WiFi represents the biggest single competing technology to what will eventually become 5G, argued telecoms consultant Bengt Nordström on Wednesday.

Nordström, CEO of Swedish telecoms consultancy Northstream, noted that previous generations of mobile technology have had competing standards, such GSM versus CDMA, and LTE versus WiMAX, for example.

"With 5G, for the first time, we don't have a competing technology standard," he told Total Telecom during Mobile World Congress.

Except that 5G does have competition to a certain extent in the form of WiFi, he said.

"WiFi is capturing 70% of the data traffic coming from smartphones, and there are some markets where you can get by using WiFi quite well," Nordström said.

Voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) is becoming a popular means for mobile operators to improve indoor performance, and it is low cost relative to cellular networks makes it a logical choice for local governments that want to provide free wireless Internet access in public spaces.

Meanwhile, the WiFi Alliance is pushing Hotspot 2.0, also known as WiFi Certified Passpoint, which enables devices to automatically connect to WiFi networks. WiFi also takes centre stage for Google's Project Fi mobile service.

Furthermore, while the perception of today's WiFi networks is that they are not as reliable or pervasive as cellular, Nordström said he expects to see considerable improvements between now and 2020, when the first 5G networks are expected to launch.

Indeed, the same technology that is helping to upgrade cellular throughput – such as massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO), and multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) – is also applicable to WiFi networks.

Advancements are also being made in automatic WiFi channel-switching and power adjustment, which have the potential to mitigate interference.

In addition, the WiFi Alliance in January also ramped up its Internet of Things (IoT) push with the unveiling of HaLow, the public-facing name given to IEEE 802.11 ah, a WiFi standard for devices operating on sub 1-GHz spectrum.

"In 5G, there is competition from WiFi," Nordström insisted. "WiFi is a strong competitor to cellular."