There has been a new generation of cellular technology roughly every decade. The first generation of mobile networks (“1G”) launched in the early 1980s, and was entirely analog. 2G brought us the first digital network in 1991, and in the new millenium, 3G gave us an even faster data rate.
Currently our LTE (Long-Term Evolution) networks are in their fourth generation. 4G offered transmission rates 10 times faster than 3G, and allows for perks like cloud computing, high def TV on your mobile device, and mobile internet access so fast we often take it for granted.
But 4G was was released roughly 10 years ago, so it’s about time we saw a new standard of networking emerge. Enter 5G - the fifth generation that promises to be faster and more reliable than we’ve ever known. With expectations for it to be commercially available in the next year or so, we are getting a strong sense of how it will affect both the consumer and the economy. There is seemingly limitless potential - and hype - around 5G, with industry experts raving about its speed, capacity, and ability to generally change our lives for the better.
However, for the layperson who may be new to IoT and telecommunications standards, there’s a lot of technobabble that hinders the excitement. What is mmWave technology? Who is 3GPP? Why does this all give me such a headache?
Our lives will undoubtedly be affected by this wave of innovation, so let’s break it down. Below are 4 terms you need to know to understand 5G:
mmWave is an abbreviation for millimeter wave technology. You may already know that cellular technology shares data via radio waves, and the frequency at which it’s shared depends on the electromagnetic signal. Smaller wavelengths mean higher frequency, and higher frequency means more data can be shared. Wavelengths measured in millimeters are very small, which also means that the antennas involved in transmitting/receiving signals can be much smaller than they are presently.
The idea is that phones could have many small antennas, thus allowing them to access wave bands of varying millimeters, resulting in faster internet. Better yet, it would stay faster when more than one user is connected, and ultimately make better use of the available spectrum.
However, in order to access the perks of 5G you have to make certain allowances, and mmWave is no exception. Instead of the few, large towers other networks use, it would have to rely on many small antennas throughout a city or region. Plus, its higher frequency means shorter ranges, and its smaller wavelengths are easily interrupted by buildings, walls, and other interferences.
There are tradeoffs for every different kind of network - some are high bandwidth, some are low latency, and some are extremely reliable, but no one network can do it all. Different businesses, organizations, and projects will have different priorities, and thus require different networks. On the flip side, building a dedicated network for every single use case is expensive and inefficient.
This is where network slicing comes in - it allows for the running of multiple networks on one common platform. It will empower 5G to be flexible for each use case, rather than forcing us to adjust our needs to a certain network’s capabilities.
Network slicing will not only lower costs, but also improve energy efficiency by having these multiple networks operate on a common physical infrastructure. While a mobile operator will have a specific Service Level Agreement (SLA), a customer will be able to customize their slice’s capabilities, including data speed, quality, latency, reliability, security, and services.
As you’re educating yourself on 5G, you will likely come across the same acronym - 3GPP - quite frequently. 3rd Generation Partnership Project is the unifying body of seven different telecommunications standards organizations, collectively known as the Organizational Partners.
It is under 3GPP that these organizations come together and create the reports and specifications that define the mobile communications technologies that play a pivotal role in every generation of network. While we’re only covering four of the most commonly used terms associated with 5G here, I’d encourage you to check out 3GPP’s key words page if you’re still curious and coming across terminology you don’t understand.
When there is an instruction for a transfer of data, there is a delay before that transfer beings - that delay is referred to as latency. Measured in milliseconds (ms), its length is typically calculated as a round trip - how long does it take for the information to get there and back again? 3G cellular data has 120ms of latency, while 4G is half that at 60ms.
5G blows them both out of the water by promising to be anywhere from 1ms to 10ms, which is why you’ll often hear “low-latency” in any conversation about 5G. The transfer of data from time of request is almost instantaneous, and frankly hard to believe. To pull it off will require highly orchestrated coordination between various aspects of the network, but if achieved will allow for major innovations across verticals, including connected cars and AR/VR.
While we hope this primer gives you a little more confidence when talking about 5G at the water cooler tomorrow, it’s only the start of an often complicated and ever-evolving conversation around the next generation of telecommunication. As 5G moves from theory to reality, we’ll continue to explore the many ways in which it will impact our world.
IoT Innovations and Advancements - The Role and Potential of 5G for IoT, by Frost & Sullivan
What is 5g? (The Verge)
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