Which wireless technology is best for edge computing?

Ido ProfilePosted by Ido Gur on Jun 8, 2020
Tags: 5G  Wifi6 edge computing

Choosing the most suitable connection type to drive adoption of IoT and edge computing

The development of ever-faster wireless data networks is one of the key enablers of Industry 4.0. Combined with new and emerging techs like edge computing and IoT, every industry sector faces radical transformation in the years ahead. We can now envisage a time when streaming video plays a central role in emergency response. In sectors like manufacturing, construction, and agriculture, we’re seeing a rapid rise of automation, empowered by the era of ubiquitous connectivity. The opportunities go on.

Until recently, wireless data networks have been plagued by poor performance and reliability. Things like streaming video and big data have long been a no-go, thus putting the brakes on innovation and severely limiting the rollout of IoT networks. But that’s changing fast thanks to new wireless technologies like WiFi-6 and 5G.

Here’s how the two techs compare when it comes to ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) applications:

Bandwidth

Most modern networks offer ample bandwidth in almost all applications. Even 4K video only consumes a fraction of the available bandwidth in many current-generation networks. The new generation technologies are, however, around three times faster. WiFi-6 has a throughput of up to 9.6 Gbps. 5G offers a maximum theoretical speed of 10 Gbps but, in reality, speeds are more likely to peak at under 2 Gbps. However, that’s still more than enough in the vast majority of applications.

Latency

Latency is far more important than bandwidth in many IoT applications, particularly in the case of industrial control systems and critical infrastructure, where even a very short delay can lead to serious consequences. 5G wins hands down over WiFi-6 in this respect. 5G in the millimetre wave promises a latency of only 1ms for the radio, compared to between 3 and 10ms for WiFi-6. Thus, 5G is the obvious solution for any latency-sensitive edge computing application.

Range

Range is one of the most important factors in industries such as agriculture and manufacturing, where a typical wireless network won’t be able to reach the entire property. You can use range extenders, of course, but doing so comes at the cost of reduced bandwidth and latency. Again, 5G wins this race, simply because connectivity is provided by the mobile networks rather than relying on a local router. With device-to-device (D2D) communication, a new feature of 5G which lets devices communicate directly without going through the wider network, the range is about four times higher than WiFi-6.

Connection density

Connection density refers to the number of connected devices in a given area. The higher the connection density of a network, the more IoT devices you can use simultaneously. Naturally, however, bandwidth and latency play a much greater role in whether the applications are usable or not. 5G is expected to support as many as a million connected devices per .38 square miles, compared to 2,000 for 4G. This isn’t really a factor in WiFi-6, which is meant exclusively for local networks.

Energy consumption

Sustainability is a key driver of the adoption of IoT and edge computing, particularly in sectors like agriculture and manufacturing, so energy consumption is another important consideration. In this test, NB-IoT wins by a small margin, but 5G comes very close. 5G also consumes a lot less energy than its predecessor. WiFi-6, by contrast, consumes more energy than any of the other next-generation technologies, making it less suitable for things like autonomous drones.

Final words

For critical URLLC applications, there’s only one clear solution, and that’s 5G. No other tech comes close when it comes to latency, reliability, and connections density. But for applications which require extreme performance and operate within a smaller area, WiFi-6 may be a viable choice as well.

Are you ready to transform your communication networks with the power of edge-computing? Contact Saguna today to learn how we can help.