The Industry Sets its Sights on the Convergence and Coexistence of Wi-Fi and 5G

A seamlessly-connected and powerfully-smart future is on the horizon, as we approach the commercial launch of 5G. 5G will enable not just people but also things both big and small to connect opportunistically to heterogeneous systems of wireless networks—changing the way we do business and experience the world around us. Supporting the growing bandwidth demands of mobile broadband users, along with the escalating volume of machine-type communications from use cases such as smart transportation, manufacturing, smart cities, and more, will require tapping into licensed, unlicensed and shared spectrum, across spectral ranges including mid- and high-band, leveraging a variety of access technologies.

As the industry works to finalize the standards and technologies that will define 5G, it’s becoming evident that the work done to operationalize unlicensed spectrum offers more than just the opportunity to increase capacity by offloading traffic, but also the ability to leverage and iterate on vital learnings delivered by Wi-Fi – the leading unlicensed technology – to meet IMT-2020 5G requirements. As a board member of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), I am pleased to announce that the WBA has released a new white paper titled 5G Networks: The Role of Wi-Fi and Unlicensed Technologies. Co-authored by Intel, the paper is part of a series of white papers on 5G and Wi-Fi released by the WBA.

The paper focuses on the aspects of 5G that are most relevant to Wi-Fi. First, it examines the standardization landscape and potential business use cases for 5G, summarizing findings from leading industry bodies including the ITU, 3GPP, NGMN, 5GPPP, Small Cells Forum, IEEE, IETF and Broadband Forum. Next, it discusses the known evolution of Wi-Fi and its intersection with emerging 5G requirements and timeframes, with the added context of newly available unlicensed bands. It then explores the impacts 5G on Wi-Fi networks and potential challenges that may be presented. Finally, it suggests a roadmap for the convergence and coexistence of Wi-Fi and 5G—outlining a series of next steps the WBA, and its members must take to prepare for 5G business models and use cases.

A central theme that emerges within the paper is the impact Wi-Fi will have on 5G, both from a technical perspective (such as the use of EAP authentication framework) and from a business perspective (including the focus on new vertical value propositions). Many of 5G’s characteristics will be influenced by Wi-Fi, aiming to capture the same level of efficiency and performance. However, it’s a reciprocal relationship as 5G, in turn, will necessitate the evolution of Wi-Fi to keep pace with its diverse requirements. Standardization and industry bodies are making great headway toward the 2020 implementation goal, but challenges remain in bridging licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

The WBA identified gaps regarding the coexistence of technologies, convergence of services, and certification and operator guidelines. As 5G and Wi-Fi continue to shape and be shaped by each other, WBA stakeholders will need to fast-track solutions for items including seamless authentication; aggregated access; MEC-enabled service delivery; extreme real-time communications; network slicing; high-speed transport use cases; roaming for non-3GPP subscription identifiers, and keying hierarchies—all of which are explored in more detail within the white paper.

Solving for these issues will enable a range of new use cases, going beyond the consumer applications of the past into new verticals like vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X), smart factories, high-density cities, and public safety solutions. In a world where everything is smart and connected, 5G will enable consumers, businesses, municipalities, and industries to unlock the power of IoT.

Much work remains to be done, but efforts by organizations such as WBA, with contributions from Intel, are pushing 5G forward. The WBA is one of more than 250 standards and industry groups that Intel participates in worldwide. As a member of Intel’s Communications and Devices Group, as well as the Board of the WBA, I’m proud of the work we are doing—through technical expertise, research, and policy advocacy—to help define the 5G network, technologies, and solutions of tomorrow.

For more in-depth analysis of these and other issues relating to the integration of 5G and Wi-Fi, download WBA’s white paper today.