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The Convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G

Wi-Fi and 5G RAN Convergence_030421A
[Wi-Fi and 5G RAN Convergence - Wireless Broadband Alliance]

- Overview

Wi-Fi and cellular convergence is the idea of integrating Wi-Fi into a mobile or cable operator's core network. This would create a seamless connectivity experience.

The convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular access technologies is critical to the long-term success of 5G. The 5G and Wi-Fi RAN Convergence whitepaper, developed by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), provides a breakdown of the current standards and key business opportunities for operators. 

The convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular networks can bring access to 5G and enterprise services from both Wi-Fi and 5G access networks. The simplified diagram shows Wi-Fi service integration with the new service-based 5G Core (5GC) introduced in 3GPP release 15 (untrusted) and 16 (trusted). 

Both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G can theoretically provide gigabit speeds, which are often more than enough for most businesses. In a controlled environment, Wi-Fi 6 can achieve 9.6 Gbps while 5G can do up to 20 Gbps.


- The Benefits of Wi-Fi and 5G RAN Convergence

The convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G can provide significant benefits, including: 
  • Mobility: Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity can be combined seamlessly indoors and outdoors. This can be useful for connecting autonomous vehicles that roam indoor/outdoor campuses.
  • Access to services: Access to 5G and enterprise services can be provided from both Wi-Fi and 5G access networks.
  • New capabilities: Operators will be deploying new 5G networks and new capabilities across their cellular networks.

Some signs of convergence are already apparent, such as Wi-Fi 6 offering orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA}.

- Wi-Fi and 5G: Perfect Together

5G is becoming available in different regions and will be prevalent across most of the world in the next couple of years. Wi-Fi 6 is also available and like it’s cellular cousin promises enhanced Gigabit broadband speeds, low latency, lower battery consumption and supports a greater number of users and devices. 

Indeed, Wi-Fi 6 share many similar attributes with 5G and this makes them perfect together. The convergence idea is that if there is a network that is providing a certain service, from the standpoint of the mobile or cable operator, they integrate Wi-Fi into their core network. With Wi-Fi 6 and 5G convergence, the connectivity experience would be completely seamless.

Currently, when a cellular network is deployed, there are always some centralized pieces of hardware and software that manage the base station. But, with Wi-Fi 6 and 5G convergence, finally, there is a new interface that allows the carrier to really say that Wi-Fi is just one more radio in their aggregate strategy.

As service providers build out their 5G networks in public areas (stadiums, parks, etc.) and for their enterprise customers (office complexes, campus’, factories, etc.) there should ideally be a seamless user experience across the two wireless access types. This seamless heterogenous network will allow both service providers and enterprise use the best radio of each particular scenario – resulting in better ROI and happier customers.


- 5G Wi-Fi RAN Convergence

Businesses and operators stand to gain a great deal from the seamless integration of Wi-Fi and cellular access in 5G networks, with convergence between 5G access technologies critical for enabling a new breed of services, applications and experiences such as Industry 4.0, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), connected cities and edge computing, etc..

When it comes to how Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will work together in future networks, coexistence is a common diagnosis among those in the industry, and 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.

Cellular and Wi-Fi operators, equipment manufacturers and end-users all stand to benefit a great deal from the continued convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, especially with the release of Wi-Fi 6 and the continued development of 5G networks. 5G and Wi-Fi convergence can enable unique and complementary capabilities of both access to provide seamless and interoperable services to serve end-users.


- Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) Rolls Out Roadmap for 5G, Wi-Fi 6 Convergence

The rules to connect to that Wi-Fi are defined by the mobile operator itself and when you attach to those networks, you are using all the services you would use in 5G on the Wi-Fi connection. Continuity. it would be completely seamless. The vision is that when I turn my data on, everything is converged, so someone else decides what is best for me, depending on what I pay for my data and on network metrics. 

Some of those technical details of convergence were highlighted in a study published by 3GPP, which examined the feasibility of convergence by looking specifically at LAN support for 5G and how 5G LAN-type services could provide LAN emulation capability that works with both Wi-Fi and mobile wireless networks. This, the study posits, would eliminate the need for a Wi-Fi backbone, and Wi-Fi and mobile devices would connect to a single radio network that is based on 5G technology. 

In addition, the 3GPP standards have announced the adoption of unlicensed spectrum at 6 GHz, the same spectrum allocated for Wi-Fi 6, as a good indication that convergence will occur because this opens up the opportunity for a distributed antenna system (DAS) to support both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, which would communicate with both Wi-Fi and mobile devices.



[More to come ...]

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