5G is coming: What to know about the tech that will change everything
By Samantha Cossick
It’s 2020 — we have roll-up TVs, foldable smartphones, voice-activated assistants, a plethora of internet-connected smart devices and more technology being introduced every day. And with more smart devices comes a need for a better-connected network. This year, we can expect to see emerging 5G technology become a more integral part of our life as wireless and internet service providers launch the technology across their networks.
So, what exactly is 5G, who currently is implementing the technology, how does it differ from previous technologies and how could it benefit you? Here’s what you can expect from 5G technology in 2019.
What is 5G and how is it different?
Fifth-generation cellular wireless, or 5G, refers to a form of mobile communication and the technical ground rules established by a group of industry engineers that outline how that network operates. As the rules are established, technology, infrastructure and equipment is updated — providers install new equipment to transmit the signal and companies develop devices to take advantage of the new technology.
The technology is an evolution of the current 4G or 4G LTE wireless data you may currently use with your existing smartphone or devices. These 5G networks are powered by a new technology referred to as millimeter wave, or mmWave.
This latest evolution focuses on massive device connectivity with reduced latency — a measure of how fast data transfers between a source and its destination — and a higher data rate. Where 5G outperforms current technology is its speed and connectivity. In a live demonstration of a prototype 5G device on a prototype 5G network by Qualcomm, Motorola and Verizon at the Snapdragon Technology Summit last year, the test modem was able to transfer a gigabyte worth of data in just 17 seconds. To put these speeds in perspective, according to the Consumer Technology Association, on a 5G network, you could download a two-hour movie in 3.6 seconds compared to 6 minutes on a 4G network or 26 hours on a 3G network.
How long to download a 2-hour movie?
|5G network||4G network||3G network|
|3.6 seconds||6 minutes||26 hours|
Who has 5G and who may launch this year?
Throughout 2019, we can expect to see a number of providers begin to take advantage of 5G technology.
“We’ll see a number of service providers starting the deployment of their 5G networks, primarily in urban areas to improve capacity, with some providers expanding into fixed wireless broadband services,” said Dr. Amitabha (Amitava) Ghosh, Nokia Fellow and Head of the Radio Interface Group at the Nokia Bell Labs. Ghosh is also a member of the PICASSO project, a European Union and United States Information and Communication Technologies collaboration funded by Horizon 2020.
The first introduction of 5G
Verizon was the first to begin rolling out 5G fixed broadband service in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento in October 2018. Unlike the 4G technology you connect to on your phone, Verizon’s 5G Home isn’t mobile. Instead, it’s a fixed service that connects your home with ultra-fast speeds, typically 300 Mbps but ranging up to 940 Mbps.
In late December 2018, AT&T launched its mobile 5G network in 12 cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, San Antonio and more. AT&T’s 5G network more closely resembles a traditional mobile wireless network; however, for now, it can only support one device, a 5G mobile hotspot from Netgear.
“This is the first taste of the mobile 5G era,” said Andre Fuetsch, president, AT&T Labs, and chief technology officer, in a press release. “Being first, you can expect us to evolve very quickly. It’s early on the 5G journey and we’re ready to learn fast and continually iterate in the months ahead.”
Allconnect® reached out to AT&T for further comment about their plans for 2019 in January after their first announcement and subsequent follow-up press release; however, Victoria DeCarmine, senior public relations manager for AT&T, said they had no further comment beyond what was included in the releases.
5G networks on the horizon
Earlier this month, T-Mobile expressed in a blog post its interest in developing “improved broadband connectivity at a lower price — including for rural consumers” in the form of New T-Mobile Home Internet using 5G technology. According to the post, New T-Mobile’s business plan is to connect 9.5 million customers to their in-home broadband service by 2024.
While 5G may still be in the early stages at AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, President Donald Trump tweeted in February that he wants more U.S. companies to begin implementing the technology.
“I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible. It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard. American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind,” he said in his tweet.
Outside of the U.S., South Korea was expected to become the first country to have a full working 5G network with a launch planned for the first quarter of 2019. However, the South Korean government has since said that they’ll “almost certainly” miss that deadline and instead are aiming for an April launch. In the United Kingdom, Vodafone is hoping to offer 5G in 19 cities by the end of the year.
5G in 2019 and beyond
“With a minimal expansion of their network resources, many operators will start to offer ‘5G’ branded services and consumers can expect some moderately improved services when close to the new base stations,” said Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas, professor of electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Melbourne and director of the Networked Society Institute.
“However, the real promise of the 5G dream will only be realized when we can drive the value creation through new and interesting applications (many yet to be conceived and developed) as well as much development that needs to happen to bring down the cost of 5G technologies. The dream network of 5G will take shape probably in 2021 onwards.”
What are the benefits of 5G?
Aside from speed and connectivity, 5G networks have the potential to completely revolutionize the way we operate.
