Wireless networks are now an essential part of any business’ connectivity solutions. In an era where flexible working, mobile connectivity and even trends like hot-desking are changing how people work, connecting wirelessly without compromising on performance is essential to any firm’s success.

It’s good news then, that the wireless network is currently on the brink of a huge leap forward, with new technologies promising to transform the user experience and open up new opportunities for businesses.

The 5G era – new opportunities for firms

The UK’s nascent 5G network has been much in the news in recent weeks, due to the government’s decision on how much access it would give to Chinese hardware manufacturer Huawei, and the ensuing political arguments with the US. This illustrates just how important this technology will be to the UK’s future to attract so much attention and debate.

Operators may be keen to highlight the speed benefits of 5G over the existing 4G network. But while these are significant – analysis of early rollouts suggests they can be up to five times faster than 4G networks, with the potential for even faster speeds in the future – it is the additional bandwidth capabilities that may hold the most promise.

This means, for example, there should be no more slowdowns caused when people are trying to connect in crowded areas, such as train stations or sports stadiums, which could be great news for individuals trying to connect to essential business applications and data at peak times.

5G also means users will be able to access everything from 4K streaming video to virtual and augmented reality while on the move, which could transform how they interact with key systems. Meanwhile, it also opens up new opportunities for technology such as Internet of Things sensors, as thousands of these could share the same network with no slowdown or lag that would hamper real-time data.

However, 5G mobile networks are not the only wireless solutions currently undergoing an evolution. Another step forward – less-heralded than 5G but potentially no less game-changing – will be the rollout of a new Wi-Fi standard.

Wi-Fi 6 – extending the capabilities of the wireless network

The development, known as Wi-Fi 6, was ratified last year and devices that take advantage of the new technology – including routers, access points and smartphones – are gradually becoming available. Like 5G, it promises a great step forward both in the potential speeds that will be available and, crucially, the number of devices it can serve.

As well as being useful in places where 5G can’t yet reach, one of the big changes for Wi-Fi is that it will be able to send data to multiple end devices simultaneously, whereas the current standard can only serve one device at a time. This can be game-changing for many businesses as the number of gadgets looking to connect to their network continues to grow.

The technology is also set to be supported behind the scenes by the release of new spectrum, with Ofcom currently running a consultation on proposals to offer space in the 6GHz frequency band without the need for a licence, as well as change other technical requirements to help people to get a more reliable Wi-Fi connection.

Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi Alliance – the non-profit group responsible for Wi-Fi standards and interoperability – is supporting this move with the introduction of Wi-Fi 6E branding to identify devices that can take advantage of this spectrum.

For users, this is set to have a range of advantages. Charles Cheevers, chief technology officer of home networks at CommScope, said: “We see these expanded capabilities seeding a new generation of high-speed laptops and tablets, applications around Wi-Fi 6E wireless mesh and high-quality video distribution in 8K and VR, and new, time-sensitive services.”

Between them, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 should extend fast, reliable wireless coverage to every location where a business may need it, whether in the office or outside it, providing the speed and coverage companies need to open up new opportunities and boost productivity.

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