Improving indoor mobile connectivity – Wi-Fi 7 or 5G? periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Dr Joseph Chambers, Consultant at FarrPoint, examines the debate as to which technology is best for improving indoor connectivity.

Guest author

June 19, 2024

6 Min Read

In an ever more connected world, people are increasingly reliant on devices that require continuous, reliable, and secure connections. To meet this growing demand, technology has developed from 4G/LTE to 5G on the mobile side and, from Wi-Fi 5 to 6 to 6E and now the emerging Wi-Fi 7 for wireless networks. There’s plenty of debate surrounding which technology will best address the previous iteration’s limitations and, the truth is, it’s not an easy question to answer.

Despite the average person spending 90% of their time indoors and 80% of all mobile data traffic being generated or terminated here, the predominant focus of both industry and government, has been improving outdoor mobile coverage. While projects such as the Shared Rural Network have helped ensure improvements in outdoor 4G mobile coverage, they still have some work to do to address the growing issue of inadequate indoor mobile coverage.


Wi-Fi 6 and 5G both entered the commercial market in around 2020. While Wi-Fi 6 can meet most connectivity requirements for domestic indoor environments, 5G outperforms it in terms of reliability and quality of service when there is increasing demand on the network. With the arrival of Wi-Fi 7 later this year, it is important to re-examine the role of Wi-Fi and 5G in meeting the growing demand for indoor coverage from the perspective of both public and private spaces.  

In terms of performance capabilities, Wi-Fi 7 shows a significant increase in theoretical bandwidth throughput from 9.6 Gbps (Wi-Fi 6) up to speeds of 46 Gbps, far exceeding 5G’s top speed of 10 Gbps. Both technologies also support real-time applications by achieving extremely low latency rates (1 ms). It must be remembered, however, that these speeds and latency rates are theoretical and will not be experienced by users. In terms of their range, both Wi-Fi 7 and 5G sacrifice smaller cell coverage range for faster speeds. While Wi-Fi 7 can reach 50-100 meters (at 2.4 Ghz), 5G can reach between 500m and a few square kilometres depending on radio transmission power and frequency band.

The manufacturing and logistics sectors have been particularly interested in 5G adoption but it’s a trend that has proliferated many industries. A lot of businesses have established private 5G networks and benefitted from access to licenced and unlicensed spectrum, which has supported integrating smart technologies indoors (Massive IoT). The speed, capability and low latency of 5G has enabled various real-time applications such as tracking of lone workers in hazardous and industrial environments and the tracking of last-mile logistics in the manufacturing sector. 5G also improves mobile broadband, providing high-quality streaming as well as VR/AR and other broadcasting services to be used indoors (e.g. homes and venues).

The Impact of Wi-Fi 7, a nascent technology, is not yet known, although early indications have emerged about the role it could play in improving indoor connectivity. WiFi-7’s operation across three frequency bands, 4K QAM and increased channel width (320 MHz), will enable a more reliable wireless connection with greater transmission rates and increased efficiencies. These features are likely to significantly impact indoor activities for domestic, industrial, and public sector use cases in the UK economy and wider society.

Wi-Fi 7 will be able to handle significant numbers of devices and large volumes of traffic, while maintaining high speeds with low latency. This means it will be an invaluable addition to indoor connectivity infrastructures. While nearly all devices can run on Wi-Fi 7, anything produced earlier than 2024 is unlikely to be able to fully harness the speed and latency efficiencies. Until a greater number of devices support Wi-Fi 7, it is difficult to measure its overall impact and benefit. However, in the next 2-3 years, this is likely to become much clearer as the number of devices manufactured with Wi-Fi 7 capability increases. It’s also likely the biggest impact of Wi-Fi 7 will, initially, be within the industrial sector, as this is where there is early adoption of connectivity technologies happening on a larger scale.

It is probable there will be a complementary deployment of both 5G and Wi-Fi 7 technologies. Wi-Fi 7, with its reliable connections, efficiencies, and transmission rates, could meet the growing connectivity requirements across a range of public and private spaces. Complementing this, 5G will provide a valuable addition for new use cases, where reliability and low latency are particularly important considerations, especially those that switch between indoors and outdoors. Whether it’s 5G provided by neutral hosts for the public navigating shopping centres or private 5G networks for smart factories, this mobile connectivity already plays an important role and will continue to do so alongside Wi-Fi delivery.

There do remain some challenges around both 5G and Wi-Fi 7 deployment though. The hybrid sharing model of the 6GHz band between licenced mobile and Wi-Fi is designed to enable the best use of the spectrum and ensure greater capacity, faster speeds and more innovative services. Although Ofcom has pushed this hybrid use method, there needs to be more understanding of how it will work in practice, with concerns about increased costs and complexity for providers. In addition, there is increasing use of energy-efficient glass and foil-backed insulting materials within building construction to meet sustainability targets and reduce energy consumption. These materials, in addition to the concrete, metal and brick already used within our buildings, significantly reduce signal strength, especially for 5G networks. Potential in-building solutions to tackle this issue include small cell deployment, signal boosters and antennas designed for 5G. In addition, hybrid solutions such as LiFi that convert 5G signal to Wi-Fi could help providers navigate the challenges of signals permeating certain materials.

While Wi-Fi 7 and 5G will play a vital role in addressing the issue of poor indoor connectivity, technology alone won’t solve this. Policy and guidance from the UK Government around improving indoor connectivity is urgently needed. The 2023 Wireless Infrastructure Strategy helped stakeholders across the telecommunications sector by setting out a clear plan for improving mobile connectivity. However, a similar strategy is now needed to specifically address indoor connectivity and to challenge industry to improve indoor coverage and consider setting indoor alongside outdoor coverage targets.

It’s important to see 5G and Wi-Fi 7 as complementary technologies rather than just competitors. On the one hand, Wi-Fi 7 increases the effectiveness of indoor wireless and supports large numbers of Wi-Fi enabled devices. On the other, 5G provides private low latency requirements and the public mobile network. As these technologies develop and the number of use cases increases, effort should be made to help facilitate novel solutions towards tackling the indoor connectivity challenge and maximising the benefits these technologies can deliver. It’s not a question of Wi-Fi 7 or 5G, it’s Wi-Fi 7 and 5G.


Dr Joseph Chambers is a FarrPoint consultant with a passion for driving digital inclusion in communities and local businesses.

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