The public is ready for superfast, highly reliable 5G networks, but the telecom industry needs time and money to make them a reality. Though readily available 5G technology is still in the testing phase and implementing it will take some time, telecom companies still need to start preparing for them now.
Making the Switch to 5G
A year from now, the public is expecting the rollout of the first 5G networks, the new super-speed, a high-efficiency mobile Internet that will power everything from the Internet of Things (IoT) to remote surgery.
So, how does 5G improve on the already implemented 4G network? The International Telecommunication Union drafted specifications for a 5G network, including:
- A peak data rate for downloads of 20GB/sec (minimum), with uplink peak data rate of 10GB/sec per single 5G cell
- Downloads of 100MB/s and uploads of 50MB/s for individual users
- A maximum latency of 4ms, a fifth of current standards
New Network, New Technology
The main challenge 4G networks face is the limited radio frequency spectrums. As more people and more devices pile onto these limited radio frequency spectrums, less bandwidth is available to transmit data, resulting in a slower service for everyone. 5G can solve these challenges.
But for 5G to both increase speed and reduce this latency will require entirely new technologies, such as:
- Millimeter waves: Increasing the frequency spectrum is the first step towards 5G technology. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has already made available more high-frequency spectrums in the U.S. But higher frequencies have shorter transmission ranges and will experience interference from walls, trees, and even heavy rain.
- Small cells: Smaller base stations require minimal power to operate and can be placed in more locations than regular cell towers. These can help relay the short signals of millimeter waves, reducing the interference.
- Massive MIMO: Base stations today have a dozen ports, eight transmitters, and four receivers. With massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), 5G base stations could have a hundred ports, increasing capacity 20 or more times over.
- Beamforming: To stop these additional signals from crossing each other and interfering with the network, telecom operators will need to run a signaling system that can identify and run the most efficient data delivery route for each user at the same time.
These technologies are still in the testing phase and network operators, in collaboration with technology companies like Intel, Samsung, Nokia, and Qualcomm are footing the bill for the R&D.
The Impact of 5G Technology on the Telecom Industry
The biggest hurdle facing the telecom industry in relation to 5G right now is finding the funds to support the required changes. Service providers will need to invest heavily in technology and network upgrades in order to provide customers with their desired Internet speed. But the investment will pay off as the new technology and infrastructure will ultimately enable telecoms to offer their customers more.
The US, with its widespread population, will have particular difficulties expanding 5G coverage. The GSMA is predicting that Asia will lead the way in the development of 5G technologies, spurred by the human density of its cities that lends itself to 5G deployment.
While it’s speed that’s grabbing all the headlines, it’s probably latency that’s more important for 5G. Some experts have warned that pursuing ever higher speeds is a fool’s game - at a certain point, customer demand for speed at any cost will fall away. As telecoms deploy their 5G networks, they will need to balance the perceived need for speed with the size of the required investment and make sure the real needs of customers are met. Consumers might believe the hype that faster is better, but in the end, what they crave may be reliability and reduced latency.
Experts expect the first commercially available 5G network won't be around until 2020, but ABI Research predicts mobile broadband operators will see 5G revenues of $247 billion in 2025, with North America, Asia-Pacific, and Western Europe being the top markets. Despite the challenges and the investment, 5G will be a revolution for customers and operators alike.
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