5G: The New Reality

The history of computer technology is littered with products and concepts that promised much but delivered little. Want proof? Just Google “technology failures” and you’ll find plenty. For 5G networking, success isn’t in question. It will be a major leap forward and will, in fact, help turn some promising techs, such as autonomous autos, into reality.

The problem is it’s going to take some time, and plenty of expense, to get there. Another problem is that many telecoms are finding customer skepticism and price wariness because of problems in implementations of current technology.

Still, when 5G does arrive the new reality will be more than sufficient to pay off industry expectations. And those expectations are high: 5G is expected to produce download speeds of 10 to 50 Gigabits per second, with latency of just one millisecond.

By contrast, typical 4G download speeds are around 20 Megabits per second. Even at a conservative estimate of 10 Gbps, that makes 5G more than 1000 times faster. And 5G’s one-millisecond latency will be 50 times better than today’s 4G, with typical latency of 50 milliseconds.

From HD To 3D

Performance like that will deliver near-real time streaming of HD movies, with complete downloads in the 10-seconds range. It will speed delivery of 3D movies, as well as similar advances in gaming and other virtual and augmented reality applications.

5G-powered movies, gaming, VR and AR will create massive new market opportunities, of course. But they’ll represent just a tiny tip of the 5G iceberg. Self-driving, autonomous autos will become fully viable thanks to 5G’s ability to send lots of data with ultra-low latency. The same performance will support the expected 50 billion IoT sensors and devices expected to invade our universe in the next few years.

The combination of 5G and IoT will open new markets in smart-city, -home and -building applications, remote-controlled robots, and real-time health monitoring, plus unforeseen applications that will come into view.

All of this goodness will flow from the progress of 5G, but it won’t come immediately. Many things – technologies, network infrastructure, and industry and government standards – will have to mature to get the most out of 5G.

Although network vendors are now rolling out products with 5G qualities, it’s expected that the first large-scale 5G networks will appear in 2020. In the meantime, telecoms are working to put 5G infrastructure in place. This is a costly endeavor, but it will pay off because much of the infrastructure work revolves around resource virtualization techniques such as network function virtualization and software defined networking (NFV and SDN).

NFV and SDN let telecoms separate virtualized, top-line applications from underlying network infrastructure, so they deliver immediate benefits to the telecoms’ existing 4G networks while at the same time preparing the infrastructure to take on 5G.

What’s Needed: Capacity

For 5G to flourish, however, it will need orders-of-magnitude-greater capacity to handle the massive growth in data traffic.

Significant innovation will be essential to building out the infrastructure to carry this load. The good news is that there’s plenty of innovation around the technologies that will be key to providing the robustness needed. Some examples:

  • Millimeter wave – One way to add capacity is by using higher spectrum frequencies. Current 4G implementations are already crowding their spectrum at around 6 GHz, but there‘s plenty of new bandwidth available between 24 and 100 GHz. The challenge lies in handling the shorter wavelengths in the higher bands, but networking vendors are solving these challenges with innovative equipment designs.
  • Massive MIMO – This is an improved version of current MIMO technology, where multiple input and output antennas can be used by a single cellular base station or access point. With massive MIMO, dozens or even hundreds of antennas may be used. Since MIMO reduces the hardware footprint of transmitters and receivers, it supports a greater density of data traffic, thus reducing energy costs and saving physical space. Also, it will benefit millimeter-wave communications, where the shorter wavelengths require more closely-packed access points.
  • Small cells – These are scaled-down versions of cellular base stations, with lowered power and limited range. Originally used in homes and buildings, they’re ideal for the massive build-out that will take place with 5G networks. Why? Because they can be placed most anywhere – attached to city light posts, for example – without creating the eyesore that would come with thousands of new full-size cell towers.

The Role Of Real-Time Analytics

What’s also needed is a way to turn the high costs of 5G infrastructure into sustainable profits, and to do that while transitioning to digital operations and business-support systems.

This is where the new breed of cloud-based real-time analytics comes in. A real-time analytics infrastructure helps break through traditional corporate “silos” by creating a layer of visibility across operations systems. It then models the interactions of these systems, and feeds the results to operations managers, network managers and others in the organization.

Real-time analytics extends out to customers, too, mapping the impact of new products and service to specific customer groups. This will help communications service providers determine which 5G features are optimal for key customer groups.

Perhaps best of all, a real-time analytics infrastructure will serve as a foundation for creating new customer-driven applications that grow out of the rich tapestry that will be created by 5G.

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