The transition to fifth-generation cellular networks will finally take place in 2019 in a big way. This significant and much needed upgrade has been relatively high level up until this point. As the technology proliferates into the commercial landscape, your day to day activities will be affected, from your personal use of smart phones to how you organize and analyze data at work.
Let’s go over the basics of 5G and what you need to know about the rollout in its early stages.
5G is More than Faster Smartphones
Yes, the 5G network will bring low latency applications and higher bandwidth possibilities than ever before. We are looking at a factor of 10X the resources that are available on the most cutting edge 4G LTE networks. Yes, any smart phone that is made to work on a 5G network will be substantially faster than any you have used. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
5G will empower many different types of devices, including security cameras, autonomous cars, industrial robots and drones. The rise of the Internet of Things is tied directly to the proliferation of 5G networks into commercial spaces. Without the resources that 5G provides, there is no way that the speed of data transfer needed to connect remote cars to refrigerators to alarm systems would be able to work.
On a personal level, you will be able to perform functions like movie downloads in seconds rather than minutes or hours. The gaming industry is salivating at the opportunity 5G provides for real-time connectivity in games. Retailers are similarly excited at the ability to incorporate VR and AR into online sales experiences, engaging customers with a greater degree of interactivity and likely closing more sales as a result.
Government entities are looking to 5G as a competitive edge over rivals. The US and China are probably the most notable competitors in this space. Pres. Trump was recently rumored to be considering an executive order to ban all Chinese telecommunications devices from American 5G networks. The Chinese rollout of 5G is expected to bring a huge boon in AI and other leading edge technologies.
5G is the talk of the town at telecom industry events. It seems as though every major event is showcasing a new rollout by a consolidated team of telecom provider and cloud computing specialist or telecom provider and IT hardware conglomerate. For instance, Verizon, AT&T and Google are all partnering with specialist companies to bring usable 5G applications to market more quickly. The big guys are beginning to realize that cooperation and compatibility bring more sales to the table on the cutting edge of the market. For instance, Samsung is creating 5G smart phones that are expected to run on competing networks, namely AT&T and Verizon.
The only big player who is choosing to stay out of the mix is Apple. Apple is conspicuously refusing to launch any sort of 5G product, and the company is not commenting on why except to say that they are waiting for the network to showcase a bit more stability.
So What is 5G?
Engineers from the top telecom companies across the world have agreed that every ten years will bring a new, revitalized set of rules for cellular networks. This has been going on since the first cell phones were brought to the public in 1970.
If you wonder why the title of this article is “What will be the new rules of 5G,” it is because 5G is really nothing more than a set of rules. These rules will define how the new cellular network is to be used. At first, 5G is set to use some of the existing LTE spectrum from 600 MHz to 6 GHz. It will also use millimeter wave bands at 26, 28, 38 and 60 GHz to give a performance maximum of 20 gigs/sec.
Another rule of 5G is that it can use multiple in multiple out antennas for faster performance. Also known as “Massive MIMO,” this is one of the innovations that will allow 5G to function at 10X the level of today’s cutting edge 4G networks.
The 3GPP Release 15 served as the 5G rollout before the more vigorous ITU IMT-2020 definition, which is the version that will include high frequency bands. Surprisingly, the high frequency bands will be the first to roll out commercially. Low and mid tier bands are more difficult for the network to administrate, so they will not come into full commercial fruition until around 2022.
The high frequency bands are the ones that will connect the Internet of Things and many forward thinking innovations – autonomous cars, remote home alarm systems, smart city grids – to each other. So even though 5G in total will not come to us until later, we will still get a great deal of the innovations promised to us beginning with hype articles circa 2017.
The 5G Spectrums
One of 5G’s greatest innovations is its ability to function in a number of variant spectrum bands. This is not of primary importance to the commercial user, because he will not know what spectrum his smart phone or smart TV is functioning in when streaming movies or asking for voice assistance. However, it is sometimes good to understand exactly what is going on with cellular network updates even if you are just an end user. This kind of knowledge can put you on the cutting edge of the newest commercial products that are making their way to market.
The low band spectrum, or anything sub 1GHz, is the spectrum band that is used primarily by the telecom providers in the United States. It is the band that provides the backdrop for the 4G LTE network. Resources in the low band spectrum are quickly running out, which does not do much for its peak data speeds. Right now, low band speeds max out at about 100Mbps.
T-Mobile is the US carrier that is building out its 5G network in this spectrum after purchasing a huge amount of 600 MHz at a 2017 FCC auction. If you access 5G within this spectrum, you can expect wide coverage that will connect you in a variety of environments, but you will not get the speed that other spectrum bands have.
