It is fair to say that in the past couple of years, no buzzword has had as much of an effect on marketing as the word 5G. The word signifies so much that the industry has been promoting it everywhere. The new smartphones support 5G. The rollout of new carrier networks mentions 5G services and chip vendors talk about 5G modems and SoCs. Device makers upsell 5G as the ‘next big thing’ that will ‘change users’ lives.’ Depending on whom the individual talks to, there will be different hearing about 5G altogether.
There are several questions about the 5G, like whether is it mildly upgraded 4G mobile broadband, or is it the technology that will connect industries and services, power a massive number of IoT (Internet of Things) devices, and serve as the backbone support for future innovation? In this article, International Finance will try to answer these questions.
What is 5G?
The fifth-generation mobile network is known as 5G. The air interface that enables 5G, which replaces 4G LTE, is 5G NR (New Radio). The 3GPP, an organisation that develops industry standards, created the 5G specification. Similar to 4G, 5G is a cellular mobile network that supports mobile broadband. The fundamental idea is the same: networks are divided into cells, and devices get cellular connectivity by connecting to radio waves emitting from a carrier-installed node. It just makes use of additional radio frequency (RF) waves that were not available to 4G. Increased capacity, increased bandwidth, and improved speeds are the main advantages of 5G over 4G.
Mobile networks typically receive a standard-related technological upgrade every ten years. In the 1980s, 1G networks were analogue networks. Since 2G networks were digital networks, their introduction in 1991 marked a significant turning point for GSM. For instance, SMS texting was supported by 2G networks. GSM, TDMA, and CDMA were the three forms of 2G networks. Later, the 2G GSM networks introduced GPRS and EDGE (2.5G and 2.75G, respectively), which provided basic and slow mobile data. Although browsing the web on 2G required waiting several minutes for a page to load, this was just the start of mobile Internet.
The first commercial 3G networks were rolled out in 2001. In contrast to 2G, which stood for digital voice calling, 3G stood for mobile data. Similar to 2G, 3G was available in a variety of forms, including W-CDMA (which was used in international phones and later developed into HSPA), UMTS, and CDMA2000, to mention a few. The spread of 3G networks takes a very long period; for instance, India did not have 3G networks until 2010. While 3G enabled mobile internet, data speeds were not very great because the initial 3G UMTS data speed target was only 144Kbps. HSPA and HSPA+ (3.5G) did improve data speeds, but for the most part, browsing the web on 3G was a slow experience with speeds ranging from 1Mbps to 10Mbps on average.
Then in the beginning of 2010, the 4G LTE network was started. The 4G standard made quick, practical mobile data a reality. It had a target data download speed of 100 Mbps, but because of congestion, many 4G networks today have lower download rates.
It unlocked new industries such as ride-sharing. It brought IP-based telephony in the form of Voice over LTE (VoLTE). The network 4G LTE was the successor to both global 3G (WCDMA/UMTS/HSPA), and EVDO Rev A. The 4G networks were the best yet, and smartphones featuring 4G were more powerful than ever. The network has been iterated upon by LTE-Advanced, and advancements in 4G keep happening with new modem chips being released every year. The 4G is a mature technology and one that has changed the world.
As with any other network, 4G was unable to keep up with the rising data needs. Data speeds started to decrease as 4G networks became crowded and more people started using them.
For the past four years, 5G networks and modems have been under development, but commercial 5G just started to become a reality in 2019. More 5G networks were deployed in 2020, and more 5G products were made available for purchase. More than half of the world still does not have widespread access to 5G, but that will change over the course of the next five years. The rollout of 4G networks is more or less complete, and so, carriers are turning their attention to 5G.
The applications of 5G
5G is a broad term. It has applications in three fields, which are mobile data and voice, enterprise solutions and IoT connectivity. The 5G addresses the first area for smartphone users. Experts say that with applications in fields like autonomous cars, smart cities, uses in the medical industry, smart machinery, smart manufacturing, etc., the business sector will undoubtedly gain from the 5G rollout. With respect to the third field, IoT, the telecommunications and mobile industries have been proclaiming for years that 5G will connect IoT devices in massive numbers. Everything around us will be connected. For smartphone users, the latter two fields are academically interesting, but it is the first field—mobile data and voice—that actually matters for end users.
