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What is 5G Technology & Why Is It Considered a Challenge to Deploy It?

Why are there so any concerns and issues over deployment of 5G technology? We explain.

Updated
Tech News
5 min read
What is 5G Technology & Why Is It Considered a Challenge to Deploy It?
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(This story was first published on 9 January 2020, and has been republished in light of the Union Cabinet's approval of the 5G spectrum auction, scheduled to begin on 26 July.)

The era of 5G is here! A technology that’s been talked about over the past couple of years is finally rolling out across different countries like China, US, Japan, and even South Korea.

The mere mention of 5G incites conversations around augmented reality, autonomous vehicles and also IOT (Internet of Things) among others.

But amidst all the hullabaloo around 5G I am sure many would be intrigued as to what 5G technology is and how it will exist in an ecosystem dominated by legacy technology. So, let’s try and simplify it for you.

I should warn you that there will be some jargon and abbreviations along the way so please be patient with me. I’ll try to make it as simple as possible.

What is 5G Technology & Why Is It Considered a Challenge to Deploy It?

  1. 1. What is 5G?

    5G is a fifth-generation mobile network. Think of 5G as a 100x faster version of 4G. Just like 4G, 5G is also based on the same mobile networking principles.

    Fifth-generation wireless technology is capable of delivering ultra-low latency (the speed at which signals travel between your phone and the tower) and multi-Gbps data speeds.

    By definition, it is a software-defined network that has been developed to increase the speed and responsiveness of a wireless network. This technology also increases the amount of data that can be transmitted over a wireless network.

    It is said there are five technologies that make up the foundation of 5G technology:

    1. Millimeter-wave
    2. Small cells
    3. Massive MIMO (Multiple-inputs & multiple-output)
    4. Beamforming
    5. Full duplex
    Expand
  2. 2. The Five Pillars of 5G Technology

    5G technology is capable of working in the “sub-6 band” which is mostly frequencies between 3Ghz-6Ghz. This is where most of the current electronic devices like mobiles, tablets and even laptops work as it offers a wider reach.

    However, due to overcrowding in this particular spectrum researchers are looking to experiment beyond the 6Ghz mark. They are looking at the 24Ghz-300Ghz spectrum which is referred to as high-band. Experts also call this Millimeter-wave (mmWave).

    Millimeter-wave 5G

    Millimeter-wave 5G acquires huge chunks of data which allows it to data transfer speeds in excess of 1Gbps.

    This form of technology is currently being used in the US by telecom operators like Verizon and AT&T.

    Speed Cells

    The second pillar of 5G is speed cells. Millimeter-wave struggles with range which is where speed cells come into play. Since mmWave cannot travel through obstacles, mini cell towers are deployed in large numbers across an area to relay the signal from the main cell tower.

    These small cells have to be placed in close proximity compared to traditional towers to make sure the users get uninterrupted 5G signals.

    Maximum MIMO

    Next up there is maximum MIMO which stands for multiple-input & multiple-output technology. This technology is used on large cell towers to manage heavy traffic. A regular cell tower that distributes 4G comes with 12 antennas that handle all of the cellular traffic in the area.

    MIMO can support 100 antennas at the same time which increases the overall capacity of the tower to handle more traffic. This technology helps make the delivery of 5G signals smoother.

    Beamforming

    Beamforming is a technology that can regularly monitor multiple sources of frequencies and then switch to a stronger and faster tower if one signal is blocked. This ensures that specific data is sent only in a specific direction. Something like a traffic light for data.

    Full Duplex

    Full-duplex is a technology that allows a node to transmit and receive data simultaneously in the same frequency band. Landline telephones and short-wave radio use this kind of technology. It’s like a two-way street that allows equal traffic both ways.

    Expand
  3. 3. Advantages of 5G Technology

    Imagine downloading a full HD movie in under 3 seconds. That’s how fast downloads are with 5G. According to Qualcomm, 5G is capable of delivering speeds up to 20Gbps with a 100x increase in traffic capacity and network efficiency.

