5G: The “Nex­tGen” of mo­bile net­works

Daily Trust - - CITY NEWS -

Iam pretty sure you’ll agree with me that it’s time for a burst in in­no­va­tion - or at least some huge in­cre­men­tal en­hance­ments of what we’ve al­ready got. Af­ter all, it seems that ev­ery­day tech­nol­ogy has kind of stag­nated since the past cou­ple of years.

Yes, we’ve read about In­ter­net of Things (IoT) and pre­dic­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing, and other great high tech ideas - per­haps from this col­umn in Daily Trust. But they all seem like “blow­ing smoke,” with lit­tle sub­stance to back them up. Yes, it seems noth­ing re­ally high tech has come our way since Ap­ple’s Septem­ber 2014 launch of iPhone 6/ iPhone 6 Plus. And true to that, we the con­sumers haven’t bought much of the myr­i­ads of de­vices that the high tech com­pa­nies have thrown at us lately. Will the fifth gen­er­a­tion of wire­less net­work - or 5G - im­press us? Let’s dig deeper. For a start, last week, the U.S. FCC paved the way for wire­less car­ri­ers to de­ploy 5G.

Any fre­quent reader of this col­umn prob­a­bly knows how wire­less phone calls work! Say you call some­one on your phone. Your voice is con­verted (by your phone) to elec­tri­cal sig­nals and trans­mit­ted us­ing ra­dio waves to the near­est cell tower. The sig­nals are then suc­ces­sively passed through as many cell tow­ers as nec­es­sary, and ul­ti­mately to the cell tower that is clos­est to the in­tended des­ti­na­tion of your mes­sage. From there, the mes­sage is sent to the re­ceiv­ing phone where the elec­tri­cal sig­nals are con­verted back to voice, al­low­ing the per­son at the other end of the line to hear what you are say­ing. (Data - pho­tos, videos, etc. - are also sent the same way.)

Ob­vi­ously, wire­less net­works have evolved quite a bit, start­ing from the very first gen­er­a­tion of the tech­nol­ogy, 1G. What ex­actly is 5G? Michael Nunez takes us through the evo­lu­tion of wire­less net­works in his 24 Fe­bru­ary 2016 ar­ti­cle in giz­modo.com: “The “G” in 5G stands for “gen­er­a­tion.” Wire­less phone tech­nol­ogy tech­ni­cally started with 1G, and in the early 1990s, and it ex­panded to 2G when com­pa­nies first started en­abling peo­ple to send text mes­sages be­tween two cel­lu­lar de­vices.”

He con­tin­ued: “Even­tu­ally the world moved on to 3G, which gave peo­ple the abil­ity to make phone calls, send text mes­sages, and browse the In­ter­net. 4G en­hanced many of the ca­pa­bil­i­ties that were made pos­si­ble with the third gen­er­a­tion of wire­less. Peo­ple could browse the web, send text mes­sages, and make phone calls-and they could even down­load and up­load large video files without any is­sues. Then com­pa­nies added LTE, short for “long term evo­lu­tion,” to 4G con­nec­tiv­ity. LTE be­came the fastest and most con­sis­tent va­ri­ety of 4G, com­pared to com­pet­ing tech­nolo­gies like WiMax. The dif­fer­ence be­tween WiMax and LTE is sim­i­lar to the dif­fer­ence be­tween Blu-Ray and HD DVDs: Both tech­nolo­gies achieved sim­i­lar out­comes, but it was im­por­tant to cre­ate a stan­dard for ev­ery­one to use. LTE did just that, and it made 4G tech­nol­ogy even faster. 5G will build on the foun­da­tion cre­ated by 4G LTE.”

5G is syn­ony­mous with phe­nom­e­nal speeds of In­ter­net ac­cess: per­haps 10 - some even say 100 - times the speed of 4G LTE. Th­ese speeds are com­pa­ra­ble to those as­so­ci­ated with fiber op­tics, giv­ing re­sponse times that are less than one-thou­sandth of a sec­ond, which en­ables real-time com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Beyond just hav­ing faster In­ter­net ac­cess, the need for 5G is ex­ac­er­bated by to­day’s re­al­ity that it is no longer just your phone and com­puter that need a mo­bile In­ter­net con­nec­tion. With In­ter­net of Things (IOT), vir­tu­ally any ob­ject you can touch - cars, door locks, home ap­pli­ances, se­cu­rity cam­eras, wear­ables, dog col­lars - is a can­di­date for con­nec­tion to the web. With an es­ti­mated 20 bil­lion de­vices that will be con­nected to the In­ter­net by 2020 - all of which are ask­ing for light­ning-fast con­nec­tion, we surely need all the In­ter­net speed that we can muster.

As ea­ger as you might be, don’t start shop­ping for a new phone (with 5G ca­pa­bil­ity) just yet, for there are still chal­lenges and many tech­ni­cal and le­gal kinks to be worked out. This is in spite of the fact that a few Amer­i­can com­pa­nies have promised to start rolling out ex­per­i­men­tal 5G ser­vices next year. The ear­li­est the 5G tech­nol­ogy can be com­mer­cially avail­able will prob­a­bly be 2020. The chal­lenges in­clude the modes of giv­ing out the mix­ture of spec­trum as­so­ci­ated with 5G, and deal­ing with the fact that higher fre­quency sig­nals don’t travel as far as lower fre­quen­cies - sug­gest­ing the need to find ways of boost­ing sig­nals any­where 5G is of­fered. We also have to deal with the back­haul connections, among other is­sues. (Back­haul refers to the links be­tween cell sites, con­trollers, and mo­bile switches. Gen­er­ally, the traf­fic ar­riv­ing at a cell site is back­hauled to a cen­tral lo­ca­tion, which is the op­er­a­tor’s mo­bile switch. The back­haul net­work uses the fol­low­ing tech­niques, de­pend­ing on the traf­fic: coper ca­bling, mi­crowaves (ra­dio waves), or fiber op­tics. I am sure you are re­minded of “last mile” here.)

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