The new government, through the ICT Minister Deepak Balgobin, has vowed to make 5G a reality as soon as possible. Many questions are yet to be answered so that this technology is truly «beneficial, safe and reliable». Jasen Virasawmy, Senior Manager at T-Mobile, provides some key points to better understand 5G.
5G The disruptive game changer
Since their inception, wireless networks have become an integral part of our society as we increasingly continue to depend on them. The year 2019 marks the beginning of a new era as 5G wireless networks start being deployed around the world. This technology, if and when it delivers on all of its promises could be the next industrial revolution of human society. In its early stages it will resemble previous wireless technologies but as we gradually deploy its advanced capabilities it will revolutionize our way of life. It will lead us to a tipping point of decision making where new legislation will be needed to cope with the consequential changes. Most technologists believe 5G will bring wisdom to humans. 5G is the biggest buzz word in the technology industry and it is not easy for the general public to fully decipher its implications and benefits, hence the big question, “what is 5G?” The following article will give you a brief introduction to 5G and what it means.
What is 5G?
5G as its name spells out, is the fifth generation of wireless networks. In order to fully understand this new technology, it is essential to look at the history of the cellu-lar technologies and how they have transformed the tele-communication picture and changed society.
The first generation of wireless communication was merely analog and had no data connections. The denomination of 1G didn’t exist until 2G known as GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) became a reality. GSM revolutionized the telecom industry. It was the first technology that connected people around the world at an affordable cost and brought voice mobility and SMS (Short Message Service) to the general population. It evolved to provide the first wireless data communications on a cellular device called Edge, allowing users to send pictures, and laptops to connect through a portable modem access. Data rates with Edge reached around 140 kbps. 2G hence became the first technology to offer voice, messaging and data services.
These foundational set of services would eventually evolve through 3G (UMTS: Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) and 4G (LTE: Long Term Evolution) by offering better voice quality, faster data rates which led to the explosion and rapid proliferation of smartphones. These evolutive steps changed in every manner the way we communicate. They impacted the digital world in every form, from banking to entertainment, work to social media and continuously breaking barriers and bringing people together. We must not forget the fact that the Iphone was the catalyst behind the smartphone revolution and ultimately heavy user data consumption.
The historical trend would hence lead to believe that 5G would be simply pushing the voice and speed barrier even further and allowing us to do more of the same things but just better and faster. 5G will indeed break the speed barrier above 1 Gbps and offer outrageous speeds for which services barely exist. However, 5G was built around a few other major considerations which not only will offer faster speeds on our smartphones but will open the gate to a world of new possibilities. 5G was built around 3 major considerations namely:
- Enhanced Mobile Broadband
- Massive Machine Type Communications (Massive IoT)
- URLLC or Mission Critical Services (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications).
5G can be seen as an enabler to a wide array of new services that we couldn’t realize before. It is key to note that a new generation of wireless network came around almost every decade starting in the 80’s.
Enhanced mobile broadband (EMBB)
EMBB, by its very definition is the simplest 5G use case to understand as it brings larger bandwidth for data connectivity and hence opens the door to enhanced streaming and fixed wireless. Instead of using a traditional cable Internet Service Provider (ISP), internet access typically offered through a home modem and WIFI router would use a 5G modem and bring internet over the air. This is in fact one of the major and relevant source of revenue for a 5G network. 5G service providers will create more competition in bringing internet access to users and hence could help drive prices down for the end-user.
5G is the only technology that supports spectrum in the millimeter wave domain thus allowing transmission over a very large bandwidth. Simply put, if 4G LTE is a 3-lane highway, 5G mmWave is a 30-lane highway. Exponential increase in data connections requires more than the traditional bandwidth offered by low band and mid band spectrum, hence the need for additional larger bandwidth in the millimeter wave domain. In order to take full advantage of the 5G technology and its advanced design, all spectrum bands must be considered. The low bands have the best propagation and indoor penetration, bringing coverage everywhere inside homes, buildings and rural areas.
