5G — luxury or necessity?

5G has been the talk of the town for a while now. And the talk is only getting louder. As a telecommunication engineer and technologist, I too keep throwing 5G related buzzwords all the time. But what exactly is 5G? Is it a luxury to ensure paychecks of telecommunication professionals, or is it a technology we can’t live without?

The question may sound trivial at onset, but is very critical. Ofcourse, we will eventually need technology better than 4G, but is it not too soon? Globally mobile network operators, mobile device manufacturers, network equipment manufacturers have spent a bomb, not too long ago, for 4G (LTE) development, and 4G deployments are still ongoing. 4G network is still not accessible to majority of the population globally. Then where should our priorities be — in developing a new technology (5G) and forcing entire ecosystem to make another set of investments, or expanding coverage of existing 4G network?

Answer, of course, is - we need 5G. But why? Why we can’t just enhance 4G? If you ever had that question I’ll try to answer it without getting too technical and keeping it brief.

Data, Digitization and even more Data

We are going digital. Memory in our devices are growing exponentially. Every service we need is available as an app. We are clicking more photos, more videos everyday. The camera resolution (and in turn photo/video size) is increasing. We are consuming panoramas, 360 deg, VR. All our data is going cloud. We want HD video streaming, and we get annoyed if we experience buffering. And we want it all seamlessly, across devices. The data requirement are increasing exponentially.

  • Global internet traffic in 2021 will be 3-fold as compared to 2016, and staggering 127 times as compared to 2005.
  • Live-video-streaming will grow 15-fold just between 2016 and 2021. (someone’s gonna make real money, really really faster)
  • Did I mention 20-fold increase in VR and AR data traffic during same period (2016–2021)?

4G network is not designed to handle such increase in data traffic. We need 5G.

Connected TV, washing machine, Wrist watch and Car-infotainment

Internet of every things — We can not yet fully imagine what we can achieve when all devices are connected to each other, but we will increasingly see more devices talking to each other. Ofcourse, this will need support from cellular networks. It is estimated that we will have 3.5 connected devices per person in 2021. 3.5 devices for each of billions of people. That is huge!!!

4G networks globally are already struggling keeping up with current number of connected devices. You do not need any study for that, just observe data or voice call experience in your current operator’s network. When your call gets dropped next time, you know one probable culprit.

Self-driving cars

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Another buzz words we keep hearing now-a-days is self-driving vehicle. Leading automobile companies are demonstrating and launching self-driving cars almost every other day. You just need to mention where you want to go and the car will find out route and traffic, will figure out fastest way, will (should) avoid any contact with other human-driven or self-driven vehicle, or any object in surrounding. This is easier said than done. And entire system need to be 99.99999999% reliable, otherwise no one’s gonna buy that. Naturally, to perform navigation and other tasks they need data and cloud access, and this needs cellular network connectivity.

In case of emergency, we want self-driving cards to respond instantly. One of the defining specification for 5G is round trip latency for data — which is amount of time it takes to receive requested data. As per specs, 5G should provide round trip latency of less than 1 ms. For a car travelling at 100 Kmph, 1 ms roughly corresponds to 3 cm of distance. This can be the difference between someone’s life and death. 4G network are not designed to support such low latency. And vehicles connected to 4G network will need lot more time to respond, which is big safety hazard. For self-driving cars and other similar applications (like healthcare, military) we need network to respond immediately. We certainly need 5G for that.

Inevitable 5G

I hope I communicated why we need 5G well enough. There are many more reasons and requirements — 5G is inevitable. And it is coming faster than we can imagine. In not so distant future — all our home appliances will be connected to each other, games & video streaming will not buffer thanks to less latency, and files will be downloaded with 1 Gbps download speed. South Korea is racing fast towards first commercial deployment of 5G in 2018 to demonstrate their technological edge. And within a few years from then, it would not be possible to escape 5G network even on remotest area on our planet.

That was a brief introduction to 5G. I hope you liked the article and found it useful. This is the first in the series of articles I’ll be sharing to discuss 5G and its applications. Being engineer myself I would like to discuss in depth about network architecture, proposed technologies, industry updates, and other details as and when they come up. Stay tuned and let me know what you think about this article, I would like to hear your feedback. And will be more than happy to research and write about things you want me to cover.

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