What is 5G?
It’s the next generation of cellular technology after LTE, and it promises to greatly enhance the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. How fast can 5G transfer data? In theory, it can surpass one Gigabits per second. That’s about 100 times faster than a current 4G network.
5G uses three band width which are low, mid, high band spectrum. Low-band spectrum can also be described as sub 1GHz spectrum. It’s the primary band used by carriers in the U.S. for LTE, and bandwidth is nearly depleted. While low-band spectrum offers great coverage area and wall penetration, there is a big drawback: Peak data speeds will top out around 100Mbps.
Mid-band spectrum provides faster speeds and lower latency than low-band. It does, however, fail to penetrate buildings as effectively as low-band spectrum. Expect peak speeds up to 1Gbps on mid-band spectrum.
High-band spectrum is what delivers the highest performance for 5G, but with major weaknesses. It is often referred to as mmWave. High-band spectrum can offer peak speeds up to 10Gbps and has extremely low latency. The main drawback of high-band is that it has low coverage area and building penetration is poor.
What is special about 5G?
Peak data rate: 5G will offer significantly faster data speeds. Peak data rates can hit 20Gbps downlink and 10Gbps uplink per mobile base station. Mind you, that’s not the speed you’d experience with 5G (unless you have a dedicated connection) — it’s the speed shared by all users on the cell.
Real-world speeds: While the peak data rates for 5G sound pretty impressive, actual speeds won’t be the same. The spec calls for user download speeds of 100Mbps and upload speeds of 50Mbps.
Latency: Latency, the time it takes data to travel from one point to another, should be at 4 milliseconds in ideal circumstances, and at 1 millisecond for use cases that demand the utmost speed. Think remote surgeries, for instance.
Efficiency: Radio interfaces should be energy efficient when in use, and drop into low-energy mode when not in use. Ideally, a radio should be able to switch into a low-energy state within 10 milliseconds when no longer in use.
Spectral efficiency: Spectral efficiency is “the optimized use of spectrum or bandwidth so that the maximum amount of data can be transmitted with the fewest transmission errors.” 5G should have a slightly improved spectral efficiency over LTE, coming in at 30bits/Hz downlink, and 15 bits/Hz uplink.
Mobility: With 5G, base stations should support movement from 0 to 310 mph. This basically means the base station should work across a range of antenna movements — even on a high-speed train. While it’s easily done on LTE networks, such mobility can be a challenge on new millimeter wave networks.
Connection density: 5G should be able to support many more connected devices than LTE. The standard states 5G should be able to support 1 million connected devices per square kilometer. That’s a huge number, which takes into account the slew of devices that will power the Internet of Things (IoT).
How does it work?
5G initially used super-high-frequency spectrum, which has shorter range but higher capacity, to deliver a massive pipe for online access. Think of it as a glorified Wi-Fi hotspot.
But given the range and interference issues, the carriers are also using lower-frequency spectrum — the type used in today’s networks — to help ferry 5G across greater distances and through walls and other obstructions.
Sprint claims it has the biggest 5G network because it’s using its 2.5 gigahertz band of spectrum, which offers wider coverage. T-Mobile plans a bigger rollout of its 5G network in the second half thanks to the use of even lower-band spectrum. And AT&T says it plans to offer 5G coverage nationwide over its lower-band Sub-6 spectrum in early 2020.
The result is that the insane speeds companies first promised won’t always be there, but we’ll still see a big boost from what we get today with 4G LTE.
Where do these carriers get the spectrum?
Some of these carriers already control small swaths of high-frequency radio airwaves, but many will have to purchase more from the government. Carriers around the world are working with their respective governments to free up the necessary spectrum. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission is holding more auctions for so-called millimeter wave spectrum, which all the carriers are participating in.
Are there other benefits?
The shift to 5G will undoubtedly change the way we interact with technology on a day-to-day basis, but it’s also an absolute necessity if we want to continue using mobile broadband.
Carriers are running out of LTE capacity in many major metropolitan areas. In some cities, users are already experiencing slowdowns during busy times of the day. 5G adds huge amounts of spectrum in bands that haven’t been used for commercial broadband traffic.
Expect to see autonomous vehicles rise at the same rate that 5G is deployed across the U.S. In the future, your vehicle will communicate with other vehicles on the road, provide information to other cars about road conditions, and offer performance information to drivers and automakers. If a car brakes quickly up ahead, yours may learn about it immediately and preemptively brake as well, preventing a collision. This kind of vehicle-to-vehicle communication could ultimately save thousands of lives.
Public safety and infrastructure
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 streetlights go out, and municipalities will be able to quickly and inexpensively install surveillance cameras.
Remote device control
Since 5G has remarkably low latency, remote control of heavy machinery will become a reality. While the primary aim is to reduce risk in hazardous environments, it will also allow technicians with specialized skills to control machinery from anywhere in the world.
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.
Remember massive Machine-Type Communications? mMTC will also play a key role in health care. Hospitals can create massive sensor networks to monitor patients, physicians can prescribe smart pills to track compliance, and insurers can even monitor subscribers to determine appropriate treatments and processes.
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.