Over the last 4 decades, mobile networks have evolved across four generations. After witnessing the growth of 4th generation technology popularly known as 4G, now we are at the verge of experiencing the next, i.e., the 5th generation of wireless technology.
Each generation of mobile technology has evolved with the need for new services or use cases. 1st generation of wireless technology was meant to enable basic wireless communication through analog technology, which soon evolved to a more advanced digital technology as “2G” for more efficient and mature voice services. The evolution to “3G” was to enable data services in addition to voice. This evolved to 4G – a wireless broadband data technology which enabled data intensive services including voice and video streaming.
However, the extreme speed at which new applications and services are launched everyday has already led to the efforts for building the next generation of wireless – 5G. At one end, there are data hungry applications such as video conferencing and live video sharing that are pushing for higher data capacity and at the other end the fast-emerging connected world of everything including IoT, M2M has accelerated the need for next generation of mobile technology – 5G. Read more about 5G and IoT here.
The next-generation Mobile Networks Alliance and several other mobile network groups are working on 5G and this wireless technology is envisioned to achieve the following end results:
- Evolve as the most unified network to meet diverse services and their unique requirements
- Enable high speed communication applications where high quality video upload and download is seamless
- Enable the vision of connected world with wearables, healthcare, smart home, smart industries and unimaginable applications in the world. This will be termed as Machine to Machine (M2M) communication - network latency under 1 millisecond and more energy efficient compared to predecessors.
Small Cells – A key to 5G ubiquitous coverage
5G is all about data speeds and capacity, and small cells are going to be the key to enable this in 5G. In 5G, typical cells will become smaller due to higher frequencies. In such cases 5G is most efficient, which means more base stations will be required to cover cities. Therefore, network operators are exploring the idea of installing large number of small cells in thickly populated urban areas. Small cells also provide a low cost and lower latency compared to traditional base stations and they provide good coverage and capacity at the edge of the network. This huge network densification is going to be the key for 5G, and hence technologies such as network interference management, SON etc will be very important.
Unified network for diverse requirements
A key objective of 5G is to provide a uniform broadband and service experience deep inside houses, in open outdoors, in dense urban areas and rural areas. 5G aims to achieve this by leveraging multiple technologies and a wide range of spectrums:
- Sub-GHz frequency bands for coverage – rural areas, macro coverage and long range IoT
- GHz range leveraging the current 4G and Wi-Fi technologies for mobile broadband
- mmWave for specific short range needs of highly efficient and very high data rate networks: stadiums, mesh networks and short range backhaul
The technology has to continuously evolve to meet challenges of diverse but unified network needs such as highly adaptive and cognizant interference handling, more intelligent coordination and shared spectrum built in inherently in the network.
5G and IoT
5G can have a great impact on how we interact with our homes, appliances, vehicles and generally, the world around us. 5G networks are being designed to power the Internet of Things to enable billions of devices to interconnect and communicate with each other. The diverse applications and devices in IoT and M2M require very low latencies, seamless integration of short range and long range communication technologies and super energy efficient requirements. 5G technologies aim to achieve these in addition to high speed data transmission.
IoT can cater to multiple industry verticals, many of which were never part of the communication ecosystem. For example, a good Device to Device (D2D) solution can be cost-effective and have a good range, which is probably very different from communication requirements of a smartphone or tablet. Hence, these key industry players also have to be included in standardization of 5G, which is a key challenge for the next generation of wireless technology.
In a nut shell, 5G, which is still in the nascent stages of development, is likely to have a huge impact on the way people and devices communicate today. By 2020, 5G is predicted to transform the Machine to Machine (M2M) communication for billions of connected devices. The data communication capacity, low latency and high speed of computation and transmission will be the key drivers of 5G technology. 5G will power and drive the Internet of Things (IoT), thus posing challenges of spectrum, spectral efficiency, standardization and CAPEX investments. Industry bodies and operators around the world have to work hand-in-hand to maximize the benefits of 5G while reducing the cost of deployment and operation of the next-generation networks.