While the world is just getting used to 4G, the next generation of 5G
technology is right around the corner. Talk of 5G has begun to ramp up over
the last six months and major wireless carriers are beginning to issue
significant global announcements about their plans for a 5G world. But how did
we get here?
Fifteen years ago, 2G brought the world digital voice transmission, SMS and
mobile Internet. For the first time, we had people-to-machine connectivity,
albeit at much lower speeds than what we are used to today. Email was the
first application to gather widespread interest, which took advantage of the
From there, we advanced to 3G, which brought higher data rates and the
capability to support simultaneous voice and data. At first, adoption of 3G
was slow. Voice and SMS were still the primary applications, and 2G speeds
were still acceptable for email to the phone. However, with the advent of the
smartphone, the consumer soon developed the taste for nomadic computing, with
consumers streaming video and compulsively checking their Facebook accounts.
The increased demand heralded 3G HPSA +, and suddenly we saw the advent of the
tidal wave of data that is still rolling today.
Today’s 4G technology offers higher levels of bandwidth, but our
appetites for bandwidth-intensive services like streaming video have grown
much larger. Over 75% of mobile data today is video driven by smartphones but
the quality leaves much to be desired. As tablets and smartphones become
larger in form factor, consumers expect 1080p quality video. The bottom line
is that while 4G does its job well, and offers significant improvement over 3G
in terms of latency, bandwidth and overall connectivity, it has only created
demand for faster and higher-quality service that can’t be met by
The next generation
5G will be the wireless standard of the future. The wireless community is
still debating the details of 5G, but the overarching goal is achieving the
ultimate user experience. From a bandwidth perspective, the global objective
of 5G is to deliver 100 Mbit/s for everybody, everywhere. Many have even
referred to 5G as the “fourth utility,” since ubiquitous
broadband access is so important for both businesses and individuals in
today’s world. 5G is going to be the launching point for more
application convergence. The market is already focused on fixed and mobile
network convergence for typical communications applications, but there is much
more on the horizon. Low latency wireless connectivity is imperative to
providing fast machine-controlled responses to enable autonomous cars, the
wireless factory and elements of the Internet of Things.
2G/3G/4G technologies have enabled the start of the Internet of Things,
however 5G will be the enabler of the “tactile” Internet,
essentially sensor and actuator networks. For example, factory automation,
process control and robotics are technology areas ripe for wireless
innovation. Today, we see pockets of industrial WiFi used in very specific
applications, but a low latency, deterministic, high-bandwidth wireless
technology could completely revolutionize the factory floor by providing the
fail-safe wireless connectivity necessary to connect machines within a wide
variety of applications.
5G — stretching the boundaries
It is going to take some significant and fundamental changes: The industry
will need 10x more spectrum, 10x better spectral efficiency and 10x more cell
density in order to achieve the desired 1,000 bit area density improvement.
The need for increased bandwidth in dense deployments becomes obvious if you
have ever tried to use your cell phone in a sports arena.
In order to achieve this significant improvement in capability, network
operators will need to make several changes to their wireless networks.
Wireless cell infrastructure density will need to rapidly increase such that
we end up with an almost viral network that can scale as we need it. This will
mean including a variety of cell sizes and architectures beyond the
traditional macro network deployments. In order to achieve the 10x increase in
spectrum, 5G will be forced to expand into the millimeter wave arena, possibly
exceeding 80GHz, compared to the sub 4GHz spectrum used by previous
generations of wireless networks.
Planning for 5G
It is expected that 5G systems will be deployed beginning in 2020, which is
now less than 5 years away. Most major economies around the world have
already started to lay very significant plans for 5G. Consortiums are being
formed all around the world to determine the specifications that will need to
be in place by 2020 to allow for the natural progression of 5G. The European
Commission has already allocated over €700 million to be spent between
now and 2020 to enable 5G technology.
While some of the transition to 5G will be revolutionary, such as the adoption
of millimeter wave frequencies, which will require new infrastructure and
mobile devices, there will be evolutionary changes as well that are starting
with 4G networks today. Network densification has already started with 4G,
network operators are deploying small cells, DAS and centralized RANs to keep
up with data demand in dense urban networks.
SDN is already being introduced to networks today to help operators manage
their transport networks that provide backhaul to wireless base stations. This
will extend to include management of the wireless equipment as well, helping
network operators coordinate multiple wireless technologies and vendors to
provide seamless connectivity to consumers. NFV will provide operators with
the flexibility to quickly roll out new services and adapt to changing network
requirements, and this can also be adopted with today’s generation of
wireless network equipment.
There is an impressive array of technology that is planned for the transition
to 5G that will enable many new possible services. It will be exciting to see
which killer app will drive the direction of 5G development.
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