5G isn’t simply faster communication on large cell networks. It incorporates multiple protocols, including 802.11, GSM, and LTE. Some of the most significant advances are in local, machine-to-machine communication.
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Devices using the new 5G communications protocols will roll out to the public starting in 2019 or 2020. The upcoming standards promise much faster data communication, even than cable broadband, in many cases. Other features include reduced latency and lower power consumption.
What’s called “5G” is more formally Releases 15 and 16 of the 3GPP specifications. Release 16, aka 5G Phase 2, won’t ready till late in 2019, so full implementations are still out in the future.
Small cells, Big Benefits
Shannon’s Law limits the speed of data communication. To get more bandwidth on a channel, you need to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. Ways to do this include increasing the signal strength and shortening the distance. Boosting the signal costs more energy and drains batteries faster, so it’s a limited solution. Small cells shorten the path due to their dense deployment and lower power requirements. They’re a crucial feature of 5G.
They’re physically small. Large antennas of cell towers are not required, make them deployable almost anywhere, on utility poles or within office buildings.
The existing cellular frequencies are crowded, even more with higher data rates. Small cells will expand into new bands in the SHF (super high frequency) and EHF (extremely high frequency) ranges. They include millimeter waves, in the range from 30 to 300 GHz. Obstacles easily block high-frequency transmissions, so positioning the cells is very important. Regulations for placing them, originally designed for big cell towers, are easier now.
The Internet of Things will take advantage of 5G for rapid machine-to-machine communication. Devices which depend on fast reactions need the lowest possible communication latency. Advances in 5G enable latencies as low as one millisecond. New encoding methods allow a shorter transport block size. Semi-Persistent Scheduling (SPS) reduces the overhead of data transmission. Full-duplex protocols allow data to be sent in both directions at once.
Low latency will be valuable in augmented reality and virtual reality applications. Devices that label their surroundings need to keep up as the user moves through the environment, with a minimum of lag. Faster streaming of content will provide a more realistic experience.
The autonomous vehicles are currently tested. They rely primarily on their sensors to tell what’s happening on the road. With 5G vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication, they’ll be able to use externally supplied data to anticipate any delay. Today’s technology allows communication with a central server. With enhanced communications between local nodes, vehicles will be able to pick up more road intelligence.
For much of the general public, 5G means the hope of faster wireless connections. This improvement will happen eventually, but it won’t be among the earliest benefits except in a few places. Very high speeds depend on the small-cell approach. Making it available to every home requires a lot of infrastructures.
Initially, broadband will be fixed wireless, with modems positioned to have a good connection with a small cell. Maintaining mobile connectivity in a network of small cells is a difficult problem.
5G broadband will appear first in densely populated areas and business districts as a premium service. Telecom companies will have to make significant investments to deploy it. Where the service is available, it will be an attractive alternative to cable. Several years will pass before this happens, and cable services will have advanced by then. Even if it achieves parity, wireless Internet connections will offer easier and more flexible setups so that they could gain a competitive advantage.
It will take some time for all these things to happen, but it’s time to start planning now. The coming of 5G will bring new ways of using technology, as well as changing the balance in the telecom market.
Learn how CSPs can adapt to new customer demands with a cultural transformation on our blog post A Cultural Transformation for CSPs.