Mid Band 5G is essential to urban and sub urban areas to bring coverage and speed for better and faster connectivity and finally 5G mmWave suits areas that have a need for capacity in dense urban areas where thousands of devices are connected and require intensive network resources. Mid Band remains the key to unleash most of 5G use cases as it is a balance of coverage and capacity. In most typical cases, the lower the band, the smaller the bandwidth and ultimately the slower the speeds. Regardless 5G remains the most efficient technology of all from a technical standpoint.
Massive machine type communication (IOT)
The proliferation of smartphones has brought the ability for users to access anything over the internet and perform remote operations. This has accelerated the growth of a new industry vertical called the internet of things, also known as IoT.
The internet of things, IoT, is the ability to connect millions of devices of various types to networks. These categories of devices are used in different industries. They range from sensors to tracking devices and smart meters in residential areas to professional use cases in industrial applications. These technical evolutions will drastically change the way we live, work and innovate.
Many industries will start operating in ways never seen before. With massive progress made in automation techniques and machine learning, we are capable of gaining very deep insights in data. Data is nowadays considered the new oil of the 21st century. With advanced processing capabilities in Big Data Analytics and connected devices everywhere, new patterns previously concealed are now visible and improving our decision-making process.
A farmer with sensors in a large field can easily detect the amount of moisture, fertilizer, nutrients in his soil and trigger the right amount of irrigation, fertilization for a very efficient farming which in turns impacts positively environmental or bio farming health concerns. In a similar way, smart cities can use sensors anywhere to send data and efficiently monitor or take appropriate actions based on accurate data.
The field of data science has been one of the most prolific areas of growth and seen many engineering students going down this new career path. Combined with 5G evolution, massive IOT will bring considerable changes to the world over time. These changes will be gradual as adoption and transformation of operations involve massive financial investments that requires proper planning and forecasting for enterprises.
Mission critical services
Technically known as URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications), this third aspect of 5G is the most innovative that will transform our technology eco-system. It was technically designed to remove delay and allow real-time decision-making over a wireless network. Each time an action needs to be taken in a short amount of time (in milli or micro-seconds), data must be captured, processed and a decision automatically sent to a user.
A few key applications of such a technical feat are connected cars or remote surgery. We can imagine that in both cases, real time actions or lack thereof, can result in life or death situations. It is therefore vital for a consistent end-to-end reliability of the network.
To better understand this concept, it is key to understand that traffic transiting over the internet incurs delays and is not reliable for time sensitive actions. As much as these delays may not be always visible to a user, it is however existent when data is streamed from a data center over the internet. We have all experienced the frustrations of video buffering while watching a YouTube content from a Google server. Imagine if a car needs to brake and experienced such levels of buffering delays, the outcome would be catastrophic. Hence 5G URLLC brings new concepts called Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) and Network Slicing to cope with the delay requirements of such critical use cases. MEC brings all the critical functions required for real time decision making to the edge of the network without needing to send data processing over the internet. The data processing is done locally on servers and drastically reduced the response time for these use cases. It also takes advantage of virtualized computing which has revolutionized the speed of data processing and accessibility with virtual machines etc…
Network slicing on the other hand is also a new concept that ensures an end-to-end quality of service between the sender and the recipient of data exchange. Network slicing is the building of multiple logical networks, network slices, on top of a common shared physical infrastructure. These network slices, typically one for each kind of service, are completely separated and independent to the extent that if something goes wrong in one slice it will not affect the other slices. This separation and independence also allow administrators to add new slices without impacting the rest of the network. Each slice has its own levels of SLA (Service Level Agreement), QoS (Quality of Service) depending on the requirements.
5G has begun its reign in 2019 and will considerably accelerate over the coming years where combined with digital transformation will inevitably bring a considerable paradigm shift to societal norms. Many questions yet remain to be answered to make 5G beneficial, safe and reliable. As a society we will need to learn to adapt our mindsets to the digital world and embrace its benefits while keeping the foundational human values that unite us as mankind.