    Also, with mmWave, you can even achieve latency of just 1ms which helps with immediate connection establishment and that subsequently reduces network traffic.

    Qualcomm’s President Cristiano Amon believes that at its full potential 5G will be able to offer speeds that can render augmented reality in real-time. This will further lead to the development of more hardware that works on augmented reality.

    This tech is also going to be the foundation for virtual reality, autonomous driving and the internet of things.

    This will not only make your smartphone experience better but will also open up avenues for advancements in other fields like medical, infrastructure and even manufacturing.

    Expand
  4. 4. Challenges for 5G

    Deploying 5G technology is costly which means that network operators will have to tear down their current ecosystem because it needs a frequency beyond 3.5Ghz which is a bigger bandwidth than what 3G or 4G use.

    Sub-6 GHz spectrum has limited bandwidth and therefore its speeds could potentially be slower than what mmWave has to offer.

    Also, mmWave is only effective in shorter distances and cannot travel through obstacles. It also tends to get absorbed by trees and even rainfall which means you’ll need a lot of hardware deployment in order to make 5G work effectively.

    5G is growing but not at the rate people expected. Even at its present rate, 5G will not overtake 4G and 3G by 2025, as per a GSMA intelligence report.

    5G penetration prediction by 2025
    (Photo: GSMA Intelligence)

    However, Cristiano Amon, President, Qualcomm believes that by 2022, the number of shipped 5G smartphones will be over 750 million, and 5G connections should be at 1 billion by 2023, two years faster than 4G hit that number. Since 5G phones don’t come cheap let’s see whether we see these numbers being accomplished.

    There could also be security and privacy issues with 5G technology which will only surface when the technology is more accessible.

    Expand
  5. 5. Can 5G Work with 4G?

    5G is said to work best in a particular frequency of the spectrum which is mostly above 6Ghz. Even old technologies like 2G, 3G, and 4G operate on wireless bands which are mostly between 3.5Ghz to 6Ghz.

    In a detailed report by Android Central, we see that 5G can co-exist with 4G, but since 3Ghz-6Ghz spectrum is overpopulated researchers are looking to experiment beyond 6Ghz in shorter mmWave which is between 30-300Ghz.

    This section of the spectrum was earlier used for over the air television but never for mobile devices. Opening it up means more bandwidth for mobile devices.

    Different bands and how 5G has evolved through the years.
    (Photo: Android Central)

    Some of the technologies like 5G NR (New Radio) and even 5Ge (AT&T proprietary LTE advanced network) work on the 4G network, but aren’t as fast as mmWave which means the only way to have access to speeds over 1Gbps is by deploying new hardware.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What is 5G?

5G is a fifth-generation mobile network. Think of 5G as a 100x faster version of 4G. Just like 4G, 5G is also based on the same mobile networking principles.

Fifth-generation wireless technology is capable of delivering ultra-low latency (the speed at which signals travel between your phone and the tower) and multi-Gbps data speeds.

By definition, it is a software-defined network that has been developed to increase the speed and responsiveness of a wireless network. This technology also increases the amount of data that can be transmitted over a wireless network.

It is said there are five technologies that make up the foundation of 5G technology:

  1. Millimeter-wave
  2. Small cells
  3. Massive MIMO (Multiple-inputs & multiple-output)
  4. Beamforming
  5. Full duplex
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The Five Pillars of 5G Technology

5G technology is capable of working in the “sub-6 band” which is mostly frequencies between 3Ghz-6Ghz. This is where most of the current electronic devices like mobiles, tablets and even laptops work as it offers a wider reach.

However, due to overcrowding in this particular spectrum researchers are looking to experiment beyond the 6Ghz mark. They are looking at the 24Ghz-300Ghz spectrum which is referred to as high-band. Experts also call this Millimeter-wave (mmWave).

Millimeter-wave 5G

Millimeter-wave 5G acquires huge chunks of data which allows it to data transfer speeds in excess of 1Gbps.

This form of technology is currently being used in the US by telecom operators like Verizon and AT&T.

