With so many remote-working tools now available, the world was better prepared for the transition than it would have been in decades past. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a perfect process. Wi-Fi connections strained by families trying to share the home office, video calls that freeze and pixelate and slow downloads of large files are all common WFH complaints.
Though they are still a few years away from widespread deployment and adoption, next-generation connectivity technologies, 5G and Wi-Fi 6, offer hope for a better remote working experience.
The most widely discussed benefit of these new technologies is significantly higher speeds. That will mean waiting a few seconds — rather than, sometimes, minutes — for that massive spreadsheet or HD image file your boss just sent over to download and open. Faster speeds will also improve the quality of online video staff meetings.
There are other perks, too. The new technologies will provide much lower latency, which is the time it takes for a device to communicate with a server and get a response. For instance, the time between when you press send on an email and when your coworker’s computer registers the new message will be virtually zero.
These new benefits will have implications not just for working remotely, but also for other activities, such as remote doctor visits.
“The concept of both high speed to have real, face-to-face conversations without any buffer, and instant information with low latency is important for things like cardiac patients, who need to translate real-time health updates to their doctor and receive guidance,” Max Silber, vice president of mobility at network services firm MetTel, said.
Fast speeds and low latency are nice, but it’s also crucial that network connections are constant and reliable, said Muriel Médard, professor of electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The 5G technology standards are written in a way that would allow new devices to connect to both Wi-Fi networks and cell networks simultaneously by default. Currently, phones are designed to require users to shift between the cell network and a Wi-Fi network for internet access, depending on where they are and where the connection is best. But in the future, phones could be designed to rely on Wi-Fi where available but supplement with bandwidth from the cell network if the Wi-Fi connection is lacking, without requiring user intervention, Médard said.
“It should be that it’s seamless between your home office and your other service through your telephone provider, so you’re not having to switch back and forth,” Médard said. “It should provide the best level (of coverage) possible, without you needing to get involved.”
And working from home is one thing, while working from home along with everyone else in your household brings an additional set of challenges.
“We’re all striving to maintain that face to face relationship,” Sibler said. “If your kids are on Fortnite at the same time that you’re trying to do a Zoom call for work, someone’s experience is going to suffer.”
5G and Wi-Fi 6 will change that. The new technologies will be better able to handle more devices at once without slowing down the connection — something that will come in handy if entire families ever find themselves all working, going to school and trying to stay entertained from home again.
While these technologies are not widely in place to help people cope with current stay-at-home orders, many experts believe that the lesson in managing remote workforces during coronavirus will push companies to allow more remote working even after the crisis is over.
“Most organizations always have the technology to enable remote work, but they didn’t culturally really wrap their heads around it until they had to,” Silber said. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will be additional tools that make the process easier.