 5G convergence, which would mean that the two technologies are combined into a single radio network pillar for some larger venues. According to the Wireless Broadband Alliance, Wi-Fi and 5G convergence is critical for the enablement of new applications and services, a conclusion that is outlined in a recent whitepaper led by partners Broadcom, Cisco, Intel and Orange.
The latest whitepaper is an expansion of the one released in 2019. While the first whitepaper explored the benefits and use-cases of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G convergence, this iteration provides a breakdown of the current standards and key business opportunities for operators, which are outlined below:
- Public & Enterprise Wi-Fi: Increases deployment possibilities and scenarios for operators and access providers, allowing them to deliver a more seamless user experience and maintain better visibility and overall control of the networks.
- Industry 4.0: The potential use of both 5G NR and Wi-Fi access dramatically improves connectivity and traffic steering on the factory floor across both accesses, facilitating greater utility of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
- Smart City: 5G NR and Wi-Fi access can interoperate to create uninterrupted connections, and traffic to data-hungry edge applications can be more easily managed.
- At home: The availability of both accesses allows a mix of traffic options in residential applications to boost connectivity and provide a more well-rounded end-user experience.
- Wi-Fi only devices: Convergence enables the availability and reach of 5G services and applications to more devices in many more locations with the support for Wi-Fi only devices.
“The convergence of Wi-Fi 6, 6E and 5G is a win-win scenario for end-users, cellular and Wi-Fi players,” said WBA CEO Tiago Rodrigues. “The continued development of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 and 6E networks presents almost limitless potential for industry 4.0, residential connectivity, connected smart cities and more, but convergence is critical for all parties if we are to truly capitalize on the potential this technology has to offer.”
The report also lays out “critical action areas” for industry bodies and operators related to WLAN integration with the 5G core and enabling QoS differentiation for 5G flows over WLAN access, breaking the suggestions down into five key areas: 5G and Wi-Fi convergence architecture; multi-access functionality for Access Traffic Steering, Switching and Splitting (ATSSS); End-to-end QoS (Quality-of-Service); policy interworking and enhancements across 5G and Wi-Fi; and support for Wi-Fi only devices.
Specifically, the “tighter coupling” of Wi-Fi access and the 5G gateway functions for WLAN is indicated as a critical potential convergence architecture enhancement. Other ideas for advancing convergence outlined in the report include providing QoS differentiation within WLAN for 5G flows to enable end-to-end QoS and supporting Wi-Fi-only devices without SIM capability in the 5G system.
According to the WBA, industry regulators and standards bodies are hard at work actively developing the convergence landscape, including 3GPP and IEEE.
“Historically, cellular and fixed/Wi-Fi services have been delivered and consumed as independent offerings, limiting the service experience for customers,” said Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer at BT Group. “With advances in convergence, the dividing lines are beginning to blur, and that’s great news. Customers can increasingly focus on what they use their connectivity for, rather than how it is delivered. End-users and the industry at large stand to gain massively from convergence between Wi-Fi and 5G, but only if we, as operators, infrastructure and device vendors, act together to fully define and deliver these new converged solutions.”
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