Speed Cells

The second pillar of 5G is speed cells. Millimeter-wave struggles with range which is where speed cells come into play. Since mmWave cannot travel through obstacles, mini cell towers are deployed in large numbers across an area to relay the signal from the main cell tower.

These small cells have to be placed in close proximity compared to traditional towers to make sure the users get uninterrupted 5G signals.

Maximum MIMO

Next up there is maximum MIMO which stands for multiple-input & multiple-output technology. This technology is used on large cell towers to manage heavy traffic. A regular cell tower that distributes 4G comes with 12 antennas that handle all of the cellular traffic in the area.

MIMO can support 100 antennas at the same time which increases the overall capacity of the tower to handle more traffic. This technology helps make the delivery of 5G signals smoother.

Beamforming

Beamforming is a technology that can regularly monitor multiple sources of frequencies and then switch to a stronger and faster tower if one signal is blocked. This ensures that specific data is sent only in a specific direction. Something like a traffic light for data.

Full Duplex

Full-duplex is a technology that allows a node to transmit and receive data simultaneously in the same frequency band. Landline telephones and short-wave radio use this kind of technology. It’s like a two-way street that allows equal traffic both ways.

Advantages of 5G Technology

Imagine downloading a full HD movie in under 3 seconds. That’s how fast downloads are with 5G. According to Qualcomm, 5G is capable of delivering speeds up to 20Gbps with a 100x increase in traffic capacity and network efficiency.

Also, with mmWave, you can even achieve latency of just 1ms which helps with immediate connection establishment and that subsequently reduces network traffic.

Qualcomm’s President Cristiano Amon believes that at its full potential 5G will be able to offer speeds that can render augmented reality in real-time. This will further lead to the development of more hardware that works on augmented reality.

This tech is also going to be the foundation for virtual reality, autonomous driving and the internet of things.

This will not only make your smartphone experience better but will also open up avenues for advancements in other fields like medical, infrastructure and even manufacturing.

ADVERTISEMENT

Challenges for 5G

Deploying 5G technology is costly which means that network operators will have to tear down their current ecosystem because it needs a frequency beyond 3.5Ghz which is a bigger bandwidth than what 3G or 4G use.

Sub-6 GHz spectrum has limited bandwidth and therefore its speeds could potentially be slower than what mmWave has to offer.

Also, mmWave is only effective in shorter distances and cannot travel through obstacles. It also tends to get absorbed by trees and even rainfall which means you’ll need a lot of hardware deployment in order to make 5G work effectively.

5G is growing but not at the rate people expected. Even at its present rate, 5G will not overtake 4G and 3G by 2025, as per a GSMA intelligence report.

5G penetration prediction by 2025
(Photo: GSMA Intelligence)

However, Cristiano Amon, President, Qualcomm believes that by 2022, the number of shipped 5G smartphones will be over 750 million, and 5G connections should be at 1 billion by 2023, two years faster than 4G hit that number. Since 5G phones don’t come cheap let’s see whether we see these numbers being accomplished.

There could also be security and privacy issues with 5G technology which will only surface when the technology is more accessible.

Can 5G Work with 4G?

5G is said to work best in a particular frequency of the spectrum which is mostly above 6Ghz. Even old technologies like 2G, 3G, and 4G operate on wireless bands which are mostly between 3.5Ghz to 6Ghz.

In a detailed report by Android Central, we see that 5G can co-exist with 4G, but since 3Ghz-6Ghz spectrum is overpopulated researchers are looking to experiment beyond 6Ghz in shorter mmWave which is between 30-300Ghz.

This section of the spectrum was earlier used for over the air television but never for mobile devices. Opening it up means more bandwidth for mobile devices.

Different bands and how 5G has evolved through the years.
(Photo: Android Central)

Some of the technologies like 5G NR (New Radio) and even 5Ge (AT&T proprietary LTE advanced network) work on the 4G network, but aren’t as fast as mmWave which means the only way to have access to speeds over 1Gbps is by deploying new hardware.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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