The 5G refers to faster data—in certain cases much quicker—for smartphone users. Additionally, the new networks guarantee extremely low latency, comparable to cable internet. For use cases that depend on extremely low latency, like multiplayer cloud gaming, this will be a major issue. While 4G networks have never been able to achieve latency levels comparable to cable broadband, 5G promises to do just that.
Additionally, the bandwidth and network data capacity of 5G will be substantially higher. According to reports, when a significant number of users start utilising the network, it won’t be as overloaded as 4G. The 5G will offer better customer service, less downtime, and higher quality of service for carriers who have overloaded 4G networks. But it is all about the speeds. The maximum downlink speed of the 5G specification is 20Gbps, which is 10 times faster than the fastest 4G LTE modem chip (which tops out at 2Gbps). Of course, 20Gbps is currently just a theoretical goal. The best modem chips released by chip vendors Qualcomm and Samsung can go as high as a theoretical maximum of 10Gbps when using millimetre wave 5G.
Customers will naturally expect that 5G networks will be orders of magnitude quicker than their current 4G LTE networks given these speeds. Low-band 5G networks from carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T are only marginally faster than 4G networks. These become sometimes slower as the radio frequency spectrum is so important, a 5G network doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will be significantly quicker than a 4G network. The 5G networks with data downlink speeds of just 30–50 Mbps are possible, despite other mid-band 5G networks having data downlink rates of 500–600 Mbps.
The technology behind 5G
The Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM), which also powers 4G, drives the 5G network. Digital data is encoded using the OFDM technique, which uses multiple carrier frequencies. It is the technology of choice since it is reliable and effective. Similar to 4G (FDD-LTE and TDD-LTE), 5G uses both frequency division duplex (FDD) and time division duplex (TDD) technology.
The spectrum is the main feature that distinguishes 5G from 4G. The electromagnetic frequency spectrum utilised to transport data across the air is referred to as the spectrum. Higher speeds and more data capacity are possible with 5G because of its ability to exploit a wider range of RF waves than 4G networks. It is noted that around 10-20MHz of 5G spectrum in a low band such as 600MHz will give speeds ranging from 50Mbps-100Mbps, but as you move up the frequency spectrum, the speeds will also go up rapidly.
A technique called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) enables the reuse of the 4G spectrum. This is what US carriers like AT&T are doing. However, experts say, greater frequencies are required to provide the fastest 5G speeds.
There are two 5G operating modes, these are non-standalone mode (NSA) and standalone mode (SA). Nearly all carriers currently rely on NSA 5G. In this mode, the 5G network is reliant on a 4G core network and 4G base stations. These networks use 4G network capabilities for data link transport. Since carriers may leverage their 4G core networks and network infrastructure, NSA deployment is made simpler for them. The disadvantage here is that it’s dependent on older technology used for 4G, so speeds won’t be as high, while latency won’t go as low as it can go in SA mode. However, there are still benefits to the 5G protocol itself that consumers will hopefully realize.
The real 5G fantasy that carriers are starting to promote is the SA mode. Verizon and T-Mobile in the US both provide commercial standalone 5G networks, but AT&T is now taking its time. Due to the usage of a 5G core network and separate network infrastructure, SA 5G networks are totally independent of 4G. Since this data link transfer does not rely on 4G technology, SA networks can guarantee significantly faster speeds and lower latency. Newer smartphone releases that are powered by the most recent modems support both modes, which means they support both the existing NSA networks and future SA networks.
The 5G network comes in two types. One is 5G at frequencies below 6 GHz, which is the real 4G LTE replacement. The other is 5G mmWave, or millimetre wave. The majority of users will only encounter sub-6GHz since carriers throughout the world have been wise enough to handle mmWave cautiously. But in some countries, including the US, carriers have launched mmWave first due to the initial shortage of sub-6GHz spectrum. While countries like South Korea, Japan, and Russia have jumped on the mmWave bandwagon, the vast majority of the world has chosen to play it safe with sub-6GHz.
The term sub-6GHz means a network bandwidth radio frequency that is less than 6GHz. All 4G bands are sub-6GHz. On the other hand, mmWave denotes bands with radio frequencies greater than 6GHz. Although mmWave bands offer a range of 24GHz to 100GHz, in reality, carriers have only launched networks in the 26GHz to 39GHz range so far.
Experts believe that with thorough deployment, 5G can play an essential part when it comes to revolutionizing the telecom sector. For companies, those who harness it will benefit from the efficacies as well as the prospects for innovation that the 5G network provides.