The development of 5G, the fifth generation of wireless network, has been gaining momentum and many people are excited about the speed of this superfast network. However, in developing the 5G network which is expected to be introduced in 2020, it is critical to consider the industry requirements for it to become a reality and the opportunities it will deliver.
For 5G to be successfully deployed, there needs to be an understanding that the next generation of wireless technology is not all about faster technology or more capacity. Rather, 5G is about solving the wireless challenges that exist today, including reliability for multiple devices, energy efficiency and bandwidth standards that will enable the transformation of industry and society, for example, the opportunity for properly connected smart cities, remote surgery, driverless cars and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Finalising a 5G standard will also be essential to developing the network. Each time we move into a new wireless technology standard we need to answer the question: What should be different from 4G to 5G and what is the strategy for successful deployment of 5G technologies?
The evolution of 4G to 5G
The main difference between 4G and 5G centres is improving the user experience and lowering costs. To achieve this requires capacity and scale, 5G should provide an improved, uniform user experience across multiple frequency bands, for both licensed and unlicensed spectrums.
It should also enable streamlined communications between various machines and devices. IoT is already prevalent and we can expect a rise in this trend as consumers demand a connected experience. 5G standards need to support all IoT devices while also reducing battery consumption and lowering cost per module.
The mobile community needs to develop standards supporting these connections while ensuring the reliability of essential communications such as emergency services. 5G should enable high density and scale in specific environments. For example, it should be able to handle the ever-increasing density and high throughput challenges of video, putting an end to video faltering.
Carriers can use analytics to gain insights into usage patterns that will help determine how and where to deploy 5G, leveraging the wealth of data to target and optimise deployment. For example, leveraging analysis usage of phone and traffic patterns when users are inside buildings, compared to when they are on the move. Usage inside buildings is an important influence in how networks are deployed today and this is one of the reasons why small cell initiatives have grown.
Small cells are low-powered wireless access points that are designed to solve a network capacity problem inside a home or office building. With 5G, base stations should proliferate, not only within buildings, but in consumers’ homes on a large scale.
5G standards should provide the foundation for easier deployment and lower operating expense. This means introducing virtualisation from a radio network perspective, or the core network, or both, as well as lower battery consumption and providing efficient use of limited radio spectrum.
5G deployment strategy
Finding technology that works across assorted bands (both unlicensed and licensed spectrums) should be an essential part of 5G standards. However, 5G is not only about spectrum and access networks. There is a clear opportunity to integrate the fixed and wireless networks and build in technologies such as IoT, cloud and SDN-NFV.
Evolution not revolution
The International Telecommunication Union has yet to determine 5G requirements, partly because it’s challenging to establish requirements for the next generation when technology is rapidly changing – especially when there seems to be plenty of room for growth in 4G.
However, with new connected devices on the rise and demanding user expectations, it is clear that the next generation of networks will need to provide sophisticated services that support multiple devices, combined with affordable and reliable access.
Additionally, handling the volumes of data that 5G will be able to collect – from home security systems, light bulbs, wearables, refrigerators, manufacturing locations, oil rigs, and more – with the right analytics capabilities is going to be one of the critical “next steps” in wireless capabilities.
And that is where 5G will assume the role it is meant to play: As an evolution, rather than a revolution, in connecting digital devices in a seamless way, and ultimately improving the customer experience for increasingly-sophisticated and demanding digital users.