5G will revolutionize the world wirelessly. This technology will connect billions of people and things to internet and to each other, without wire. Actually 5G, the next generation of communication network will not be accessible to you and me before year 2020, but the excitement in the tech circles is palpable.
There is a lot of competition amongst the countries to demonstrate the use of 5G to the world. Japanese government wants to demonstrate the capabilities of 5G in 2020 Summer Olympics. South Korea wants to show trials by late 2017-2018. European Union and Brazil have come together to develop 5G. European Union and Brazil have been close trading partners and they have been cooperating on information and communication technologies since year 2008. There have been similar agreements with China, South Korea and Japan. The talks are on with India and the United States.
Companies in the fray
Last year in January 2015 Ofcom – The Office of Communications, the Government approved regulatory and competition authority of United Kingdom promised 5G speeds of 10 Gbps to 50 Gbps to its citizens by year 2020. In Mobile Congress 2016 Intel described its plans for 5G. Intel intends to have a series of collaborations with companies such as Huawei, Nokia and Verizon on networking technologies and 5G networking.
Other companies that are interested in exploring the possibilities that 5G provides are China Mobile, Telefonica, AT&T, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, ZTE, NTT Docomo, SK Telecom and Korea Telecom. Google bought Alpental Technologies, a start-up in year 2014 which was developing a cheap, high speed communications service using millimetre wave (mmWave) the spectrum band which is above 3 gigahertz, where most of 5G is expected to be. At the GTI Summit 2016, in Barcelona, leading global telecom operators including Vodafone, China Mobile, China Mobile, Bharti Airtel and Softbank came together to launch GTI 2.0, their five-year program. “It is important for the industry to continue developing 4G and to work together to develop the standards for 5G technology ahead of its expected commercial introduction from 2020 onwards,” said Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group Plc. GTI 2.0 aims to advance existing 4G technology and industrialization of 5G technologies.
Nokia intends to plough a $350 million investment fund into new IOT projects, a new 5G ready radio access product and the acquisition of Canadian network security company Nakina Systems. Nokia recently acquired France’s Alcatel-Lucent to help it accelerate development of future technologies such as 5G and the Internet of Things. Talking about Nokia’s 5G Plan, Nokia President and CEO Rajeev Suri says, “We are already at the forefront of making 5G a reality and enabling massive capacity and massive connectivity. If we know that 5G can help save lives, improve our environment and make our lives better, we need to move faster, not slower.”
What can we expect from 5G?
5G or fifth generation of wireless technology will offer great speed. Under 5G plans, carriers will offer mobile internet speeds of more than 10 gigabits per second. According to Huawei’s deputy chairman Ken Hu, it will be about 100 times the speed of the fastest 4G mobile connections deployed today. 5G will also have more than 1,000 times the data capacity of 4G.
It means that you would be able to download a feature length HD movie in less than 5 seconds. Networks will have more data bandwidth. Currently the digital response time or latency (the time a web link takes to load a page on a smartphone) is around 50 to 80 milliseconds which would reduce to a millisecond with 5G. This critical reduction will no doubt open up new vistas of collaboration on different platforms where technology will aid us in making world a better place, faster. With one millisecond latency, you could see machines communicating in real time. You could see driverless cars on the roads making those split second decisions with ease.
A new age of wireless devices will dawn where millions of new devices will compete for buyer’s attention and money. Smart watches, other wearable items and industrial products embedded with location and context aware sensors will be de rigueur. These devices will require constant and uninterrupted connectivity. There could be big changes at our work, home and on the streets. Smart homes, smart city sensors, better traffic management systems, transportation, industrial automation systems and other Internet of things will leverage the immense possibilities of 5G.
Expect a network revolution driven by convergence of computing and communication. Wireless network will become more intelligent and flexible. Expect new experiences. Carriers and Telecom companies will need to upgrade their equipment to make it compatible with the new technology. The consumers will be looking forward to ultra-high reliability, much higher connectivity density and higher mobility range.
The Way Ahead
By 2020, 5G networks would need to handle smartphones, personal drones, smart homes, home appliances, mobile health services, personal drones, driverless cars and robots. The onus is now on the global community to come together and develop a global definition of 5G. Focus areas need to be identified. The services which will be first supported by 5G networks need to be specified – the current sentiments say it could be 5G connected cars, very high definition video streaming and the growing industry of Internet of things amongst others. Common standards and best practices need to be documented. Countries are looking to deploy 5G in fields like smart cities, health, education, agro-food, transport and energy.
There is a growing concern about security. Industry is focused on addressing the security risks posed by the devices and the internet of things before 5G becomes a reality. The rise of new technology and new architecture will present new challenges to security and privacy protection. The volume of data traffic will be immense. It will increase to unseen before levels. User data from billions of people may traverse through various networks and the user privacy information could exist in any corner of the world, under any jurisdiction in any corner of the network. There will be an urgent need of virtual network slices each of which will handle a different application service. The slices would ensure that their resources are safe from other network nodes and slices. Enterprise A would need to block its resources from Enterprise B. Users should be able to put their data and be assured of its safety.
5G security design will therefore need to be an all-encompassing one which would need to provide security protection for almost everything in the world that is connected.
At the recently concluded Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, 5G was one of the hottest topics. A white paper published and launched by European Commission and 5G Infrastructure Association highlights the fact that 5G technology can boost the European Vertical markets. It also says that 5G network infrastructures will digitize European economy which will bring in the fourth industrial revolution. This Fourth Industrial Revolution will include low energy processes, collaborative robots and integrated manufacturing and logistics.
The whitepaper stressed on the fact that 5G will transform networks into intelligent orchestration platforms which would then pave way for new business models and value propositions by cementing strong and new dynamics between vendors, operators and verticals.
Need for Clarity
The 5G technology is still years away but the race to be relevant when it arrives is on. There is need for clarity which will undoubtedly come with time. Ulf Ewaldsson, Ericsson’s chief technology officer hits the nail on the head with the most important question on everyone’s mind when he asks, “The billion-dollar question is what will a 5G network look like?” Everyone has a vague idea and soon time will answer that question. There are several other questions like that. The process of deciding a global standard for 5G wireless technology cannot be finished before 2019, the experts feel. All the different companies would need to ensure that their networks are able to talk to each other, so that when a person travels overseas he gets a seamless 5G experience. All this necessitates lengthy negotiations over what type of radio waves would the networks use, what kind of technology will suffice – it will take years.
The world needs to arrive at consensus on a lot of things. And most importantly, 5G technology will not come cheap. Governments and the companies will need to find ways to bring it to the people. There will be a lot of discussions before we reach global agreements. We will be there. By 2020, or probably sooner.