5G Is Coming: An Overview Of The Advantages & Challenges

By | March 14, 2018
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5G advantages and challenges

 

The ‘first-ever 5G Olympic games (Pyeongchang Winter Olympics)‘ has come and gone – and the 5G experience at the event was just a tad underwhelming. While the 5G application demos were instructive enough – the fact that no one could actually try out the technology on their handsets pegged things back a touch. At the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games though, the implementations are set to be turned up by a couple of notches – with Intel collaborating with NTT DoCoMo to create a full-blown 5G network for the event. According to reasonable estimates, the world will have more than 1.1 billion 5G connections by 2025 (accounting for ~15% of the total connections). Taken together, the fourth and fifth-generation wireless standards will make up around 67% of all the mobile connections worldwide. In today’s discussion, we will take you through some key benefits of the 5G technology, along with a few potential problems:

  • (Advantage)

    Higher speeds than ever before –

    For the average Joe, this is going to be the biggest benefit of 5G connectivity. Early reports have shown that data rates in a 5G device can be more than 10 GBps – almost a thousand times faster than a 4G handset (i.e., 4G LTE networks). An ultra-HD movie that takes XX minutes to be downloaded on a stable 4G connection, will become downloadable in 10 seconds or less. Since the bandwidth will be much higher, the average response time will also go down a lot (1 millisecond in 5G; 45-50 milliseconds in 4G). The significantly higher throughput rates (around 10 times greater than 4G) will also make online gaming and general 4K video streaming possible at, literally, blazing speeds. No more frustrating waits for a web page to load!

Note: Huawei is set to launch its first 5G handset – powered by the Balong 5G01 chip – later this year. Qualcomm’s made-for-5G X50 chip will be used by many of the OEMs in the 5G race, including LG, HMD Global and Xiaomi.

  • (Challenge)

    The cost factor

    For any new technology to be of practical use, it must not be prohibitively expensive. The mass adoption of 5G might face some initial roadblocks regarding this. For starters, the initial subscription plans are likely to be more expensive than the ones currently available. The annual investments required for upgrading to 5G might push towards the $200 billion mark – raising questions over the justifications of actually switching over from 4G to 5G. A 2016 report suggested that a nationwide 5G coverage for the United States would probably cost more than $300 billion. In addition, the carriers will also have to incur heavy expenses for upgrading their existing infrastructure, to accommodate the new devices and antennas required by 5G systems. It’s going to be a full-blown overhaul, and it ain’t going to be cheap.

Note: Over the long-term, the 5G subscription prices might gradually come down – to match the growing demands of users.

  • (Advantage)

    Many new use cases

    5G will usher in a large number of new applications – for use cases that are not even close to being possible in the 3G/4G regime. Teslasuit used the MWC UK platform to showcase the minimal latency of the technology, by connecting a VR headset with a computer system – and ensuring that viewers received a full-fidelity VR experience. Remote surgeries, with the help of haptic feedback, will become possible – while 5G will also be of value for drones for delivery, autonomous vehicles, monitoring and predictive maintenance, and creation of smart cities. Location-tracking will also become faster and more accurate (finding missing people should become a simpler task) – while the new high-speed wireless standard can also be used by governmental bodies for investigative purposes. All 5G use cases in general, and the AR/VR capabilities in particular, will make use of very high bandwidth applications.

Note: In the 5G millimeter wave, the average latency can be as low as 1 millisecond.

  • (Challenge)

    Uncertainties over coverage and radio frequencies

    There are reports indicating that 5G macro-optimized will, in all probability, use the 6 GHz (maybe, slightly lower) frequency. The catch over here is, this radio frequency band is already being used by satellite links and many other different signal types. This particular frequency range is already overcrowded – and it is very much possible that there will be some lingering problems with data transmissions (i.e., in sending/receiving signals) in this radio frequency. Complicating matters further is the fact that the 5G network cells will offer lower coverage than those of 4G (in spite of the exponentially higher bandwidth). This would mean that more cell towers will be needed to make 5G technology mainstream over time. The coverage of 5G can be upto 300 meters in the outdoor environment, and a rather lowly 2 meters indoors.

Note: Frequency bands of upto 30 GHz will be used by 5G small cells. 5G Ultra Dense and 5G Millimeter Wave will use higher radio frequencies (upto 100 GHz and upto 300 GHz respectively).

  • (Advantage)

    Role of 5G in IoT

    Along with artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing, 5G wireless technology will be right at the heart of the burgeoning IoT revolution over the next half a decade or so. Apart from expanding the realms of possibilities for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 5G is also expected to play a major role in the development of Industry 4.0 in general, smart city applications, smart industrial software, powering connected cars, and smart homes & buildings. Seamless mobility, negligible latency, full scalability, and (hopefully) reliability will help 5G in making many high-end, mission-critical IoT projects implementable with ease. The general feeling is that the improved performance levels and network capacities of 5G technology will make it a key driver of ‘massive IoT’.

Note: At high frequency ranges, data losses become an increasing risk. In a 5G ecosystem, such problems can be bypassed through dynamic beamforming.

  • (Challenge)

    Data/Signal losses can be due to a myriad of factors –

    We have already mentioned about the probable losses in the 5G millimeter wave. These losses can happen due to different reasons – right from penetration problems, to foliage losses, rain attenuation, and a host of other factors. It also remains to be seen whether the ‘speed advantage’ of 5G indeed matches the expectations of software developers and end-users. The technology is still under development, the final specifications are yet not confirmed by the IEEE – and the speeds that can be achieved in a controlled test environment might be impossible to achieve in a real-world scenario, thanks to technological shortcomings. The first full 5G network might arrive in the US in early-2019 – but expecting it to be fully operational immediately will be too naive.

