Next generation mobile technology: Quo Vadis 5G?

Smart Communication

Next generation mobile technology: Quo Vadis 5G?

Today’s IT industry is split between those who worry that it’s already too late to catch the 5G gravy train and those who think they still have plenty of time. This confusion is partly due to the mixed signals sent by the telco giants, but it is also due to the lack of a clear timetable for the rollout of next generation mobile technology.

by Bernd Schöne

Business and industry have been waiting for 5G to happen. Up to expected to be connected 100 billion devices are – through the fifth generation of mobile communications, most of them via IoT. With 1,000 times the data capacity of today’s smartphone networks, the latency-free, tactile Internet promises a revolution, one which will be especially felt in the feld of automation.

In fact, “5G” is just a marketing term that covers a wide range of new mobile technologies. Back in early 2012, the standards committee of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – originally the International Telegraph Union – called for a network capacity of up to 20 gigabits. To put that in context: while LTE can theoretically achieve speeds of around 300 Mbps, in reality, we are not likely to get more than around 42 Mbps; standard 4G has real-world speeds of just around 14 Mbps. 5G trials are taking place today, with Verizon in the US, for example, demonstrating that its technology can achieve 30–50 times faster download speeds than currently possible with 4G. That would enable you to download a full movie in around 15 seconds, versus around 6 minutes on 4G.

Next generation Mobile Technology M2M im Alltag

Game changer: 5G will have a huge impact on our everyday lives, from parcel deliveries to patient records and finding a lost dog or a space to park your car.

Most telcos and other providers are talking about 2020 as the likely date for commercial availability of 5G, but some seem intent on stealing a march on the competition. While Chinese manufacturer ZTE was the first handset manufacturer to showcase a 5G smartphone at GSMA Mobile World Congress in 2017, Lenovo has eyes set on 5G smartphone leadership, based on chipsets provided by Qualcomm, an American company. Has the future already begun? And will 5G really herald a new era, much like the introduction of the Internet itself more than a quarter of a century ago?

One thing is clear: by using a much wider range of frequencies in a more flexible fashion, 5G has the potential to connect billions of mobile devices. Most of them will not be smartphones at all, but rather sensors and actuators included in a plethora of IoT devices, including automobiles, trains, and planes.

Ready, set – go!

Engineers are already busy building robots and entire production lines with connection capabilities that rival today’s fxed-line systems, only faster and more securely. 5G is the first mobile standard conceived expressly with machine-to-machine (M2M) applications in mind. Theoretically, at least, this could prove a gigantic shot in the arm for autonomous vehicles and other systems, including “smart factories.”

For telcos and providers, the most important feature of 5G is its ability to adapt more flexibly than ever before to customer needs and demands. For that reason, 5G was conceived from the beginning as a software-defined network, or SDN; one which can be reprogrammed almost at will and in far less time than its predecessors. Some providers are already testing 5G technology over 4G frequencies, albeit at much slower data rates. They are virtually sure to make this a major point in their advertising campaigns leading up to the actual start of true 5G services. In fact, many countries still need to allot the necessary frequency bands, which in the past was usually done by auctioning off entire blocks of frequencies. In 2015, the three big German players Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and O2 (Telefonica) shelled out more than €5 billion for the choicest bits of online real estate, which went directly into the state coffers and was commonly referred to then as the “digital dividend.” Plans to auction off G5 territories in late 2018 by the network authority Bundesnetzagentur had to be postponed and are now scheduled for early in 2019. Worldwide, the final decision is expected for ITU’s next World Radio communication Conference (WRC) in October of next year.

While governments usually assume that all frequencies are created equal, there are significant differences among them. The range between 700 and 800 megahertz (MHz) is ideal for long-distance transmission, for instance in lightly populated, rural areas. The higher the frequency, the more powerful the signal, so operators can service more users through a given radio cell; but this comes at the cost of less distance – hence the need for more relay stations, especially in heavily built-up urban areas or where there are skyscrapers as obstacles to the radio waves. Frequencies of between 3.3 and 4.2 GHz will be the most important for G5 since they represent the best compromise between reach and data throughput. Manufacturers and telco operators are pushing for uniform regulation on an international scale, but if the past is any guide, this will hardly happen.

5G is slated to surpass its predecessors in almost every respect. The 600- odd delegates at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) recently announced the first version of a universal 5G standard; called New Radio (NR), it defines the so-called air interface, or access mode, which forms the communication link between the two stations in mobile or wireless communications. However, 5G, by its nature, can do very well without a core or backbone because it relies on multi-hop relaying – a type of communication in radio networks in which network coverage area is larger than the radio range of single nodes. Therefore, to reach some destination, a node can use other nodes as relays. 5G also allows for device-to-device (D2D) or peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, which creates a direct link between sensors and actuators without the help (and cost) of using a telco operator. Telcos, understandably, take a dim view of this practice, and it remains to be seen whether multi-hop will be a viable alternative in the market.

Want a slice?

RG hardly relies on fixed connections; instead customers are allotted slices of the mighty, but flexible, core network, depending on their needs and budget restrictions. Previously, mobile networks did not operate this way. In the future, a customer in need of very high transmission rates might be assigned a relatively high frequency band or maybe even more than one band at a time. Slicing also enables operators to guarantee certain degrees of latency or the maximum number of TCP/IP packets lost over a specified time frame. This will be important for new business models that rely on “always-on” connections. Virtual and augmented reality applications are especially sensitive to latency problems. 5G will be able to operate with latencies of less than a millisecond, whereas UTMS and LTE only manage about 400 and 40 milliseconds respectively.

Next generation Mobile Technology Nokia key requirements

Looking ahead: 5G will provide a combination of evolution and revolution, with small and wide networks allowing users to beneft from fast connection and real-time communications never experienced before.

