cellular data vs wifi | Difference between cellular and wifi

This page compares cellular data vs wifi and mentions difference between cellular data and wifi data networks. It mentions integration architecture of cellular network and wifi network.

What is Data ?

Definition: The term data refers to electronic information which is transported over wireless or wired medium connected with internet using any computing devices such as mobile phones, laptops, desktops, PDAs, tablets etc. Depending upon the usage of network for transportation by data, it can be designated as wifi data, cellular data, satellite data, fiber optic data, internet data and so on.

All of the following types of activities or files are considered as data.
• Sharing of photos or images or videos
• E-mail messages
• Browsing of internet or surfing social media websites such as facebook, twitter etc.
• Watching of streaming video
• listening to streaming music
• App downloads from stores of apple, microsoft or google.

Cellular data network

The data transported over cellular network is known as cellular data. There are different cellular networks such as 2G (GSM), 3G (WCDMA), 3.5G (HSPA+), 4G (LTE, Mobile WiMAX), 4.5G (LTE Advanced), 5G NR (New Radio) etc. in increasing order of their data transfer speed.

Cell Phone Tower Block Diagram
Figure-1 : Cellular data network architecture

There are three main elements in cellular data network architecture viz. Base Station (i.e. network side), Mobile subscriber (i.e. user side) and internet backbone. This is shown in figure-1, the cellular system connects with PSTN and PSDN to provide support for circuit switched data traffic and packet switched data traffic. Refer Cellular tutorial for more information on cellular network basics.

The silent features of cellular data network are as follows.
• Cellular network is available nation wide due to roaming functionality.
• Cellular data users will be charged as per different subscription rates and usage in various countries.
• Coverage range is higher due to cellular tower height and transmit power as per planned RF link budget.

cellular network and wifi network integration architecture
Figure-2 : Integrated cellular wifi architecture

WiFi data network

The data transported over wifi network is known as WiFi Data.
The WiFi network follow various IEEE WLAN wireless standards such as 802.11a, 11b, 11g, 11n, 11ac (wifi5), 11ax (wifi6) etc.
WiFi network is not available everywhere. Now-a-days wifi hotspots are available in business offices, malls, airports, railway stations etc.

WiFi internet architecture
Figure-3 : Wifi data network architecture

There are two elements in wifi data network architecture viz. AP (Access point) or router and STAs (Stations). WiFi operates on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. WiFi operates in two modes which are adhoc and infrastructure.

The silent features of wifi data network are as follows.
• WiFi data users are not charged and it is available free of cost at most of the public places.
• It supports different data rates as per wifi standard used by APs (i.e. routers) and STAs (stations) which is much larger than cellular data rates.
• Coverage range is lesser compare to cellular network.

Tabular difference between cellular network and wifi network

Following table mentions difference between cellular network and wifi network.

Features Cellular network WiFi network
Coverage distance larger smaller
Data rate Lower (Depends on cellular technology), Latest 5G NR offers download speeds in between 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps and upload speeds less than download. Higher (Depends on IEEE 802.11 standard), Latest wifi6 standard supports 600.4 Mbits/sec (with 80 MHz, 1 SS) and 9.6078 Gbits/sec (with 160 MHz, 8 SS).
Signaling Out band signaling In band signaling
Interference Less More as signal travels longer distance
Network architecture Simple as it just requires APs or wifi routers to be installed Complex as it consists of many systems on Base Station side

Conclusion : The integrated wifi cellular architecture are being deployed due to respective benefits of wifi (i.e. higher speed) and cellular (i.e. larger coverage) technologies. Cellular service providers offload cellular data traffic to wifi network in the areas where user density is higher. It benefits to wifi service provider as its user base increases due to cellular user traffic flow to wifi network. End users avail greater coverage and higher data rate at lower affordable cost. Hence the integration benefits all i.e. cellular service provider, wifi service provider and end users.

Refer mifi vs wifi which describes how both cellular data and wifi data are being used in the home with advanced mifi+wifi routers.

Cellular and WiFi Technology RELATED LINKS

Cellular network vs Ad hoc network
cellular frequencies
Cellular communication tutorial
WLAN tutorial
What is wlan
Cellular mifi vs wifi
WLAN router providers
advantages and disadvantages of 802.11ac (WiFi 5)
advantages and disadvantages of 802.11ax (WiFi 6)
BSS coloring in 11ax
RU in 802.11ax
MU-OFDMA in 802.11ax
MU-MIMO in 802.11ax
Difference between 802.11ac Wave1 and Wave2
Difference between 802.11n,11ac,11ad
WLAN 802.11ac tutorial
WLAN 802.11ax tutorial
WLAN 802.11ac frame structure
WLAN 802.11ac Physical Layer
802.11ac MAC Layer
802.11ax basics
WLAN 11a,11b,11n,11ac frame structures

RF and Wireless Terminologies