Phones, calls, streaming, downloading, uploading, surfing the internet… all these terms sound very familiar to us and we cannot live without them.
All those activities, which we do on daily basis, are due to the advancement made in the field of telecommunication. Starting from Maxwell’s equations that allowed us to have flawless radio communication, to 4G technology that allows us to stream movies on our phones, make calls on different apps, and make online purchases, advancement in the telecommunication field has drastically altered the way we use and interact with technology.
Nowadays, we are on the verge of witnessing the glory of a market-disrupting technology known as 5G technology. Before exploring what 5G can do and how we can use it to improve businesses and commercial services alike, let us first see what 5G is about.
What is 5G?
The forthcoming of 5G technology is near and most of us do not know what it is, if we want it or even getting it. This makes us reminisce about 4G technology as it was a real technology and marketing term. But, 5G is a real technology which is not just marketing or publicity from its providers.
Technically speaking, 5G is the next generation of wireless communication.
You can think of it as the next innovation it terms of broadband communication systems. However, there is a key difference with this generation, a difference that distinguishes 5G from the previous generation.
When it comes down wireless communication, innovation is almost always driven by what can be done with the technology that we have at hand i.e. how we can improve the technology we are using with communication systems.
1G, 2G, 3G and 4G (4G LTE now) have all walked down that path, but for 5G things changed. 5G has been developed to have certain applications and uses. This makes it not just an upgrade for the 4G but also a new kind of technology.
With 5G, you can expect higher level of performance than the previous communication systems. This means faster download/upload speed and a drastically decreasing latency time which is the time it takes devices to communicate with each other. All of this isn’t for its own sake.
The true purpose behind such spectacular promises is that 5G is being built around the idea of making internet connectivity almost ubiquitous.
Why? The reason is quite clear if you think it through.
5G aims to provide connectivity for applications including, but not limited to, automotive communications, huge video downloads as well as the Internet of Thing commonly known as IoT.
To do this, 5G technology is using larger bandwidth than the previous communication systems by deploying high-frequency millimeter wave technology which allows to tap into a variety of spectrum bands including mmWave radio spectrum which can carry a huge amount of data at short distance.
An internet connection that is almost present everywhere is a game-changer. To caption the effect 5G can have on the digital presence of businesses, consider how apps are already revolutionizing businesses. For instance, take the number of transactions that are being made on a daily basis on the different app. Now multiply the speed of those transactions by 10… Is it clear, now?
Faster transactions mean more customers, more revenue and more opportunities for businesses. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Nonetheless, at present, there is no real 5G networks, but we have seen testing from companies like AT&T. For now, 5G is living alongside 4G improving the network’s performance.
Since 5G is expected to replace 4G in the future providing a connection, roughly, 40 times faster we will soon see strand-alone networks and devices running on 5G. By now, we have a pretty good understanding of what 5G technology is. It’s time to see the underlying dynamics that make this technology what it is.
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Now that everything is straightened up, let’s dive into this.
How does 5G work?
In every mobile network, there are two major components:
- The Radio Access Network
- The Core Network
The Radio Access Network: The Radio Access Network is composed of numerous facilities like small cells, towers, masts and dedicated in-building and Accueil systems that connect mobile users and wireless devices to the main core network.
With 5G, small cells will be a major feature particularly at the new millimetre wave (mmWave) frequencies where the connection range is very short.
The Core Network: The Core Network is the mobile exchange and data network that manages all of the mobile voice, data and internet connections. For 5G, the ‘core network’ is being redesigned to better integrate with the internet and cloud based services and also includes distributed servers across the network improving response times (reducing thus the time devices take to communicate between each other).
5G operates using three spectrum bands, unlike 4G LTE. While this may seem of little importance in the eyes of a neophyte, but it will revolutionize with way we interact with technology in our everyday use.
1) Low-band Spectrum:
Low-band spectrum can be described as sub 1GHz spectrum. It is primarily the spectrum band used by carriers for LTE and is quickly being consumed. While low-band spectrum offers great coverage area and penetration, there is a big drawback: Peak data speeds will top out around 100Mbps.
2) Mid-band Spectrum:
Mid-band spectrum provides faster coverage and lower latency than you’ll find on low-band. Expect peak speeds up to 1Gbps on mid-band spectrum.
A carrier can use Massive MIMO to improve penetration and coverage area on the mid-band. Massive MIMO groups multiple antennas onto a single box, and at a single cell tower, they create multiple simultaneous beams to different users.
For 5G, beamforming can be used to improved mid-band range. Essentially, beamforming sends a single focused signal to each and every user in the cell, and systems using it monitor each user to make sure they have a consistent signal.
3) High-band Spectrum:
High-band spectrum is what most people think of when they think of 5G. It is often referred to as mmWave. High-band spectrum can offer peak speeds up to 10 Gbps and has very low latency. The major drawback of high-band is that it has low coverage area and building penetration is poor. And, since high-band spectrum trades off penetration and user area for high speed and coverage area, they will rely on small cells.
4) Small Cells
small cells are low-power base stations that cover small geographic areas. With small cells, carriers using mmWave for 5G can improve overall coverage area. Combined with Beamforming, small cells can deliver very extremely fast coverage with low latency.
All the mentioned above helps one get a rough understanding of what is required to make the 5G technology up and running. But, as cool and enriching this all seems, without scalable real-life applications 5G won’t be a genuine game changer.
However, in this particular regard, the technology is not going to disappoint, not even slightly.
Applications of 5G Technology
1) Automotive Vehicles
Expect to see autonomous vehicles rise at the same rate that 5G is deployed across. In the future, your vehicle will communicate with other vehicles on the road, provide information to other cars about road conditions and traffic information, and provide performance information to drivers and automakers. If a car brakes quickly up ahead, yours may learn about it immediately and pre-emptively brake as well. This kind of vehicle-to-vehicle communication could ultimately save thousands of lives.
2) Infrastructure and Security
5G will allow cities and other municipalities to operate more efficiently. Utility companies will be able easily track usage remotely, sensors can notify public works departments when drains flood or street lights go out, and municipalities will be able to quickly and inexpensively install surveillance cameras.
3) Health Care
The ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) component of 5G could fundamentally change health care. Since URLLC reduces 5G latency even further than what you’ll see with enhanced mobile broadband, a world of new possibilities opens up. Expect to see improvements in telemedicine, remote recovery and physical therapy via AR, precision surgery, and even remote surgery in the coming years.
4) Internet of Things
One of the most exciting and crucial aspects of 5G is its effect on the Internet of Things. While we currently have sensors that can communicate with each other, they tend to require a lot of resources and are quickly depleting LTE data capacity.
With 5G speeds and low latencies, the IoT will be powered by communications among sensors and smart devices (here’s mMTC again).
Compared to current smart devices on the market, mMTC devices will require fewer resources, since huge numbers of these devices can connect to a single base station, making them much more efficient.
5G is a very promising technology with potential to drastically alter our lives through disrupting our day-to-day use of technology.
We can even expect huge investments in the development of this technology both from companies and universities alike. For the time being, all we can do is enjoy the improvement 5G is introducing to our network.
But, it would be lackadaisical to ignore how this technology is evolving.