Failure in autonomous systems such as self-driving cars and trucks or pilot less passenger jets would result in catastrophic loss of life, so 5G adds plenty of redundancy to avoid any chance of something going wrong. The systems will transmit every signal multiple times and, if necessary, through separate radio bands. This trick also means that packet loss is kept to a bare minimum, even over long distances and under unfavorable conditions. This, however, is still a technological no-man’s land, and no one needs to be a prophet to foresee that anyone demanding short latency will have to pay the price, especially if they want it in writing through a service level agreement, or SLA.

If everything goes as planned, 5G will not be able to help being a smash success. While it remains a technology more at home to laboratories and test beds, there is no escaping the fact that 5G will be able to transmit a thousand times more data than older systems, and that with an unprecedented degree of energy efficiency. Bit for bit, energy consumption via 5G will be reduced by at least 90 percent! This will require a new generation of radio and antenna technology which will be able to focus power on individual users as required. The secret here is something called phased array antennas along with beam forming or spatial filtering and multiple input multiple-output (MIMO) as a safeguard against signal fading. This means that multiple users can share a frequency even when in movement; this is the equivalent of a child holding its hand behind it ear to be able to listen to what someone is saying even if there is a great deal of background noise. Another neat trick that 5G enables is using separate channels for communication in both directions between two persons (or machines), thus effectively doubling the data.

Next generation Mobile Technology MIMO info graphic

New model: The era of operating wireless systems at the millimeter wave spectrum, ranging from 30 GHz to 300 GHz, is coming. They will operate in a very different manner from conventional cellular systems below 6 GHz, requiring new mathematical models to analyze performance.

Clients and service providers are in the starting blocks and waiting for the gun to fire. So, does that mean everything is fine? Unfortunately, no. Yes, the first 5G standards have been released as of summer 2018, and chip makers are polishing off their designs. Yet there are still a host of unresolved issues, most of which will only be settled at WRC 2019, such as the radio band reserved for G5 in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America.

Generation Change: Path to 5G

0G radio telephones (1946)MTS IMTS Altai OLT MTA - MTB - MTC - MTD AMTS Autotel (PALM) ARP B-Netz AMR
1G (1979)AMPS family OtherAMPS, N-AMPS TACS, ETACS,NMT, C-450, Hica, Mobitex, DataTAC
2G (1991)GSM/3GPP family, 3GPP2 family. AMPS family, otherGSM, CSD, HSCSD,cdmaOne (IS-95); D-AMPS (IS-54 and IS-136),CDPD, iDEN, PDC, PHS
2G transitional (2.5G, 2.75G)GSM/3GPP family, 3GPP2 family, otherGPRS, EDGE/EGPRS, Evolved EDGE, CDMA2000 1X (TIA/EIA/IS-2000, CDMA2000 1X Advanced, WiDEN, DECT
3G (2001)3GPP family, 3GPP2 familyUMTS, UTRA-FDD/W-CDMA (FOMA), UTRA-TDD LCR/TD-SCDMA,UTRA-TDD HCR/TD-CDMA, CDMA2000,1xEV-DO Release 0 (TIA/IS-856)
3G transitional (3.5G, 3.75G, 3.9G)3GPP family, 3GPP2 family, IEEE family, ETSI familyHSPA (HSDPA HSUPA), HSPA+ (DC-HSDPA), LTE (E-UTRA), CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Revision A (TIA/EIA/IS-856-A), EV-DO Revision B (TIA/EIA/IS-856-B), EV-DO Revision C, Mobile WiMAX (IEEE 802.16e), Flash-OFDM iBurst (IEEE 802.20), WiBro, HiperMAN
4G (2009), IMT Advanced (2013)3GPP family, IEEE familyLTE Advanced (E-UTRA), LTE Advanced Pro (4.5G Pro/pre-5G/4.9G), WiMAX (IEEE 802.16m), WiMax 2.1 (LTE-TDD / TD-LTE), WiBro
5G (IMT-2020), (Under development)LTE, 5G-NR

Everything OK?

Most of these frequencies will eventually be auctioned off, some for high prices and under heavy requirements in terms of coverage and expansion. Customers will love this, because it means rapid and widespread availability of 5G, but operators will hate it because of the enormous burden of investments thrust upon them. Availability automatically means more expensive stations; there also could be public backlash from people concerned about radiation issues. Widespread anti-G5 protests could result. G5 will be the most powerful system yet invented, but it could also become a victim of its own success. This will depend on IoT as well as on streaming and interactive gaming; each business model will require huge amounts of bandwidth. The only possible way of satisfying this thirst for frequencies is to open bands hitherto reserved for the military, especially in the spectrum between 60 and 100 GHz. The generals will resist with all their might, and nobody can predict who will win in the end.

5G will be a big shot in the arm for things like autonomous vehicles and smart factories

If operators are restricted to bands that are available for civilian use today, that will drive costs per sensor even higher, which will make 5G unattractive for certain business models that will be crucial to the system’s overall adoption. And 5G is not without competitors. Narrowband IoT on the basis of existing 4G technology may have its limitations, but it will be good enough for many use cases for a long time in the future, especially given the price degradation that is to be expected once the newer system is rolled out. OK, the data rates aren’t so hot, but there are solutions in the pipeline such as WirelessHART and 6LoWPAN, which are only good for local use but which will be much cheaper than the more modern alternative. Besides, 5G operators will first have to retrieve their investments through higher prices, which will make it less attractive to at least some customers. And just how secure the marvelous new mobility will prove to be remains to be seen. The bad guys, after all, are always a step ahead.

5G may be the future, but who really knows what lies ahead? Time will tell rate

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