At the heart of every smart city, there are cellular and Wi-Fi networks working
together, as part of the wireless infrastructure, to provide real-time access
to vital information and services. Whether it’s public safety,
emergency response, traffic control, utility grids, waste management or
person-to-person interactions, mobile and fixed devices using cellular and
Wi-Fi are part of the picture.
Now, as metropolitan infrastructures begin migrating to the next generations
of cellular and Wi-Fi, there will be new opportunities for these two
technologies to work together. The result will be smart cities that can
anticipate and automate, making urban areas smarter, more efficient and safer.
What’s on the Horizon
There are several reasons why it’s time to upgrade cellular and Wi-Fi.
Many more people and devices are accessing the network than ever before, and
those numbers are only going to go up. Video makes up a large part of the data
we’re accessing. But even though more devices are online and sending
more data at once, we cant afford to sacrifice performance. What’s
more, there are some applications, especially in transport, healthcare and
manufacturing, that need to operate at or near real time.
5G, the fifth generation of cellular, with its support for massive MIMO and
mmWave, is designed to support dramatically higher speed and capacity on
cellular networks. We’re already seeing limited deployment in select
cities worldwide, but a complete transition to 5G will certainly take time.
The many specific technologies that make up 5G, for consumer and industrial
use, are in various stages of development and will ramp up over the next
In the meantime, while the 5G infrastructure becomes more widespread, the
sixth generation of Wi-Fi, known as 802.11ax or simply Wi-Fi 6, will bring
more speed, lower latency and increased device density support to its share of
the wireless infrastructure. Wi-Fi 6 chipsets are already available and OEMs
are moving quickly to adopt the new format. ABI Research predicts that, by
2024, 70 percent of smartphones will support Wi-Fi 6, along with 93 million
desktops and portable PCs.
A Powerful Combination
5G and Wi-FI 6 both promise significantly better performance but in somewhat
unique ways. 5G, with its support for a large number of users per cell is well
suited for use in outdoor applications. Similarly, Wi-Fi 6’s ability to
also support high bandwidth and high user density but at a dramatically lower
cost makes it ideal for indoor applications, such as stadiums, convention
centers, shopping malls, school campuses and other places where people gather.
But that’s not to say it’s a choice of one over the other when
selecting a wireless format for new smart city applications. In many
instances, the two technologies will work together, creating a powerful
combination that services fixed and mobile use cases.
Security and Cost
In some cases, cellular and Wi-Fi address similar needs, making it less clear
which technology is the better fit. In these cases, considering security and
cost requirements can help in the decision. Cellular, for example, can prevent
unauthorized access because the SIM card uniquely identifies each user and
can enable the network provider to control the features, bandwidth, networks
and capabilities subscribers are authorized to use. This can be extremely
valuable in creating differentiated services that emphasize online security.
On the other hand, Wi-Fi is often a much more cost-optimized solution with no
required network operator and significantly lower cost per node. Wi-Fi 6 is
also fully backward compatible with all previous generations of Wi-Fi lowering
the upgrade costs and supporting a more metered transition for users. While
some large-scale enterprises decide to go it alone and establish their own
private cellular network, being able to run plug-and-play Wi-Fi routers,
without a cellular subscription, can be an attractive way to provide new
applications and capabilities at substantially lower deployment and operating
Upping the Application Ante
Moving to 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will bring new use cases that build on previous
collaborations of cellular and Wi-Fi. For example, cellular carriers are
likely to use new Wi-Fi 6 access points to handle the offload of their 5G
networks, in much the same way they rely on current Wi-Fi technology to
offload 4G and LTE services today.
In public offices, apartment buildings and private residences, upgrading to
Wi-Fi 6 can add motion detection to wireless security systems or deliver
higher-resolution video for 4k/8k video experiences. In both cases, the 5G
network is the likely resource for high-speed streaming of high-definition
video to and from the cloud.
In transport, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 can work together to improve onboard
infotainment, support software and firmware updates in dense deployments and
simplify the collection of advanced telematics, including video.
In public venues, such as shopping malls, school campuses and event spaces,
people can toggle between 5G and Wi-Fi 6 as needed, depending on their
location and need. Today’s smartphones already do this, but
next-generation connectivity will make it possible for more devices to access
more data, all at once.
A case in point is American football. The National Football League (NFL)
reports that a record 26.42 terabytes of data was transferred within the
stadium during Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Just over 70 percent of the more than
62,000 thousand people attending the event accessed the in-stadium Wi-Fi
network, with an average usage per device of 595.6 MB – and that was
using legacy Wi-Fi technology.
Next year, the NFL will be able to support an even higher level of access at
SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. The stadium, currently under construction, is
installing Wi-Fi 6 and is expected to have more than 2,500 Wi-Fi 6 access
points, providing four times more bandwidth and letting all of the up to
100,000 attendees be on their phones simultaneously using Wi-Fi.
Taking It to the Street
Smart vehicles will use 5G and Wi-Fi 6 to ramp up their communications with
the transport infrastructure and will be able to communicate effectively with
other vehicles, while in motion. Today’s vehicles already sport
hundreds of sensors and can manage multiple data streams coming to the
vehicle. To support real-time interactions, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will make it
possible to increase that capacity as much as tenfold.
When equipped with 5G and Wi-Fi 6, real-time traffic monitoring systems can
use artificial intelligence algorithms to perform advanced video analytics
and, in response to current conditions, control signage, lights and lane
openings to optimize throughput and minimize delays.
Beyond the highway, the real-time responsiveness and ability to connect many
more devices will let 5G and Wi-Fi enhance pedestrian areas and bike paths,
too. Lamp posts can turn on and off as needed, when people are present, while
sensors can send real-time alerts to warn everyone of oncoming traffic or a
pedestrian crossing a street. Geofencing, which is used to monitor activity
within a pre-set geographical boundary, can deliver personalized messages to
people as they pass by, announcing upcoming events or nearby discounts at
retailers and food outlets.
Behind the Scenes
Within the city infrastructure, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will enhance essential
services, such as the utility grid and waste management. Water and energy use
can be managed more precisely, according to real-time events like a sudden
change in the weather or a public gathering.
The IoT becomes more prevalent – and more impactful – with
widespread coverage of 5G and WiFi 6. Solar-powered waste containers can sense
capacity levels and notify maintenance crews in real time when a pickup is
needed, thereby increasing responsiveness and efficiency while reducing the
number of collection trucks needed to operate the system.
The city itself can be cleaner, quieter and more automated. Air filters,
mounted on streetlights, can automatically turn on when pollution levels reach
a certain point and places that are often noisy – playgrounds,
open-air cafes, nightclubs – can be equipped with noise-canceling or
noise-dampening technology that automatically turn on when sound readings get
above a certain level.
With 5G and Wi-Fi 6 fully in place, nearly every point of a city’s
physical infrastructure can be connected to a high-speed wireless network.
Increased network capacity means more IoT devices will be able to monitor
conditions and provide real-time information for data analytics, and enhanced
broadband will improve safety and provide better experiences.
5G and Wi-Fi 6 are fully complementary technologies that will play a role in
the ongoing evolution of smart cities, especially when it comes to supporting
wireless interactions at the edge of the network.
Next-generation wireless, in all its forms, will create an infrastructure that
fosters new ideas, creates opportunities and enhances the quality of life
– in ways we’re already talking about and in ways we
haven’t even thought of yet.
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