The potential of greater network performance and use case expansion grows as enterprise businesses use Wi-Fi and private cellular as complimentary wireless LAN technologies
For Wireless LAN (WLAN), Wi-Fi and private cellular certainly have their differences. But at the end of the day, they aren’t enemies. In fact, they’re the opposite — think of them more as sidekicks that both bring something unique to the table.
For wireless connectivity, Wi-Fi and private cellular excel in different ways. Choosing between the two ultimately depends on the needs of the business. Many industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, and education are finding a need for wireless LAN technology in large spaces where Wi-Fi is difficult and costly to set up. And in most cases, a single choice isn’t necessary — opting to use a combination of Wi-Fi and private cellular allows businesses to connect more applications in more locations than ever before.
Let’s explore what’s new with Wireless LAN, some key distinctions between Wi-Fi and private cellular, and how the technologies go hand-in-hand to help keep enterprises connected.
How is Wi-Fi used for Wireless LAN?
Using radio waves, this ubiquitous technology transmits data between devices without a need for physical cables. It has been the go-to solution for connecting LANs for good reason — it provides easy to use, reliable, and low-cost wireless coverage for smaller areas.
With a standard username and password combination or pre-shared key, users can access the Internet via Wi-Fi to stream videos, scroll through social media, send emails, and communicate with each other wirelessly.
What are some situations where Wi-Fi works best?
Wi-Fi is commonly found in indoor locations ranging from homes and offices to coffee shops and airport terminals, where many devices are connected to the network at any given time. While Wi-Fi is an efficient solution for smaller spaces with clear lines of sight, additional access points are needed as coverage area needs increase. And as more users and devices connect to the network, performance is negatively impacted due to channel saturation.
From an administrative perspective, Wi-Fi technology is easy to set up and manage in these settings because there are fewer barriers to entry, and it’s user-friendly. Security cameras, smart thermostats, and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices can easily access the network and be managed and controlled remotely.
As the WLAN market continues to evolve, it’s unlikely that Wi-Fi will go away. But in places where it might not be the best fit, such as large-scale outdoor or industrial settings, other options exist for wirelessly connecting a LAN.
Private cellular for Wireless LAN connectivity
Although Wi-Fi continues to dominate the enterprise WLAN market, the technology has its limitations.
Private cellular networks, using private LTE or 5G, provide a local network that is exclusive to a business, agency, or other type of organization. The network operates on a licensed spectrum, thus minimizing congestion and interference and increasing security. The primary benefits of private networks include:
- Better coverage and speeds: Private 5G networks provide greater coverage and higher speeds than Wi-Fi, making them an ideal solution for organizations that need coverage in large areas and outdoor or remote locations.
- Enhanced security: Private cellular networks operate on a lightly licensed spectrum — such as CBRS in the United States — and use encryption to protect data, providing a more secure connection than a Wi-Fi network, which can be easily hacked due to weak passwords or lack of encryption.
- Increased reliability: Private networks are highly reliable, providing constant, high-speed connectivity for business- and mission-critical applications.
- Better Quality of Service (QoS): The ability to prioritize traffic using a private network ensures the most important applications receive the best QoS.
- Easier scalability: Using a private wireless network, enterprises can expand to accommodate additional users and devices without compromising performance.
What are situations where private cellular works best?
One of Wi-Fi’s biggest limitations occurs in large areas where signals could become weak or inaccessible. Conventional Wi-Fi access points aren’t stable or robust enough to keep up with the increasing technological standards for large-scale businesses because they are heavily affected by interference from other devices or physical obstacles such as walls and buildings.
Conveniently, these are the types of areas where a private network works best. In large spaces with widespread IoT deployments, private cellular offers significant advantages over Wi-Fi. For example, a manufacturing plant might deploy a private network to enable real-time monitoring and control of its machinery, while a large office building might use one to provide high-speed and secure connectivity for its employees both indoors and outdoors.
Building a private 5G network gives organizations the same visibility and control of Wi-Fi, minus the limitations surrounding coverage and security. This creates a purpose-built Wireless LAN that is more reliable, high-performing, secure, and cost-effective than Wi-Fi or public cellular.
Combining Wi-Fi and private cellular solutions for Wireless LAN connectivity
For organizations that have already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into their Wi-Fi infrastructure, switching entirely to private cellular isn’t feasible. Fortunately, enterprises with an existing Wi-Fi network can seamlessly integrate private cellular to extend coverage and capacity and enable more applications in the future.
For example, an enterprise might use Wi-Fi access points for indoor areas and private cellular for outdoor areas or to support mission-critical applications. This combination can improve the overall performance, reliability, and security of WLANs, providing a better user experience and minimizing the risk of network disruptions.
The complementary nature of Wi-Fi and private cellular makes them a powerful combination for WLANs, providing enterprises more flexibility and control over their wireless networks. By using both Wi-Fi and private cellular, businesses can create a hybrid network that takes advantage of the strengths of both technologies.