5G or WiFi 6? Whose Decision is it Anyway?

5G or WiFi 6? Whose Decision is it Anyway? featured image

The current conversation around 5G and WiFi 6 tends to focus on the competition between the two. Putting specific technology aside, it’s important to remember that the venue and the user have the final say. Captive portals, analytics, marketing – WiFi has evolved through the years with value to the venue in mind. At the same time, users have come to expect (and demand) a simple and accessible experience everywhere they go.

WiFi is not only the de facto standard today, but it will continue to be the most economical and valuable technology to venue owners for the foreseeable future. Why? Venue owners (think shopping plazas, airports, stadiums, restaurants, hospitals) have the ability to completely own the WiFi experience and use it to their business advantage. Today, tools are available to use WiFi to brand the login experience, gather intelligence, analyze trends, and deliver marketing messages. With this in mind, recognize that as WiFi 6 demands increase, technology spending will continue to shift from the IT budget to the marketing budget.

“But what about the end user?” I hear you saying. The argument is: If guests have to log in, share their personal data, and watch an ad, why wouldn’t they just switch off WiFi and use the available cell network?

For starters, your cell coverage is not guaranteed. Especially when you’re inside a large, concrete building (I live in Florida and buildings are hurricane-proof bunkers!) Much of rural America still has poor cell coverage or slow data speeds. Most international travelers are still subject to significant roaming fees or data limits.

Also, there are still a lot of people with limited data plans. It’s unrealistic to assume that they’ll use their cellular data versus a free WiFi option. Most cellular data plans have limits – even though the general perception is “unlimited.” Throttling limits apply to most plans, meaning when a user reaches a data cap their data rate will be reduced to 3G speeds. If relying on a cellular plan alone, most heavy data users (like millennials), will be throttled by their 10th day after the billing cycle reset. How would you like to have dial-up speeds for what you do on the Internet today?

I agree that customer experience is critical here. This is why venues need to understand the balance between using the tools available to them while also providing a non-intrusive guest experience. Most people have no issue with a reasonable trade-off: consent and view an ad or share an email address in exchange for free WiFi access.

Venues already understand the benefits of WiFi. For 2 decades, the technology has been ready and available. With the introduction of WiFi 6, WiFi has increased value, even with the eventual emergence of 5G. At the end of the day, the venue makes the final decision. It’s our job to make sure they understand the value of all available technologies.

Originally posted by Todd Myers on LinkedIn.