As the pace of technological development increases, it seems as though the next generational leap in wireless networking technologies is never too far away. 5G technology is the latest step in our journey to create ever-more powerful networks that are capable of increasingly speedy connections. This new technology could result in drastic changes to the way local governments deliver their services, businesses market their products, and individuals communicate with one another. Here, we take a look at what 5G technology really is, what it can do for us, and how it’s going to be implemented.
What is 5G technology – a definition
In order to fully understand what 5G technology can do, it’s first necessary to have a comprehensive definition of what 5G technology is. Essentially, 5G is the 5th generation of wireless network technologies and will expand on and improve the 3rd (3G) and 4th (4G) generations already available to consumers in the UK.
Currently, technical formal criteria for 5G technology have not yet been established. This means that there is no accepted global standard for what constitutes 5G technology – though there soon will be. However a number of experts, regulators and interested parties have made an attempt at setting out temporary guidelines. These range from the Next Generation’s Mobile Network group’s broad assertion that 5G systems must be based on…
‘user experience, system performance, enhanced services, business models and management & operations,’ (Techworld)
…to the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association’s (GSMA) understanding of 5G as technology that meets most of the following 8 criteria;
- 1-10Gbps connections to end points in the field.
- 1 millisecond end-to-end round trip delay (this is latency).
- 1000x bandwidth per unit area.
- 10-100 times the number of connected devices.
- (Perception of) 99.999 percent availability.
- (Perception of) 100 percent coverage.
- 90 percent reduction in network energy usage.
- Up to 10 year battery life for low power, machine-type devices.
The GSMA are quick to point out that this list is drawn together from various sources working to develop 5G technology in different ways and for different purposes. Consequently not all applications of 5G technology will need – or be able to – meet all of these criteria.
The debate around what constitutes 5G
As there are no formal qualifications for what constitutes 5G technology, there are a number of different perspectives on the issue and a debate between two main schools of thought has emerged.
- The Hyper-Connected Vision – This perspective stipulates that 5G operators will utilise existing 2G, 3G and 4G technologies, as well as WiFi, to increase coverage, availability and connectivity. This would distinguish 5G technology from previous incarnations by enhancing machine-to-machine services and facilitating a more powerful Internet of Things (IoT) network.
- The Next Generation Radio Access Vision – This perspective takes a more traditional approach to setting specific criteria for generational development by establishing technical targets for 5G technology. This means creating minimum thresholds for metrics like data rates and latency, in order to provide a strict definition of what constitutes 5G technology.
It’s important to note that these two perspectives are not necessarily at loggerheads with one another. As 5G technology will be used for a variety of purposes, there is likely to be some divergence as to how we define it in different contexts. In many cases, these two perspectives overlap or talk about the same concept in slightly different ways in order to make them relevant to a specific type of application.
Advantages of 5G technology
There are a number of advantages to 5G technology that make it an exciting technological development. Such benefits include;
- Greater speed – 5G technology will improve on 4G’s download speeds by a significant amount. Whereas 4G offers download speeds in the 100s of Mbps, 5G will reach speeds in excess of 1 Gbps.
- Lower latency – latency describes the delay between the stimulus for an action and the action being completed. In some contexts, it is referred to as lag. 5G will further reduce latency, allowing for quicker netw ork responses.
- Greater coverage – 5G technology is being touted as one solution to coverage issues in rural areas. This could be of enormous benefit to local governments hoping to boost the regional economy by ensuring rural businesses are able to compete in increasingly online marketplaces. Similarly, enhanced broadband services will give students better access to learning materials and allow for far superior access to online cultural and media resources.
- Lower battery consumption – 5G technology should drastically reduce the energy consumption of mobile networks, increasing battery life on mobile devices.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it covers the main benefits of 5G technology. It is also possible that many of the advantages of the technology will not become apparent until the network is put in place.
Disadvantages of 5G technology
There are a number of potential disadvantages to 5G technology, though the vast majority of issues are related to problems with implementation and the redundancy of older technology. These include;
- Cost of implementation – rolling out 5G technology across a large area will require a great deal of new infrastructure, making it an expensive proposition.
- Redundancy of old technology – it is likely that only the newest of mobile devices will be compatible with 5G networks, rendering older devices out of date or redundant. Not all current devices are able to connect to 4G networks, so the likelihood that 5G technology will quickly become widespread is low.
- Overcrowding of networks – a stable and speedy connection is often dependent on the number of devices accessing it. As 5G is added to the wireless spectrum, there is a chance that the frequency range could become overcrowded.
Implementation and rollout
The practical benefits of 5G implementation are numerous, though a large part of its appeal is the way it could be used to develop as yet unknown technologies and applications. However, we do know that 5G will play an important role in technologies as diverse as driver-less vehicles, virtual reality, augmented reality, smart homes, remote surgical operations, and online media consumption.
Though 5G rollout is not expected until 2020, it’s potential has been demonstrated on a number of occasions or is due to do so soon. For example, 5G technology was showcased during the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Similarly the City of London’s new WiFi network will be hosting 5G trials in the near future and local councils in the UK can now bid to be testing grounds for the next generation of wireless technologies.
5G technology is certainly an impressive leap forward in our networking capacity and is likely to help us realise a number of technological developments that were previously unworkable. While its benefits are numerous, it does face a number of implementation and rollout issues that it will have to overcome if it’s to become an accessible and widespread tool. Fortunately, many businesses and governmental organisations have come to recognise the importance of such technology and are actively looking for ways to integrate it into their services. Though 2020 may be an ambitious target for extensive coverage, the 5th generation of wireless technologies is nearly upon us.
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