by Serhad Doken, Executive, Technology Innovation, 5G Ecosystem, Verizon
While we are at the early days of 5G, we are approaching an exponential growth of 5G networks across the globe for the next 2–4 years. There is a lot that has been said and written about this next generation of emerging wireless communication standard. Lately, it has been a hot topic and in the middle of a lot of trade turmoil as well. However, perhaps the general public and even folks within the business world or non-communication focused tech world may have a high level of what it is, what it brings and what industries/verticals it may eventually impact. Let’s reveal more about 5G and unpack it slowly for everyone.
It has been the norm that wireless technology (the Gs) has been coming around every ~10 years, with 3G in the early 2000s, 4G in the early 2010s. However, the mobile industry has been trying to accelerate 5G deployment recently. Rather than waiting until the 2020s, there have been several smaller-scale commercial network deployments going back to 2018 and now scale is going up with announcements around major cities in 2019.
Let’s delve into what 5G technology is all about. Keep in mind that current LTE Networks are not going anywhere anytime soon, will be with us probably another ~10 years, and they are not sitting still either with advancements around peak Gbps speed, NB-IoT and Cat-M connected device support and LAA(Licensed Assisted Access) that aggregate both licensed and unlicensed(Wi-Fi) spectrum.
The most well-known feature of 5G is the speed. Theoretically, 10Gps is the target, however, let’s call Gbps speed will probably be the norm for 5G networks when they are pervasively deployed. This is almost 10–100X faster than average LTE speed. We can even call 5G almost fiber drop off like service without the direct fiber connection. In fact, the backhaul for 5G networks will be fiber. That is essential because it does not make sense for 5G to have Gbps over the air speed if it is not possible to transmit all the traffic back to the core network/Internet and the backhaul pipe was the bottleneck.
Now, here is a basic example to put that into perspective. During 3G times, if you wanted to download a movie to watch on the flight before a flight from the United States to Australia, it’d have taken you more than 24 hours. I’d have said, just get on to the flight because that your flight would be even less time than waiting for that download. During the 4G times, we took that download time to six minutes, about the time it takes for a short walk/run. During 5G, we are merely talking about less than 4 secs. Now that we covered speed, let’s talk about other 5G currencies, albeit that they have not gotten as much press.
The second currency of 5G is its low latency. Theoretically, that is just 1ms over the air, but let’s just call it 10ms to be on the conservative side. There are many applications that need that low latency and it won’t be surprising that a whole new generation of applications will be developed within the next 3–5 years to take advantage of this specific currency, and they will be game-changers.
The third currency of 5G is the ability to support a million connected device within one square-kilometer. Last time, when I counted how many connected devices I have at home, just number of phones/tablets/PCs/Set Top Boxes/gaming consoles/VR headsets/wearables, it was close to twenty. Now think about a dense metropolitan area like Manhattan with millions of people. With the proliferation of more connected devices from door locks to smart surveillance cameras at residences, we should expect that we may get to that million devices in a dense city when 5G becomes ubiquitous. And that was just consumer devices. Now, also think about the Enterprise IoT products from connected garbage can to smart utility meters. 5G’s capability to support massive machine-to-machine communication will be very much appreciated. We will have 10–100X more (compared to 4G) ultra, low-cost sensors that perform a variety of functions that will run on a battery for a decade.
The fourth currency of 5G is the energy efficiency benefits it brings. Thanks to the adaptive array antennas and massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) support, 5G brings intelligent beamforming and steering capabilities. This way, 5G nodes will find the 5G devices in a much smarter way and thus be able to reduce the energy consumption on the network side. There will certainly be energy gains on the device side thanks to much faster download/upload capabilities that devices would have with less time during receive/transmit mode. Obviously, we expect demand will increase in the order of magnitudes. Early consumption metrics on 5G networks in Korea shows that traffic on 5G is already 3X more than 4G though the data collected has only a few months of history during these early days.
The fifth currency of 5G is the ability to reduce service deployment time. Now, we are talking about not weeks or days, but potentially minutes. The reasoning behind this improvement is that mobile operator networks are per 5G spec cloud-native with Software Defined Networking and Virtualization built-in. They will have adaptive cores similar to popular Public Cloud Services similar to AWS, Azure. Though early 5G deployments will start with a 4G Core network (Non-StandAlone NSA), eventually they will be upgraded to 5G SA (StandAlone) networks. It is critical to understand that with 5G, not only the radio but also the network infrastructure, is getting a major facelift.
The sixth currency of 5G is the reliability. Mobile operator networks have always been very reliable and secure, hence the term carrier-grade. Traditionally, five 9s have been the industry term that most folks talk about. What that means is a high availability of the network, defined as “99.999%”, only 5.26 minutes of downtime in a year. Within the 5G world, and a new set of applications that will be supported, such as autonomous vehicles, which will require a whole new level of reliability, getting to the nine 9s domain.
The seventh currency of 5G is the ability to carry massive amounts of data in terms of capacity; about 10,000 times more. One 5G node will be able to handle 10Tbs of data per second per square kilometer. In fact, 5G is much more efficient than 4G/LTE in terms of bit/Hz/sec. In layman’s terms, 5G is much more economical to squeeze the same amount of information within airwaves in the same given time period.
The eighth and final currency of 5G is the mobility support at even 500 km/h. To be honest, I don’t drive cars that go fast and I am still a long way from saving a down payment on a Tesla or Lamborghini. Most of the population won’t be using 5G at those speeds. However, keep in mind that there will be some folks in Europe and/or Japan riding in high-speed bullet trains and it is good that 5G Tech will handle their connectivity needs.
Now that we’ve covered the basic 101s of 5G, we are ready to delve into the details of building blocks and other components of 5G, consumer/enterprise use cases/applications it will power, industries it will impact, deployment timeline estimates and new devices that it will power. Please watch the next iteration of this blog for the unveiling of those insights.