The Reality of 5G and What to Expect from It

5th-Generation (5G) Wireless Systems are set to bring a revolutionary change to the current world, much like the way, 3G and 4G LTE did few years back. While a number of regions are still waiting to link to the 4G network, the top telecom companies have started to develop the next generation of mobile communication.

5G is expected to make autonomous cars, VR and the internet of things a reality. Early efforts on 5G have been driven and centered around three main features:

  • Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB): telecoms expect 5G to be able to deliver over 1 Gbit/s. The first 5G chip trailed by Qualcomm in 2017 has successfully reached this number, and the trails by Ericsson and NTT DoCoMo even achieved 10 Gbit/s in the 15GHz band. The fastest figure so far is 35 Gbit/s by M1 and Huawei for a trial in Singapore
  • Massive machine-type connections (mMTC): massive connections will support vast numbers of connected devices, thereby allowing Internet of Things (IoT) to flourish. 5G will allow more than 1 million devices connections per cell site or per km2 (200-400 for current networks)
  • Ultra-reliable low-latency communications (uRLLC): uRLLC will target virtual-reality applications, autonomous vehicles, robot and remote medical services. The latency can be as low as 1 ms end-to-end (E2E) delay (53 ms for 4G and 64 ms for 3G).

But while 5G continues to be the center point, it does has competition from 4G LTE and also the newer connection technologies, such as NB-IoT, LoRa and Sigfox which also offer solutions to the emerging IoT market. With high throughput and low latency, 5G is the most promising technique to tackle the high-value areas including 3D robotic control, virtual reality monitoring and remote medical control. Those are the problems that today's technologies have not addressed yet. The evolution of mobile communication is progressive. For example, some scheduling algorithms and concepts from 3G are inherited and manipulated in 4G. It took two years from the completion of the 4G standards (2008) to its commercialization (2010), and another three years to take over 3G. However, even now, 4G reach is not absolute yet.

5G is never intended to overthrow 4G at all, at least for the moment. In fact, many of the essential techniques are updated versions of 4G. The 4G station will continue to be used for 5G as the macro base station, and the main infrastructure of 4G will remain. Such a 5G network supported by existing 4G infrastructure is also called Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G, which will be first adopted in market.

5G is a collection of optimized 4G techniques (both at the physical level and architectural level) with new characteristics coming from the change of frequency (mainly two high frequencies, sub-6GHz or 20-40 GHz) and large bandwidth. The Image below summarizes the relationship between some essential techniques and the key features.


The most popular innovations summarizing the relationship between some essential techniques and the key features include:

  • Massive MIMO
  • Edge-computing and cloudification
  • Network slicing

However, an IDTechEx Research Report finds that there is also a growing pessimism on the widespread adoption of 5G, coming from many policymakers and telecom companies. One such example is, Huawei, one of the leading 5G standard contributors. They argued that 5G will become incredibly expensive for operators to deploy, requiring tens of thousands of new base stations per country and enormous investment in the structures upgrade. Some claim that most consumers would not notice its benefits and that operators would struggle to make money from it. There are questions mingling around. Why do we want to deploy 5G while 4G is until not yet fully covered? Will there be enough reliable 5G coverage or just in a few areas, limiting the benefits to certain locations? Is it actually any good for IoT based on power requirements versus the other types of technologies, which may also have a lower data cost plan due to their cheaper infrastructure? The future of 5G is still far from certain.

For all revolutionary technologies, it can never be fully predicted what they will bring and how they will change lives until they have already done so. Despite all the challenges, the standardization of 5G has moved quickly. 3GPP is expected to approve the first release of all the necessary standards for 5G by the end of this year, and first commercialized deployment might come very soon afterward. There is no doubt that 5G is coming. The U.S. and China are the main countries who have started to push the standard, via conducting trials, Europe is also not far behind.

IDTechEx has summarized the updated and most important features and trials in their new report on 5G – “IoT Low Power Wireless Networks and 5G 2019-2029: Global Forecasts, Technologies, Applications”. The company will also be hosting the 5G and Low power Wide Area Networks at IoT Application Conference and Exhibition on November 14 – 15 in Santa Clara, CA, focusing on the prospects and advancements in 5G and IoT domain.

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