Fifth-generation wireless (5G) represents a major advancement in cellular technology, promising faster data speeds and greater network responsiveness. With 5G, data can be transmitted over wireless broadband connections at multigigabit speeds, up to 20 gigabits per second (Gbps) by some estimates. This level of performance exceeds wireline network speeds and offers incredibly low latency of under 5 milliseconds, making it ideal for real-time applications that require instantaneous feedback, such as virtual reality or telemedicine. Additionally, the increased bandwidth and advanced antenna technology will enable a dramatic increase in the amount of data transmitted over wireless systems, paving the way for new applications and use cases.
As 5G networks and services are deployed in stages over the next several years, the technology is expected to generate a wide variety of new applications and business opportunities. These could include remote robotic surgery, autonomous vehicles, and advanced smart city infrastructure. However, the full potential of 5G may not be realized until several years after its initial deployment, as the technology continues to evolve and new use cases are discovered. Despite the challenges of deploying such a complex and powerful network, the potential benefits of 5G make it a promising step forward in the evolution of wireless communication.
How does 5G technology work?
Wireless networks operate through cell sites that are broken down into sectors and transmit data using radio waves. The foundation for 5G technology is provided by fourth-generation Long-Term Evolution (LTE) wireless technology. However, 5G wireless signals are different from 4G because they are transmitted through a vast number of small cell stations placed in locations such as light poles and building roofs. This is because the 5G wireless signals, which rely on the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum to generate high speeds, can only travel over short distances and can be interfered with by weather and physical obstacles like buildings and trees.
To overcome the challenges of mmWave, which is a high-frequency band of spectrum between 30 and 300 gigahertz (Ghz), the wireless industry is also considering the use of lower-frequency spectrum for 5G networks. This would allow network operators to utilize spectrum that they already own to construct their new networks. While lower-frequency spectrum can reach greater distances, it has lower speed and capacity than mmWave. Therefore, it’s expected that 5G networks will utilize a combination of mmWave and lower-frequency spectrum to provide the necessary speed and coverage for their users.
The lower frequency wireless spectrum is composed of low- and midband frequencies, with low-band frequencies operating at around 600 to 700 MHz, and midband frequencies operating at around 2.5 to 3.5 GHz. These frequencies are used for various wireless applications, including cellular networks, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other wireless communication technologies.
However, the high-band mmWave signals, which operate at approximately 24 to 39 GHz, face challenges in terms of signal propagation. MmWave signals are easily blocked by objects such as trees, walls, and buildings, which restrict the range and coverage of the signal. This limitation has led to various approaches to address this issue, such as using multiple nodes around each block of a populated area to enable 5G-enabled devices to switch from node to node while maintaining mmWave speeds.
An alternative approach to creating a national 5G network involves using a mix of high, medium, and low-band frequencies. This strategy capitalizes on the strengths of each frequency band, allowing for a network that can provide reliable coverage and fast speeds to users in various areas. In densely populated regions, mmWave signals can be utilized to offer faster speeds, but in less crowded areas, low- and midband frequencies can be employed. The low-band frequencies can travel further and through obstacles, and one low-band 5G node can connect to a 5G-enabled device for hundreds of square miles. This approach is especially beneficial for rural areas, where having blanketed coverage is essential, and connectivity is often difficult to achieve due to limited infrastructure. By using a combination of all three bands, a 5G network can offer reliable coverage and fast speeds, regardless of where the user is located.
Speed of 5G
The arrival of 5G technology is set to revolutionize the way we use our mobile devices, with download speeds that can reach up to 2.1 Gbps in certain locations. This would enable users to stream video content in 4K quality, download apps and episodes of their favorite shows in just seconds, and start YouTube videos in 1080p without any buffering. However, these impressive speeds are currently only possible with mmWave, which requires an unobstructed line of sight to a 5G node. In other words, the high-band spectrum is still limited in its reach and coverage.
To overcome this issue, a combination of high, medium, and low-band frequencies can be used to create a more feasible national 5G network. Low-band 5G can stay locked at 5G over longer distances, which means that even though its overall speed may be slower than mmWave, it is still faster than what would be considered a good 4G connection. Low-band 5G download speeds may reach up to 30 to 250 Mbps, and it is more likely to be available in rural areas. On the other hand, midband 5G download speeds may reach up to 100 to 900 Mbps, and it is expected to be used in major metropolitan areas. By utilizing all three bands, the coverage will be blanketed, and the fastest speeds will be available in the most heavily trafficked areas.
Benefits of 5G
Despite the clear drawbacks of 5G, such as the potential blockage of mmWave signals and concerns about radio frequency exposure limits, the technology still offers many advantages. These benefits include
- High Bandwidth
- Use of High-Frequency Bands
- Low Latency of Only 5 Milliseconds
- Improved Mobile Broadband
- Faster Data Transfer Rates which will allow for new technology options such as 4K and near real-time virtual reality streaming over 5G networks
- The potential to have a 5G mobile network made up of low-band, midband and mmWave frequencies.
Types of 5G wireless services
There are two main types of 5G services :-
- 5G fixed wireless broadband is a new way to provide internet access to homes and businesses without a wired connection. Instead of installing fiber optic lines to every residence, network operators deploy 5G NRs in small cell sites near buildings, which transmit a signal to a receiver on the rooftop or windowsill that is then amplified within the premises. By using this approach, fixed broadband services could be less expensive for operators to deliver, and customers can receive broadband services through wireless modems located in their homes or businesses. This new approach has the potential to significantly reduce the costs and complexity of deploying high-speed broadband to more areas, particularly in rural and remote areas that are currently underserved.
- 5G cellular services give users access to 5G cellular networks operated by wireless network providers. The availability of 5G services began in 2019 when the first 5G-capable smartphones and associated wireless devices were introduced to the market. The provision of cellular services also hinges on the completion of mobile core standards by 3GPP. The mobile core standard is essential for cellular service providers to offer high-speed data, low-latency communication, and other 5G benefits to their customers. As 5G cellular services continue to roll out in more locations, users can expect faster speeds and more advanced wireless capabilities on their mobile devices.
Key difference between 5G and 4G
Each generation of cellular technology introduces new data transmission speeds and encoding methods that require hardware upgrades for end users. 4G is currently capable of supporting up to 2 Gbps and is gradually improving in speed. Compared to 3G, 4G delivers speeds that are up to 500 times faster. In contrast, 5G is expected to be up to 100 times faster than 4G.
One of the key differences between 4G and 5G is the level of latency. 5G will use OFDM encoding, which is similar to 4G LTE. However, 5G will operate on much larger blocks of airwaves than 4G, with channels up to 100-800 MHz, requiring a larger spectrum allocation. In comparison, 4G uses 20 MHz channels bonded together at 160 MHz. Currently, Samsung is conducting research on 6G technology. There is limited information available on how 6G would operate or how fast it would be. However, some experts predict that 6G may operate using mmWave on the radio spectrum and could be a decade away from becoming commercially available.