Nirmalathas compares the arrival of 5G technology to that of the arrival of the World Wide Web or laptops and the impact they had on our lives. From this perspective, 5G technology can allow businesses to use mobile platforms to automate their production and logistics, users can interact with applications using augmented or virtual reality in a time-sensitive way, platforms and systems can be integrated seamlessly using a mobile network, and more.
Ghosh echoed this idea and reinforced that 5G technology will impact not only how we operate today but allow for new uses not yet imagined.
“Objects ranging from cars and factory machines to appliances, watches and apparel, will learn and organize themselves to fulfill our needs by automatically adapting to our behavior, environment or business processes,” he said.
“New uses will arise, many not yet conceived, creating novel requirements that communications networks must be able to meet flexibly and cost-effectively in order to support operator profitability and the wider ecosystem. The way we travel, how we can control remote environments, how the infrastructure around us can support us, and how we produce goods will completely change.”
According to Ghosh, every industry will be affected by 5G. With network speeds as high as 10 Gbps and extremely low latency, 5G technology will be the platform for enabling growth in industries ranging from information technology to automobile, entertainment, agriculture, manufacturing and more.
“It may be noted that 5G is more than increasing capacity and higher peak throughputs,” he said. “The ability of 5G to have ultra-low network latency to control machines will power the 4th Industrial Revolution increasing automation to improve productivity.”
We can also expect safety and business-critical applications that necessitate “absolutely stringent, reliable and predictable service levels,” such as healthcare sensors that monitor a patient post-treatment or self-driving cars that send and receive information to make driving decisions, will “far exceed those used today” thanks to the improved capacity, throughput and latency.
Augmented reality will offer new experiences and ways to enhance traditional everyday transactions. Even simple tasks that today may take a lot of time or data, such as using your smartphone in a packed venue, stadium or airport, will take less time.
As with any new technology, though, Nirmalathas cautions that 5G technology should not just be limited to urban hotspots or in-home devices.
“It needs to be everywhere to realize such a dream of a pervasive 5G and its potential impact,” Nirmalathas said. “This is where the problems and risks of this technology start.”
What are the hurdles to implementing of 5G technology?
Despite all of the advancements being made in the world of 5G, it’s still a brand new technology with a number of implementation hurdles.
Because many existing mobile networks rely on lower frequencies, a 5G network would need to be built on a higher frequency. However, higher frequencies don’t necessarily work well in environments with a lot of buildings or significant foliage, Nirmalathas said. To solve for this, providers would need to build 5G base stations very close to consumers.
“This poses a number of risks – 5G deployment will be expensive with millions of antenna base stations having to be deployed close to the user demographics,” he said.
Because of the cost to update, build and manage these new base stations and networks as well as connect homes and workplaces to the network, there would be a high cost of implementation associated with 5G technology making access a possible “luxury” at first.
“This poses a major challenge in the business model of running 5G mobile network,” Nirmalathas said. “As the high end of the connectivity under 5G requires very new technologies, the user may face really expensive handsets and limited coverage initially as well as significantly higher access fees for unlimited data plans.”
In addition to base stations, these 5G dense deployments would require other supporting infrastructure updates, including fiber connections and possibly new technologies like Integrated Access and Backhaul (a technology that would improve coverage and capacity), which would also take time to implement.
“Not specifically related to 5G, but as with any initial new technology deployment, the coverage may take some time to be realized over larger areas. However, 4G LTE will continue to be the underlying network and continue to provide higher levels of performance for coverage,” Ghosh said.
Why should consumers care about 5G?
So, as an everyday consumer, you may be wondering: “Why should I care about 5G?”
In short: speed and connectivity.
As more and more users rely on mobile phones as their main way to connect to the world instead of desktop or laptop computers, a better-connected network with increased speed and reduced latency can be our gateway to any number of applications.
“The future of mobile communications is likely to be very different to that which we are used to today,” Ghosh said. “While demand for mobile broadband will continue to increase, largely driven by ultra-high-definition video and better screens, we are already seeing the growing impact of the human possibilities of technology as the things around us become ever more connected.”
Consumers can also expect highly personalized and customized products delivered to them wherever and whenever they need them in shorter periods of time. This could range from VR and AR to try on clothes or redecorate your home to 3D printers creating goods instantly to stores predicting and adapting to your preferences. Cities that create smart infrastructure can monitor and prevent pollution, improve traffic systems to reduce road congestion, improve video security camera systems for public safety, and more.
According to Nirmalathas, 5G technology will offer more power to our mobile devices, especially considering they are always connected to the “pervasive internet” in the form of new bandwidth, the speed of response and new modes of using our devices.
“It is like adding rocket fuel to the 4G and Wi-Fi combined and creating a powerful internet gateway via your mobile platform,” he said.
“We already spend more time on our mobile devices. If the connectivity can be a bit more seamless, coverage much better and bandwidth can be really good, consumers will gain a lot of advantages.”
While it may take a year or more to fully realize the benefits of a 5G network, it’s clear that this emerging technology is going to make an impact.