What Is 5G?

- May 05, 2018-

Executive summary

It is the fourth time in history that the world's telecommunications providers (the telcos) have acknowledged the need for a complete overhaul of their wireless infrastructure.  This is why the ever-increasing array of technologies, listed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as "Release 15" and "Release 16" of their standards for wireless telecom, is called 5G.  It is an effort to create a sustainable industry around the wireless consumption of data for all the world's telcos.

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One key goal of 5G is to dramatically improve quality of service, and extend that quality over a broader geographic area, in order for the wireless industry to remain competitive against the onset of gigabit fiber service coupled with Wi-Fi.

New business models

Equipment staged by NTT DOCOMO for 5G urban area trials in Japan.

                                           (Image: Ericsson)                                        

The initial costs of these improvements may be tremendous, and consumers have already demonstrated their intolerance for rate hikes.   So, to recover those costs, telcos will need to offer new classes of service to new customer segments, for which 5G has made provisions.   These include:

  • Fixed wireless data connectivity in dense metropolitan areas, with gigabit per second or better bandwidth, through a dazzling, perhaps bewildering, new array of microwave relay antennas;

  • Edge computing services that bring computing power closer to the point where sensor data from remote, wireless devices would be collected, eliminating the latency incurred by public cloud-based applications;

  • Machine-to-machine communications services that could bring low-latency connectivity to devices such as self-driving cars and machine assembly robots;

  • Video delivery services that would compete directly against today's multi-channel video program distributors (MVPD) such as Comcast and Charter Communications, perhaps offering new delivery media for Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, or perhaps competing against them as well.

"It's not only going to be we humans that are going to be consuming services," remarked Nick Cadwgan, director of IP mobile networking, speaking with ZDNet.  "There's going to be an awful lot of software consuming services.  If you look at this whole thing about massive machine-type communications [mMTC], in the past it's been primarily the human either talking to a human or, when we have the Internet, the human requesting services and experiences from software.  Moving forward, we are going to have software as the requester, and that software is going to be talking to software.  So the whole dynamic of what services we're going to have to deliver through our networks, is going to change."

Driving for higher yields

5G is comprised of several technology projects in both communications and data center architecture, all of which must collectively yield benefits for telcos as well as customers, for any of them to be individually considered successful.  The majority of these efforts are in one of three categories:

  • Spectral efficiency -- Making more optimal use of multiple frequencies so that greater bandwidths may be extended across further distances from base stations (historically, the main goal of any wireless "G");

  • Energy efficiency -- Leveraging whatever technological gains there may be for both transmitters and servers, in order to drastically reduce cooling costs;

  • Utilization -- To afford the tremendous communications infrastructure overhaul that 5G may require, telcos may need to create additional revenue generating services such as edge computing and mobile apps hosting, placing them in direct competition with public cloud providers.

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