The mid band spectrum gives faster coverage than low band. Mid band also provides lower latency. It cannot, however, move through the thick walls of buildings as easily as low band. The peak speeds on this part of the 5G network will likely max out at 1 Gbps.
Sprint is the carrier that controls the vast majority of mid band spectrum space in the United States. They are using another innovation, Massive MIMO, to get the most out of their coverage area using mid band spectrum. Massive MIMO gives a single cell tower the power of multiple antennas, giving that tower the ability to send many beams to different users at the same time. Beam-forming is another innovation that will improve performance here. Beam-forming ensures a consistent signal to every user that is in the cell through autonomous monitoring.
The high band spectrum, which is also known as mmWave, is the spectrum that most people think of when 5G is spoken of. It is certainly the spectrum tier that has received the most ink. The speeds in the high band spectrum max out at an amazing 10 Gbps. However, its coverage area is the lowest of any spectrum and it has a problem connecting through the thick walls of buildings.
Verizon and AT&T are the big American carriers who are taking on the advantages and the problems of high spectrum 5G. To begin their rollout, both companies will work from the existing 4G LTE network while they build coverage across the nation. “Small cells” will be an essential part of creating this network. Small cells are base stations that focus on coverage for a small geographic area. With many small cells working together, high band 5G can improve coverage area and penetration. AT&T and Verizon will also make use of Beam-forming technology to improve latency and coverage within its growing network of small cells.
So How Fast Will 5G Really Be?
Although the rising tide of 5G will definitely lift all boats, the final performance of the network that you experience has a lot to do with your location, service provider and timing.
Qualcomm has predicted that 5G will achieve peak download speeds of around 4.5 Gbits/sec. Keep in mind that these are peak speeds, not the median speeds that we will likely see during the first part of the rollout. That performance will be around 1.4 Gbits/sec, which still beats out the current 4G network experience by a factor of 20.
If you are using 5G for streaming video, you will experience the most visible improvement. 5G is made for real time applications such as streaming video. The top telecom companies who decide where to place the priority for cellular network resources saw that streaming, on demand video was growing in the commercial space. As a result, many of the “rules of 5G” were augmented and tweaked to ensure the best possible service to commercial features like streaming video.
What Else Will 5G Bring Us?
The new rules of 5G will give us all great advantages through the following services, and more:
5G will immediately change the way that the average person uses common technology on a daily basis because of its improvements in speed. However, there is a much more immediate purpose for the 5G upgrade. The capacity of LTE is running dangerously low in many big cities. Mobile broadband users are experiencing hiccups and slowdowns during peak times. The new spectrums introduced by 5G will “open up the airwaves,” so to speak, providing new resources for carriers to administrate commercial broadband traffic.
As 5G expands, so will the rate of the autonomous car. The resources of 5G is what will allow moving vehicles to communicate with each other in real time on the road. The autonomous vehicle will interact with other vehicles, general road conditions, weather, and so forth.
5G allows for a level of municipal connectivity that was previously impossible. With 5G, utilities can remotely track use of resources, autonomous sensors will automatically notify the appropriate parties when street lights fail, and cities will be able to create a powerful network of connected surveillance cameras to protect public spaces.
This may seem like kid’s stuff, but being able to remotely control heavy duty machinery is actually quite an important innovation. Imagine being able to level a building, prepare for construction or engineer a full scale refurbishment with no risk to human life. In the future, your crane operators may be in Chile sipping on coffee working on a huge project in Amsterdam.
The health care is especially excited about a 5G innovation known as ultra reliable low latency communications (URLLC). The low latency of URLLC, exponentially better than today’s best mobile broadband, opens up a new world of remote telemedicine, AR physical therapy, more high precision surgery and may even lead to remote surgery applications in the near future.
The Internet of Things
We currently have a network of sensors on the LTE network with the capacity to communicate with each other. However, this communication is prohibitively expensive, limiting its commercial utility. As mentioned before, the resources in the LTE space are also rapidly depleting. The sensors that are on the LTE network suffer the same fate as any other application within this backdrop – performance is slowed and less reliable.
The new world of 5G opens up an entirely new space to the sensors that will power the IoT. Large numbers of mMTC devices will now be able to connect to one base station, which will increase the efficiency of the process. Connections between different nodes in the IoT will now be more than fast enough for commercial applications.
Yes, there are a lot of rules to consider when dissecting what 5G will mean for all of us. The more that we all know about these rules, the better that we will be able to direct resources in the future as 5G expands and directs itself according to the demands of the market. Look to the innovations discussed above as a starting point for many new things to come in the future. Look to the rules to change for the better as people get to know exactly what 5G can do!
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