5G is not the only game in town, according to the firm in a prediction for 2022.
The future of enterprise connectivity is Wi-Fi 6, which will play a pivotal role as organizations innovate with advanced networking, according to a Deloitte prediction for 2022. "5G may get the lion's share of the publicity, but Wi-Fi 6 devices are quietly outselling 5G devices by a large margin and will likely continue to do so for the next few years at least," the firm said.
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Deloitte Global predicts that more Wi-Fi 6 devices will ship in 2022 than 5G devices—at least 2.5 billion Wi-Fi 6 devices versus roughly 1.5 billion 5G devices. The firm said there is good reason for this: Wi-Fi 6 has just as significant a role to play in the future of wireless connectivity as 5G—not just for consumers, but also for the enterprise.
In addition to popular devices like smartphones, tablets and PCs, Wi-Fi 6 will be embedded in others, including wireless cameras, smart home devices, game consoles, wearables and AR/VR headsets, according to Deloitte.
Not entirely strange bedfellows
Deloitte's 2021 global advanced wireless survey of 437 networking executives from nine countries found that 45% of enterprises are concurrently testing or deploying Wi-Fi 6 and 5G for their advanced wireless initiatives. Nearly all respondents (98%) said they expected their organization would be using both technologies within three years, Deloitte said.
Co-adoption is also reflected in projected investments. Over the next three years, on average, these leaders expect to allocate 48% of their enterprise wireless network spending to Wi-Fi and 52% to cellular technologies, according to Deloitte.
"This is not entirely a surprise, as Wi-Fi 6 and 5G have some similar capabilities but also have different, complementary strengths. Both technologies enable higher speeds, lower latency, and increased device density and network capacity," the firm said.
The differences lie in areas such as range, support for mobility and cost. Wi-Fi 6 and its predecessors tend to be used for smaller, less expensive local area networks, often for connectivity inside homes and offices. By contrast, cellular networks such as 5G are used for both indoor and outdoor wide-area networks, often for devices that move across large geographic areas.
There are complementary use cases for Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, Deloitte noted.
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"Unlike past generations of wireless, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are designed to work together smoothly, and the wireless industry appears headed toward a future in which devices can roam securely and seamlessly between all types of wireless networks," the firm said. Deloitte also noted that industry associations and standards bodies are co-developing future network standards that will enable convergence of cellular and non-cellular technologies, permitting integration of Wi-Fi 6 into core 5G networks.
The expected benefits of an integrated architecture include improved traffic control on factory floors and the ability to provide uninterrupted service for smart city and edge applications, according to Deloitte. These buildouts will not be merely tactical solutions.
Both wireless technologies have a place in the enterprise
"Advanced wireless is a strategic priority for the enterprises surveyed, with eight in 10 networking executives expecting advanced wireless technologies to transform their enterprises substantially by 2023, changing how they operate, develop new products and business models, and engage with customers."
These decision-makers already regard Wi-Fi 6 and 5G as the most critical wireless technologies for their businesses, according to Deloitte.
Some 65% of networking respondents said they expect Wi-Fi 6 to be a top-three critical wireless technology for their business by 2023, while 76% expect 5G to be in the top three as well.
"Over the next few years, as wireless infrastructures are built out and more devices become available, leaders expect both technologies to become even more significant," Deloitte said.
Further, Wi-Fi 6 pilots and deployments are outpacing 5G in several countries, the firm said. One reason is cost, since Wi-Fi 6 devices are more affordable and more widely available than 5G devices, according to Deloitte.
Ease of deployment is another reason Wi-Fi 6 has taken the lead. Wi-Fi networks are already widely established, along with a large base of Wi-Fi devices, the firm said.
"As enterprises upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 networks, they can take advantage of backward compatibility, avoiding the need to replace older Wi-Fi devices all at once," Deloitte said.
Additionally, many IT departments already have expertise in deploying and operating Wi-Fi networks, the firm said. By contrast, "setting up a 5G network either alone or with a network operator generally means learning something new and potentially more complex, adjusting to a standard that is still rolling out, and perhaps working with a partner that is also just getting up to speed on 5G.''
That said, Deloitte noted that the countries reporting the highest levels of Wi-Fi 6 pilots and deployments (Germany, Brazil, United Kingdom, China and Australia) also reported the highest levels of 5G pilots and deployments. This indicates that both technologies are being adopted concurrently and that both have a place in advanced wireless initiatives, Deloitte said.
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