In the last four decades, mobile phones, more than any other technology, have quietly changed our lives forever. I mean, do you even remember how much you loved your 2G Nokia 3310?! Now, at this point in time, if you are just staring at me blankly and scratching your head, I won’t be surprised. In fact, before writing this article, I too never heard of a 2G Nokia 3310!
But moving along. Now, before I get into the nitty gritty of what you need to know about 5G, here is a quick glance of all the previous generations of networks since the start:
1G, the first generation of telecom networks (1979) – let us talk to each other and be mobile
2G digital networks (1991) – let us send messages and travel (with roaming services)
2.5G and 2.75G – brought some improvement to data services (GPRS and EDGE)
3G (1998) – brought a better mobile internet experience (with limited success)
3.5G – brought a truly mobile internet experience, unleashing the mobile apps eco-system
4G (2008) networks – brought all-IP services (Voice and Data), a fast broadband internet experience, with unified networks architectures and protocols
4 G LTE (for Long Term Evolution) (2009) – doubled data speeds
Now and the future: 5G networks
So what is 5G?
5G is the 5th generation mobile network. It is a new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.
5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices.
Its wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users.
What is different about 5G?
Now, if you didn’t get this from the quick timeline glance at the beginning of the article, let me just remind you again that the previous generations of mobile networks are 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G.
Now, 5G, on the other hand, is a unified, more capable air interface. It has been designed with an extended capacity to enable next-generation user experiences, empower new deployment models and deliver new services.
With high speeds, superior reliability and negligible latency, 5G will be able to expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms. In fact, 5G will impact every industry, making safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitized logistics — and more — a reality.
How is 5G better than 4G?
There are several reasons how 5G will be better than 4G:
5G is a unified platform that is more capable than 4G.
While 4G LTE focused on delivering much faster mobile broadband services than 3G, 5G is designed to be a unified, more capable platform that not only elevates mobile broadband experiences, but also supports new services such as mission-critical communications and the massive IoT. 5G can also natively support all spectrum types (licensed, shared, unlicensed) and bands (low, mid, high), a wide range of deployment models (from traditional macro-cells to hotspots), and new ways to interconnect (such as device-to-device and multi-hop mesh).
5G uses spectrum better than 4G.
5G is also designed to get the most out of every bit of spectrum across a wide array of available spectrum regulatory paradigms and bands—from low bands below 1 GHz, to mid bands from 1 GHz to 6 GHz, to high bands known as millimeter wave (mmWave).
5G is faster than 4G.
5G can be significantly faster than 4G, delivering up to 20 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) peak data rates and 100+ Megabits-per-second (Mbps) average data rates.
5G has more capacity than 4G.
5G is designed to support a 100x increase in traffic capacity and network efficiency.
5G has lower latency than 4G.
Latency is the delay between a user’s action and a web application’s response to that action, often referred to in networking terms as the total round trip time it takes for a data packet to travel.
The latency for 4G is around 20-30 milliseconds, but 5G will create much less latency in the system meaning data will be transferred in real time. It will reach well below 10 milliseconds, and in best cases around 1 millisecond delays.
For consumers this is not as important but will make things seem faster, however, for industry – for long distance, remotely-controlled heavy machinery, for example – it will be critical.
What is 5G capable of offering as compared to 4G?
For a world in danger of spiraling downwards towards losing one million of its species beginning in 2030, you might think the goal of eliminating drivers from moving vehicles would be somewhat lower on the list. But the autonomous vehicle (AV) use case does expose one of the critical necessities of modern wireless infrastructure: It needs to connect people in motion with the computers they may be relying upon to save lives, with near-zero latency.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)
For a cloud-based server to provide a believable, real-time sensory environment to a wireless user, the connection between that server and its user may need to supply as much as 5 gigabits per second of bandwidth. In addition, the compute-intensive nature of an AR workload may actually mandate that such workloads be directed to servers stationed closer to their users, in systems that are relatively unencumbered by similar workloads being processed for other users. In other words, AR and VR may be better suited to small cell deployments anyway.
The internet is not just the conduit for content, but the facilitator of connectivity in wide-area networks (WAN). 5G wireless offers the potential for distributing cloud computing services much closer to users than most of Amazon’s, Google’s, or Microsoft’s hyperscale data centers. In so doing, 5G could make telcos into competitors with these cloud providers, particularly for high-intensity, critical workloads. This is the edge computing scenario you may have heard about: Bringing processing power forward, closer to the customer, minimizing latencies caused by distance. If latencies can be eliminated just enough, applications that currently require PCs could be relocated to smaller devices — perhaps even mobile devices that, unto themselves, have less processing power than the average smartphone.
Internet of Things (IoT)
In a household with low-latency 5G connectivity, today’s so-called “smart devices” that are essentially smartphone-class computers could be replaced with dumb terminals that get their instructions from nearby edge computing systems. Kitchen appliances, climate control systems, and more importantly, health monitors can all be made easier to produce and easier to control. The role played today by IoT hubs, which some manufacturers are producing today to cooperate alongside Wi-Fi routers, may in the future be played by 5G transmitters in the neighborhood, acting as service hubs for all the households in their coverage areas. In addition, machine-to-machine communications (M2M) enables scenarios where devices such as manufacturing robots can coordinate with one another for construction, assembly, and other tasks, under the collective guidance of an M2M hub at the 5G base station.
The availability of low-latency connectivity in rural areas would revolutionize critical care treatment for individuals nationwide. No longer would patients in small towns be forced to upend their lives and relocate to bigger cities, away from the livelihoods they know and love, just to receive the level of care to which they should be entitled.
How will 5G affect me?
5G is designed to do a variety of things that can transform our lives, including giving us faster download speeds, low latency, and more capacity and connectivity for billions of devices—especially in the areas of virtual reality (VR), the IoT, and artificial intelligence (AI).
For example, with 5G, you can access new and improved experiences including near-instant access to cloud services, multiplayer cloud gaming, shopping with augmented reality, and real-time video translation and collaboration, and more.
How will 5G affect my business?
With high data speeds and superior network reliability, 5G will have a tremendous impact on businesses. The benefits of 5G will enhance the efficiency of businesses while also giving users faster access to more information.
Depending on the industry, some businesses can make full use of 5G capabilities, especially those needing the high speed, low latency, and network capacity that 5G is designed to provide. It’s anticipated that 5G will be the catalyst for connecting humans and machines together on an unprecedented scale for new business and economic opportunities.
For example, smart factories could use 5G to run industrial Ethernet to help them increase operational productivity and precision. Other examples include the development of truly haptic applications – where tactile sensation or experience can be shared live – so remote operators of robotics can ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ through a machine despite being thousands of miles away. This could be used in factories, mines or even for remote surgery. Additionally, for critical applications, cutting latency to one or two milliseconds will be game-changing for remote co-ordination.
A real-time, fast and reliable network can enable industries to free machines from cabling for network connection to go wireless for more flexible and autonomous operations that can increase productivity and reduce costs. 5G is also expected to create truly connected and smart cities, as well as be the supporting network for autonomous vehicles.
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