Moving data has never had a one-size-fits-all solution, and it won’t start now. Different jobs require different tools, and there are a number of areas where both Wi-Fi and 5G excel.
If you are planning a network refresh or replacement in the next 6-24 months, and deciding between 5G or Wi-Fi, it is important to take several factors into consideration.
Environment Considerations: Anything that requires constant connectivity over large geographic areas will eventually require 5G to function. For example, a self-driving car can’t hop onto free public Wi-Fi to keep it moving long distances. It will require cellular technology to do that and 5G is great for large, outdoor areas. However, 5G technology needs a clear line of sight and can’t reliably penetrate buildings or solid infrastructures on the manufacturing floor as Wi-Fi can.
Enabling IoT Devices on the Manufacturing Floor: To use 5G on your manufacturing floor, you will need to replace virtually all your IoT devices because most devices today are not 5G compatible. Contrast this to the proliferation of Wi-Fi enabled devices, especially those you already own that can be easily upgraded as needed.
Availability: Currently, 5G is only available in a limited number of cities within the United States. If your plant is in a rural area of the country, you may not have reliable 5G for several years. Wi-Fi has been around for years and the Wi-Fi spectrum continues to grow; most recently with Wi-Fi 6 that can double your bandwidth capacity.
Security & Control: Some people like the ability to outsource connectivity to a third-party 5G provider like AT&T or Verizon. However, that severely limits your ability to control your company’s analytics and security. With Wi-Fi, you can glean real-time, analytic insights from your own network, helping you identify and solve any network issues immediately. Plus, Wi-Fi’s evolution allows you to enhance your security, and new standards like WPA3, a prerequisite for Wi-Fi 6, are bringing new capabilities to keep networks safe.
Price Per Performance: Economically, Wi-Fi still rules from a price per performance perspective. There’s simply no way to deliver more bandwidth for a lower cost. Plus, 5G will require a massive capital expense and time to upgrade your cellular network and infrastructure.
The Bottom Line
5G will not replace Wi-Fi anytime soon. In fact, most enterprises that begin the move to 5G do so in tandem with Wi-Fi, using the Wi-Fi router as the primary internet connection and the 5G router as a secondary, backup connection, as seen in the diagram below.
Companies that can wait 5-8 years for a network replacement may want to see what 5G capabilities emerge and if the cost becomes more inline with Wi-Fi. However, if your company needs to increase efficiencies and control costs on the manufacturing floor in the near future, your best bet is to invest in a Wi-Fi networking solution that will allow you to evolve into 5G down the road.
About Chi Corporation
For over 50 years, Chi Corporation has been providing technical solutions to manufacturers of all sizes throughout the country. Our sales and engineering teams work directly with you to create a hyper-reliable and easily managed network infrastructure that can accelerate your ability to deliver products, while at the same time increasing profitability. Chi works with the leading networking and security vendors to reliably and securely connect manufacturers with their operations throughout the enterprise to improve output, productivity and overall business performance.