Fifth-generation wireless (5G) is the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before.
Combining cutting-edge network technology and the very latest research, 5G should offer connections that are multitudes faster than current connections, with average download speeds of around 1GBps expected to soon be the norm.
In addition to improvements in speed, capacity and latency, 5G offers network management features, among them network slicing, which allows mobile operators to create multiple virtual networks within a single physical 5G network. This capability will enable wireless network connections to support specific uses or business cases and could be sold on an as-a-service basis. A self-driving car, for example, would require a network slice that offers extremely fast, low-latency connections so a vehicle could navigate in real time. A home appliance, however, could be connected via a lower-power, slower connection because high performance isn’t crucial. The internet of things (IoT) could use secure, data-only connections.
The networks will help power a huge rise in Internet of Things technology, providing the infrastructure needed to carry huge amounts of data, allowing for a smarter and more connected world.
With development well underway, 5G networks are expected to launch across the world by 2020, working alongside existing 3G and 4G technology to provide speedier connections that stay online no matter where you are.
So with only a matter of months to go until 5G networks are set to go live, here’s our run-down of all the latest news and updates.
How 5G works
Wireless networks are composed of cell sites divided into sectors that send data through radio waves. Fourth-generation (4G) Long-Term Evolution (LTE) wireless technology provides the foundation for 5G. Unlike 4G, which requires large, high-power cell towers to radiate signals over longer distances, 5G wireless signals will be transmitted via large numbers of small cell stations located in places like light poles or building roofs. The use of multiple small cells is necessary because the millimeter wave spectrum — the band of spectrum between 30 GHz and 300 GHz that 5G relies on to generate high speeds — can only travel over short distances and is subject to interference from weather and physical obstacles, like buildings.
Previous generations of wireless technology have used lower-frequency bands of spectrum. To offset millimeter wave challenges relating to distance and interference, the wireless industry is also considering the use of lower-frequency spectrum for 5G networks so network operators could use spectrum they already own to build out their new networks. Lower-frequency spectrum reaches greater distances but has lower speed and capacity than millimeter wave, however.
What is the status of 5G deployment?
Wireless network operators in four countries — the United States, Japan, South Korea and China — are largely driving the first 5G buildouts. Network operators are expected to spend billions of dollars on 5G capital expenses through 2030, according to Technology Business Research Inc., although it is not clear how 5G services will generate a return on that investment. Evolving use cases and business models that take advantage of 5G’s benefits could address operators’ revenue concerns.
Simultaneously, standards bodies are working on universal 5G equipment standards. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) approved 5G New Radio (NR) standards in December 2017 and is expected to complete the 5G mobile core standard required for 5G cellular services in late 2018. The 5G radio system isn’t compatible with 4G radios, but network operators that have purchased wireless radios recently may be able to upgrade to the new 5G system via software rather than buying new equipment.
With 5G wireless equipment standards almost complete and the first 5G-compliant smartphones and associated wireless devices commercially available in 2019, 5G use cases will begin to emerge between 2020 and 2025, according to Technology Business Research projections. By 2030, 5G services will become mainstream and are expected to range from the delivery of virtual reality (VR) content to autonomous vehicle navigation enabled by real-time communications (RTC) capabilities.
What types of 5G wireless services will be available?
Network operators are developing two types of 5G services.
5G fixed wireless broadband services deliver internet access to homes and businesses without a wired connection to the premises. To do that, network operators deploy NRs in small cell sites near buildings to beam a signal to a receiver on a rooftop or a windowsill that is amplified within the premises. Fixed broadband services are expected to make it less expensive for operators to deliver broadband services to homes and businesses because this approach eliminates the need to roll out fiber optic lines to every residence. Instead, operators need only install fiber optics to cell sites, and customers receive broadband services through wireless modems located in their residences or businesses.
5G cellular services will provide user access to operators’ 5G cellular networks. These services will begin to be rolled out in 2019, when the first 5G-enabled (or -compliant) devices are expected to become commercially available. Cellular service delivery is also dependent upon the completion of mobile core standards by 3GPP in late 2018.
How does it work?
There are a number of new technologies likely to be applied – but standards haven’t been hammered out yet for all 5G protocols. Higher-frequency bands – 3.5GHz (gigahertz) to 26GHz and beyond – have a lot of capacity but their shorter wavelengths mean their range is lower – they’re more easily blocked by physical objects.
So we may see clusters of smaller phone masts closer to the ground transmitting so-called “millimetre waves” between much higher numbers of transmitters and receivers. This will enable higher density of usage. But it’s expensive and telecoms companies are not wholly committed yet.
Is it very different to 4G?
Yes, it’s a brand new radio technology, but you might not notice vastly higher speeds at first because 5G is likely to be used by network operators initially as a way to boost capacity on existing 4G (LTE – Long-Term Evolution) networks, to ensure a more consistent service for customers. The speed you get will depend on which spectrum band the operator runs the 5G technology on and how much your carrier has invested in new masts and transmitters.
Why do we need it?
The world is going mobile and we’re consuming more data every year, particularly as the popularity of video and music streaming increases. Existing spectrum bands are becoming congested, leading to breakdowns in service, particularly when lots of people in the same area are trying to access online mobile services at the same time. 5G is much better at handling thousands of devices simultaneously, from mobiles to equipment sensors, video cameras to smart street lights.
WHEN WILL 5G LAUNCH?
- 5G technology is expected to officially launch across the world by 2020
- The US, China and South Korea are expected to be some of the first nations to install full 5G networks, with others including the UK not far behind
- Many companies are busy making sure their networks and devices are ‘5G ready’ in time for 2020, meaning some networks may launch before then