The term 5G has been a buzzword for some time now; but what exactly is it and what will this next generation of wireless communications offer? Until 5G technology becomes a reality, these questions are difficult to answer.
While there is no precise definition of 5G, it essentially refers to the next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards and will aim to address any shortcomings of the current 4G by achieving the following goals:
- Enabling faster data speeds: 4G networks can attain peak download speeds of one gigabit per second but with 5G, this could increase to 10Gbps.
- Improving data transfer rates: With 5G the latency rate (the time taken to send data to another device) will decrease considerably – from about 50 milliseconds to one millisecond.
- Anytime, anywhere connectivity to meet industrial and societal needs beyond 2020.
A fundamental difference between 5G and earlier generations of mobile technology is that the research concentrates on finding the best methods to improve spectrum utilisation (bits per Hertz per unit area), as opposed to spectrum efficiency (bits per Hertz). The reason for this is that improvements in spectral efficiency through coding and modulation design is becoming more challenging.
New technological approaches, however, can greatly improve spectrum utilisation and make networks flexible enough to carry some of the new applications and use cases expected in 5G.
Although the wireless industry hasn’t agreed on any standards around 5G yet, organisations like Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GMSA) and Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) are optimistic that 5G will be up and running by 2020.
GSMA maintains that there are four potential use cases for 5G applications that are not achievable with legacy networks LTE, LTE-A, and other 4G improvements:
- Augmented reality
- Virtual reality
- Tactile Internet
- Self-drive cars
The first three technologies have possible uses in both entertainment (e.g. gaming) and also more practical situations such as manufacturing or medicine, and could include wearable technologies. For example, a robot could perform an operation that is remotely controlled by a surgeon elsewhere in the world. The bandwidth and latency requirements of this type of application would be outside the competencies of LTE, and therefore has the potential to be enabled by 5G networks only.
As technologies like the “Internet of Things” (IoT) grow exponentially and result in vast numbers of mobile devices online, 5G will become a necessity. More and more users will expect ubiquitous access to the same high-quality mobile experiences and sooner or later machines will rely on fast, far-reaching mobile networks in order to operate.