At this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, 5G made a lot of news. In its bid to boost the speeds of existing smartphone networks, Qualcomm launched the all-new ‘5G modem family’. The world’s first-ever 5G wireless slicing router was showcased during the event by Huawei. Samsung, on its part, displayed an advanced home router – also operating at 5G speeds. There was a dedicated ‘5G Impact’ conference as well (on March 2). With the next-generation mobile network generating a lot of buzz and hype, we take a quick look at some fascinating facts about 5G:
Faster downloads; lower latency
If you thought 4G LTE was fast, the 5G network will be downright amazing. According to reports from trials performed by leading carriers, 5G can be close 100X faster than 4G speeds – with data downloads happening at a staggering 20Gb/s (maximum). The lowest 5G download speed should be around 5Gb/S. What’s more – the latency would also be minimal, coming in at around 1 millisecond or less. Things are about to get more responsive than ever.
Moving towards a connected world
Experts from the fields of software and app development have confirmed that 5G will contribute in a big way towards the growth of Internet of Things (IoT). Thanks to the extremely low latency, the next-gen network will be ideal for implementation in smart cars (perhaps even in the driverless cars?). 5G will also find rapid adoption in gadgets, platforms and smart hubs for ‘connected homes’. Gartner estimates that there will be close to 21 billion connected devices by 2020 – and 5G is going to be a key driver in this technology.
Note: With 5G, there will be rapid increases in the number of connected public utilities, infrastructure and general safety solutions as well.
3. NFV and SDN
These are going to be important tools for facilitating smooth migration from the 4G to the 5G platforms. NFV, or Network Functions Virtualization, will also ensure high-end scalability of 5G networks. SDN, or Software-defined Networking, on the other hand, will support large bandwidths by creating ‘virtual slices’ or sub-networks. Superior scalability will be an important feature, as demands start to vary between high bandwidth requirements (say, video streaming on mobile) to lower bandwidth needs (say, on a smartwatch).
4. Boost to VR and AR
At MWC 2017, Microsoft sent out invites to attendees to try out a new HoloLens headset – which took virtual reality (VR) to an altogether new level. Mobile app developers across the world expect the arrival of 5G to trigger the development of VR and AR (augmented reality) – with end-users getting enhanced, out-of-the-world displays. 3D game development is yet another field that would hugely benefit from the presence of improved VR tools. We can certainly look forward to more immersive app and gaming experiences in future.
5. Quick movie downloads
On an optimally performing 4G LTE device, it takes around ten minutes to download a complete HD movie. For the same task, the required timeframe shrinks to 1-2 seconds (maybe less) on the 5G spectrum. The new OFDM encoding technology of 5G will allow networks to handle much larger volumes of data than ever before (with the help of new frequencies). App downloads, video streaming and media content loading will all be noticeably faster on 5G than on wifi or home broadband networks.
Note: There will be networks of ‘small cells’ – resembling wireless routers – for carrying the new 5G frequencies. The network will not depend on mobile towers.
We have already pointed out that 5G will support data broadcasting in GBs/second (incidentally, 4G LTE can deliver download speeds of upto 1 GB/s). However, the next-generation mobile network will be a lot more than only faster downloads – with users being provided with superior connectivity, improved display resolutions, high-end interfaces for billing and round-the-clock availability (‘always on’). The connectivity speed can zoom up to as high as 25Mb/second. 5G will revolutionize the digital world, that’s for sure.
For all the discussions and early trials, we are still a couple of years from the commercial launch of 5G networks. Even so, software and mobile app experts have started dropping hints about the advanced technologies that will power 5G. For starters, there will be Massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) – pulling up the total number of ports in network base stations from 12 (for 4G) to >100 (for 5G) and delivering excellent network efficiencies. The ‘full duplex’ technology will allow transceivers to send out and receive data signals simultaneously – and that too, over the same frequency. Data broadcasting on 5G might take place via ‘Millimeter Waves’, which operate at much higher frequency levels (compared to present-day mobile radio waves). For identifying and using the best data-delivery route maps among alternatives, the ‘Beamforming’ (a traffic-signaling technique) technology would be implemented.
Note: The 5G base stations will have ‘Small Cells’, and they will be placed at intervals of 250-300 meters in ‘smart cities’.
A feature-rich network
As per rumors in online mobile forums and app development portals, 5G will pack in a host of powerful, built-in features. SON, or ‘self-organizing networks’, will render the task of radio accessing easier than ever (also, faster!). Throughput rates for users can be significantly enhanced with the ‘carrier aggregation’ feature – which also pushes up the overall capacities of the network. Service operators are also likely to find the ‘coordinated multipoint’ feature to be handy, since it allows transmission and quick processing of signals from multiple site sources. There will be a gamut of other features too in 5G, and most of these will be included in the LTE Advanced Pro platform.
Working with files; making m-payments
The average data download speed on 5G is expected to be around 40-50 times higher than on 4G (as mentioned, the gap is larger when you are downloading media content). This makes sure that downloading and accessing files will be an absolute breeze on the network. Thanks to the higher reliability and top-class speeds, m-payments will be facilitated greatly as well. The average mobile game apps will also become more glitch-free (provided network connectivity is available).
The funding factor
In the UK, a massive investment (£700 million) has been made for 5G trials. Implementing and fine-tuning the next-gen mobile network will be an expensive affair – and question marks remain over whether private players will remain motivated enough to carry on with their 5G experiments. Already, margins are getting reduced – thanks to the presence of many relatively new startups – and if prospective returns from 5G do not seem ‘adequate’, things could hit a roadblock. During the MWC event, a noted technologist also expressed concerns about the 5G hype mostly being an ‘irrational exuberance’ – something similar to the 90s ‘dot-com bubble’. It will be fascinating to see whether the interest in 5G continues to sizzle, or if things fizzle out.
Big players are onboard
Whether the buzz about 5G sustains or not, everyone seems to be mighty excited for the technology at present. Verizon has entered into a ‘5G Open Trial Specification Alliance’ with NTT Docomo and SK Telecom – to start field trials of the network later in 2017. Nokia is involved in two collaborations – the first with Samsung and KT, and the other with KDDI, for working on 5G. AT&T has entered into a partnership with Ericsson and Intel for the start of 5G tests. Interestingly, Ericsson is already involved in 20+ agreements for the development of 5G services – and is reportedly collaborating with Unicom for next-gen IoT and cloud-based solutions.
So, what is the ‘definition’ of 5G?
Unfortunately, there are no standard official definitions of 5G yet. Software and app developers expect the network to be rolled out commercially at the turn of this decade – and standard information about it should become gradually available over the next few quarters. The precise specifications of the 5G network will be proposed by 3GPP and released by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union). The sheer anticipation and expectations about 5G is remarkable, considering that its commercial release is more than a couple of years away.
There was a time when smartphones with 2G/3G network coverage more than sufficed the needs of users. The scenario changed with more and more big data coming into existence, and ever-increasing demands for higher (read: lightning-fast) network speeds. While 4G has been fairly good (although adoption rates vary from 96% in South Korea to a measly 40% in Sri Lanka), the 5G network will be really pushing the envelope in this regard. Let’s just say, when 5G comes…it will be a game-changer!
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