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Private 5G Networks and Enterprise Wi-Fi Converge

The global enterprise wireless networking market is evolving. Driven by a desire to take advantage of the available 6 GHz communications spectrum, with greatly improved broadband throughput and latency rates, more organizations may choose to adopt Wi-Fi 6E technologies.

According to the latest worldwide market study by ABI Research, shipments of Wi-Fi 6E access points and routers will rise from 1.5 million units in 2022 to 5.2 million units by 2024.

Wireless spectrum expansion is just one facet of the commercial wireless network market transition, as the technology of Wi-Fi customer premise equipment will be upgraded once again with Wi-Fi 7 (IEEE 802.11be standard) devices.

Enterprise Wireless Network Market Development

"The adoption of Wi-Fi 7 access points will accelerate following the protocols standardization in 2024, and just two years later, most 6 GHz enabled access point shipments will be supporting Wi-Fi 7," said Andrew Spivey, industry analyst at ABI Research.

Another area of focus is Information technology and operations technology (IT/OT) convergence. While a large chasm remains between the two enterprise domains, strategies to pursue convergence are beginning to materialize, which will stimulate further Wi-Fi innovation.

According to the ABI assessment, one of the most impactful developments in the wireless communications sector will be the maturing of the convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G private cellular networks.

"We are now transitioning to a world in which it is not only technically possible for Wi-Fi and cellular to coexist in the same private network, but one that is becoming a vital solution in many applications," Spivey says.

The next-generation private communication network solutions of the future will be those that can leverage the latest wireless technologies in an interoperable and easily manageable solution.

Private networks that incorporate both Wi-Fi and 5G stand to benefit from the best of both technologies -- from 5G’s ultra-low latency, extended range, improved security, better reliability, and Wi-Fi’s reduced deployment costs and complexity, plus generational backward compatibility.

ABI analysts believe that converged private networks will not be adopted across the board. Traditional carpeted IT enterprises will continue to rely upon familiar and trustworthy Wi-Fi technology, as will verticals that operate in predominantly indoor environments with few mission-critical applications -- notably education, hospitality, and retail.

On the other side of the spectrum, industries spanning vast outdoor environments, such as agriculture, will be better suited for 5G private cellular network solutions that can cover large areas economically.

According to Spivey, "The sweet spot for converged networks will be those industries which have a high reliance upon mission-critical applications that require long ranges and ultra-low levels of latency." 

The three industry verticals which have been identified as having the greatest potential for Wi-Fi and 5G converged private networks penetration are industrial manufacturing, warehousing, and healthcare.

The best-suited applications are span Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), AMR visual fusion, Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR).

Outlook for Converged Wireless Network Apps

"Wi-Fi innovation over the next half-decade will be multi-faceted, spanning both protocol and spectrum upgrades on one hand, to new applications of the technology and advancements in cellular convergence on the other,” Spivey concludes.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of these developments is vital for IT and enterprise networking vendors at all levels of the supply chain. That said, the transition away from legacy Wi-Fi technologies toward Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, and Wi-Fi 7 will likely require a significant investment in new infrastructure.

CIOs and CTOs will consider any planned in-office wireless network investment with the knowledge that their organization's CHRO may already recommend a reassessment. The trend toward flexible working models, and an increase in work-from-home options, could reduce commercial real estate demand -- and therefore impact corporate networking needs.

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