5G, as the technology of the fifth generation of cellular networking is termed, has been a theoretical possibility for some years now. The latest technology in the world of mobile internet delivery and the faster speeds and lower latency it will provide is key to many of the technologies expected to shape the next decade or two from autonomous vehicles to IoT and other big data and AI applications. However, for 5G to become a reality it has to be rolled out in a coordinated way between telecoms infrastructure owners, carriers and hardware manufacturers.
Making 5G a reality is a huge investment and project but the economic gains that are expected to result for all stakeholders means that it will happen and sooner rather than later. When the infrastructure will be in place will vary hugely around the world. Economically developed nations and large cities will come on line first. 5G infrastructure will come from a combination of upgrades to existing 4G and LTE networks and hardware and new networks built from scratch to support 5G.
Upgrading networks with the latest technology in the world of antennas, higher frequency spectrum bands and millimetre wave frequencies. These technology upgrades will provide mobile carriers with the core infrastructure to bring 5G to the customers though they will also have to make huge investments in their own delivery infrastructure.
Not only will 5G be faster than optimal LTE 4G, it aims to solve the disruptions caused by other WiFi signals, buildings and microwaves. Coping with the IoT future puts capacity on an almost equal footing as speed in terms of infrastructure priority.
Marcelo Claure, CEO of U.S. carrier Sprint explains:
“Unlike today’s networks that are built using large towers scattered every few miles, 5G requires the massive deployment of small cell technology to enable the network to handle the exponential growth of data transmission, which will need to be much denser. In a neighbourhood block for example, there may be dozens of small, unobtrusive shoe-box sized cells mounted on street lights, buildings and other public infrastructure.”
Mobile devices that will be able to benefit from 5G networks will also need new generations of modems and processor chipsets. Smartphone manufacturers and third party component makers such as Qualcomm and Intel have already either managed to develop the necessary new components to support 5G or are on the verge of doing so.
The first 5G networks and carrier packages are forecast to be available at some point in 2019 and will become the new standard over the subsequent several years. What changes are 5G expected to bring to our everyday lives?
Self-driving cars will need almost immediate levels of signal responsiveness and 5G will provide that. An HD movie that would take around an hour to download over 4G will take seconds over 5G and sophisticated multiplayer gaming will be possible through mobile devices on the go.
The latency and speed 5G brings will also open up the possibility of cloud-based hardware. This means the processing capabilities of hardware will be hosted on the cloud and could theoretically be beamed onto any screen with a 5G internet connection. So one piece of hardware could be a super-powerful games console, TV and laptop at once. We will no longer have to buy the latest technology in the world of hardware but will receive it as a service on a subscription. The kind of big data transfer that 5G will enable will also turbo-charge the development of sectors as diverse as biotech and energy efficiency.
And the best bit about 5G is that we won’t need 6G. Because the infrastructure is based on lots of small transmission points and is more software than hardware-based, future upgrades will be a lot cheaper and easier than has been the case through previous cellular networking upgrades.