Note: Apart from the United States, China, South Korea and Japan are also in the frame to launch 5G networks within the next few quarters. By the end of 2025, 4 out of every 10 5G connections in the world will be from China.

  • (Advantage)

    Switch to a software-defined standard

    5G might very well turn out to be the last incremental update in wireless connectivity. Unlike 4G (and older generations), which is determined by modulation and frequency (i.e., interface-defined), 5G will be the first-ever software-defined wireless standard. New frequency bands/waves can be quickly included in 5G networks, and since everything becomes programmable – newer wireless protocols will become available via software updates. In other words, the architecture-focused 5G can be dubbed as ‘continuous G’ – the standard that marks the end of ‘generational improvements’ in wireless networking technology. All improvements will be continuously integrated, and maybe there will be no 6G.

Note: 5G technology will not be a direct replacement of 4G (in the manner in which 4G replaced 3G). It will have the capability of working with 4G networks – ensuring that the older generations do not have to be immediately replaced.

  • (Challenge)

    The security cloud 

    For all the advanced computing and networking power of 5G technology, there still remain doubts over how it will handle critical security and privacy concerns. A mid-2017 report revealed that both 3G and 4G were exposed to ‘stingray’ attacks, and other alarmingly common forms of data hacks. To make 5G a viable and ‘safe’ technology, the onus will lie on the carriers to incorporate robust endpoint security standards (behaviour-based instead of the regular signature-based) for identifying/removing malware, create pre-tested firewalls, monitor DNS activities and establish strong data integrity assurances. Better identity management systems will be required as well, along with smart sandboxing solutions. Cloud networks and data virtualization will have very important roles to play in 5G environments – and if the security assurances are not up to the mark, people might be wary of adopting the new wireless generation.

Note: The operability of Massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output) systems will also have a big influence over 5G performance levels. ZTE, Huawei and Facebook are some of the big players who have already showcased such systems.

  • (Advantage)

    A solution for the ‘last-mile issue’

    5G should finally be able to offer a way to resolve the much-talked-about ‘last-mile issue’, related to the non-availability of network connectivity in rural/sparsely populated semi-urban areas. Even in a developed nation like the United States, these problems exist in a big way – and what’s more, creation of hi-speed fibre-based networks is not an economically viable solution for such areas. With the help of the 5G technology, it will be possible to build powerful wireless hotspots – and together with LPWAN technologies like LoRa (by Semtech) and Sigfox – can make internet in non-urban areas more mainstream. The biggest beneficiary of this would be the precision farming sector, with companies rushing to come out with unique, cutting-edge agritech tools. Of course, we will have to wait for the technology to become available on smartphones and tablets – for its benefits to become fully apparent in this context.

Note: The benefits of 5G connections will not be limited to low-population zones only. Since the technology will be using larger pipelines for bolstering cell reception qualities, the performance should be better in heavily populated areas too.

  • (Challenge)

    Making 5G available to everyone

    And let’s be fair – if this doesn’t happen, all the hefty investments for the upgradation will make little sense. We are still presumably a fair way away of having the technology available on mobile devices – and the first set of 5G device prototypes are comparable in size to big computer systems. The enormity of the task of implementing nationwide 5G network architectures cannot be underestimated either. In addition, more awareness have to be generated among the not-particularly-tech-savvy section of the global population – so that they grow motivated to give 5G a try. The early 5G trials have kickstarted things, and by the turn of the decade, we should have a full commercial rollout.

Note: Cellular drones, LTE-U, LTE for IoT and C-U2X are some of the most important technologies under IoT.

  • (Advantage)

    Support for parallel multiple services and heterogeneous services

    With bi-directional bandwidth shaping, smaller antenna sizes and the (much) greater bandwidths, 5G will revolutionize mobile technology. People will be able to use multiple services simultaneously (say, tracking weather updates during a voice call). The underlying technologies of 5G will also be powerful enough to support private networks and other high-end heterogeneous services. A recent survey found that – in an ideal scenario – 5G can bring about a hundred-fold increase in network efficiency and traffic capacity levels, and a three-fold increase in spectrum efficiency levels. The average connection density levels should also go up in a big way.

Note: Seamless carrier aggregation will make it easy to access and use higher bandwidth levels.

  • (Challenge)

    Need for skilled personnel

    Making 5G operational on a worldwide basis will need active involvement of a really large number of highly-trained software and data network engineers. Since the existing infrastructures (mostly) will be overhauled, the importance of providing training to the available manpower would be paramount. From conceptualization and installation, to deployment, maintenance and fault-detection/repairs/debugging – every phase of 5G will require expert human help. In the mobile app development space per se, the need will be for developers and testers who can collaborate to design truly 5G-compatible applications.

Note: 5G is also known as the ‘IMT-2020’ technology. Its predecessor is referred to as ‘IMT-Advanced’.

For best performances in already crowded wireless spectrums, 5G devices should ideally be capable of dynamic bandwidth selection. Moreover, it has to be kept in mind that we are not creating ‘a faster network’ just for the heck of it. The infrastructure and the applications have to be upgraded according to the practical use cases…instances where 5G can indeed help the customers.

As many as 18 carriers – Verizon, Sprint, Vodafone, AT&T, Telstra among others – have plans to release 5G devices in 2019. It will be fascinating to see how the technology makes the most of its powerful advantages, while tackling the challenges in the best possible manner. The 5G revolution is almost upon us – and although there are still a few rough edges – it is set to take up wireless connectivity to the next level.

 

 

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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