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Key Differences Between 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and Predecessors – Networking for Industrial Instrumentation

  • Advancements in cellular and Wi-Fi technology, such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6, have allowed more devices to be connected together with faster speed and improved performance
  • Older technologies, such as 4G LTE, still serve a useful purpose depending on the application and customer specific needs should be evaluated to determine the best networking option(s)
  • Wi-Fi 6E devices are more stable and less likely to suffer from interference but is not backward compatible

Let’s start with 5G. 5G is not just an incremental improvement over 4G LTE, it’s the next major evolution providing significant improvements such as fifty times more speed, ten times less latency, and thousand times more capacity. While this options is great for networking for industrial instrumentation, it may not be the best option depending on what the user is hoping to accomplish. It’s important to understand how the advantages and restrictions of each technology.

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With networking for industrial instrumentation, newer technologies perform faster and can connect more devices, but can often increase operating costs.

Comparing 5G with 4G Networking for Industrial Instrumentation 

In industrial applications this opens lots of possibilities. Anybus has already published a white paper explaining how the improved technology will benefit factories and now we are starting to see those benefits in action.1 Volkswagen, for example, has created their own 5G network where the increased speed and capacity, and reduced latency, enable robots to complete complex tasks that would have been impossible on a 4G network.2

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But it’s important to note that 5G does not mean that there is no place for 4G LTE in the industrial applications. LPWAN standards such as LTE-M and NB-IoT provide the wireless connections required for Massive IoT applications where low cost, low energy, and small amounts of data need to be sent over massive distances. Whereas 5G can be used in Critical Industrial IoT applications where reliability, low latency, and high availability are required.

Comparing Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 4 for Industrial Applications 

Wi-Fi technology is improving with each generation. These improvements include higher speeds, larger capacity, better efficiency, wider coverage, lower power consumption, smarter management, and the ability to serve more devices simultaneously.

The areas with the quickest uptake of Wi-Fi 6 technology are likely to be public Wi-Fi and the home market. For example, with Wi-Fi 6, it’s now possible to connect more devices simultaneously and still have a stable and fast connection. In fact, sports stadiums have already successfully used Wi-Fi 6.3 Industrial applications will of course also benefit from technological advances. Applications using virtual or augmented reality such as digital twins for remote monitoring will appreciate the higher throughput and lower latencies offered.

Feature
Wi-Fi 4
Wi-Fi 5
Wi-Fi 6
Channel Bandwidth (Mhz)20, 4020, 40, 80, 80+80, 16010, 40, 80, 80+80, 160
Frequency Bands2.4 and 5 GHz5 GHz2.4, 5, and 6* GHz
Maximum Data Rate150 Mbps3.5 Gbps**9.6 Gbps**
Highest Subcarrier Modulation64-QAM256-QAM1024-QAM
Spatial Streams148
Underlying TechnologyIEEE 802.11nIEEE 802.11acIEEE 802.11ax
*Wi-Fi 6E only
**depending on number of spatial streams and channel used

Wi-Fi 6 Technology Advancements Allows More Devices to Connect

Smart management techniques such as the Target Wake Time (TWT) feature will reduce energy consumption. These devices will only be active when they need to send or receive data, which is a key benefit to anything battery powered. While the number of devices and density of devices in industrial applications won’t match the numbers in sports stadiums, the numbers will still increase. When that happens, the industry will benefit from Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), Multi-user, Multiple-input, Multiple-output (MU-MIMO), Basic Service Set (BSS) coloring, and spatial reuse technique. These techniques allow a high number of simultaneous connections while avoiding interference. 

Companies that want to maximize the potential of the new techniques should consider Wi-Fi 6E. Wi-Fi 6E has access to a previously unused frequency band, 6 GHz, in addition to the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands. As a result, Wi-Fi 6E devices can use seven additional 160MHz channels, which means that Wi-Fi 6E devices are less likely to suffer from interference and will enjoy a more stable connection at higher speeds. 

One thing to note is that Wi-Fi 6E is not backward compatible and will only support the 802.11ax standard. But this lack of backward compatibility is a good thing in terms of performance. Trying to support old generations has often prevented devices from taking advantage of new techniques. By removing these constraints, Wi-Fi 6E will be able to utilize OFDMA and similar improvements to offer users a better connection. 

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