With the first standard for 5G wireless technology approved by the 3GPP recently, the telecom industry has cleared a significant hurdle toward making 5G wireless networks a commercial reality for the telecom industry.
A look at what communications service providers need to know about the move to 5G and what to expect in 2018.
Main Applications of 5G
Global trends indicate that mobile and fixed wireless traffic will continue to grow in 2018. As the number of users increases, existing 4G LTE networks with limited radio frequency spectrums may struggle to deliver high data speed and network reliability.
5G addresses this problem by supporting a much wider range of frequency bands-from as low as 6 GHz to millimeter-wave bands up to 100 GHz. The 3GPP envisions three key cases for 5G:
- Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB): Bandwidth-hungry applications such as ultra-HD video streaming, 360-degree virtual reality (VR), and immersive gaming are on the horizon. To satisfy insatiable consumer demand for data, providers will need to migrate to massive MIMO and millimeter-wave network technologies. These technologies will help increase throughput and capacity significantly.
- Massive machine type communications (mMTC): A key challenge in IoT implementation is providing scalable and efficient connectivity for massive numbers of devices. Current 5G development and testing efforts are optimizing areas such as reliable indoor coverage, cost efficiency, and low power consumption.
- Ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC): Autonomous cars, connected medical devices, augmented reality, and other time-critical applications operating on 5G wireless networks will require extremely reliable transmission methods, paired with ultra-fast signal processing.
The 3GPP passed the non-standalone (NS) version of the 5G standard in December 2017. Labelled 5G New Radio (NR), it utilizes existing LTE radio and core networks for its mobility management and coverage needs. The first standalone version of the 5G standard is expected to be completed by June 2018.
The Future of 5G: 2018 to 2021
With the first set of 5G standards out, experts are predicting greater competition in the 5G space, spurred by a shift from hardware to software-based technologies that lower the barriers to entry.
It is expected that a critical feature of software-heavy 5G will be network slicing-a type of network virtualization that allows operators to deliver a diverse range of 5G services on an application-specific basis. An example would be the same 5G system delivering a high-availability, low-bandwidth service for a group of IoT devices, while in another network slice, delivering high speed, low-latency service for an augmented reality application.
Wire-free broadband is also coming, thanks to the ability of 5G (in theory) to deliver network speeds that rival those of fixed-line connections. In parts of the US, there are plans to start rolling out 5G wireless services in 2018 as a replacement for traditional fiber and copper home broadband. A millimeter-wave 5G broadband network is currently being trialed with data speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s achieved.
A key component of the future of 5G networks is small cell base stations that relay millimeter-wave 5G signals to help overcome interference caused by objects such as foliage and buildings. Small enough to be placed on objects such as traffic lights, lampposts, and sides of buildings, service providers will need to start planning for their integration into urban surroundings.
Commercial 5G networks across the US, Asia-Pacific, and Europe are still in the testing phase and are expected to be deployed by 2020. 5G NR is intended to accelerate the arrival of 5G performance, with large-scale trials and deployments slated for as early as 2019.
With these milestones just around the corner, 2018 is an ideal time for telecom service providers to ramp up their investments in the right mix of 5G spectrum and technology. The future of telecommunications is looking bright, but it is up to providers to invest and grow their service offering wisely.