06 Jun Understanding How 5G Technology Works
If I were to tell you that the technology of today is moving and developing at a very rapid pace, that would certainly be an understatement. We all know by now that the fabled 5G network is only a few years shy of completion. And its release in 2020 will be the dawn of a new era of mobile and stationary computing alike. However, to make use of its full potential, it is good to have a grasp of how 5G technology works in the first place.
First, a quick definition. 5G basically refers to the 5th generation. The 5th generation of what exactly? Wireless technology! Maybe you aren’t too familiar with the previous iterations, but right now what people use most are 4G and 2G. You may not know it, but SMS actually relies on 2G networks to get your messages through. In western markets, 4G is heavily relied upon when it comes to being mobile. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the number goes, the faster the data transmission speeds get.
Blast from the Past
Just to give you a brief idea on the differences regarding the past generations, 1G made use of analog cellular technology. 2G was the first generation to make the switch to digital cellular technologies, and included CDMA, GSM, and TDMA. 3G technologies were similar, but improved on speed. They were capable of data transfer speeds that ranged from about 200 kilobytes per second to a few megabytes per second. At the time, this was an amazing development, as it was the first time the internet was truly accessible while you were on the move.
Examples of 3G include EVDO, HSPA, and UMTS. Not unlike its younger brother, 4G basically just improved upon its predecessor, most notably in terms of speed. They scale to several megabytes per second and have become the go to option for most of today’s mobile devices. 4G technologies include LTE and WiMAX, however, more than a couple of people like to consider LTE as the only “true” 4G network due to how comparably fast it was when you put it side by side with competition. What is good to know is that most of the generations are more or less backwards compatible. The term backwards compatible here refers to the ability to use the previous, existing technologies that the preceding generations made use of.
The question is…
So does 5G technology incorporate the same system that made the other generations what they were? The answer isn’t as definite or clear cut as to warrant a simple yes or no question, but rather, resides in a grey area. The 5G is definitely the next big thing, similar to what 4G brought to the table when it was first announced. However, unlike 4G, it doesn’t just basically improve on speed, no matter how significant that boost in speed actually is. In a nutshell, 5G will be tugging along 3 new aspects upon commercial release.
The first and most obvious is the greater speed. When we say greater speed, this refers to exponential growth. And not just minor tweaks that don’t yield any noticeable benefits in a real life scenario. The second is the ability to connect to more devices at any given time. Why does that matter, you ask? With the increasing popularity of smart devices that rely on not only fast speeds, but also connecting to multiple devices, demand for that capability is also increasing.
Currently, 4G modules are not only expensive, but they are also inefficient in terms of power consumption, and oftentimes demand complicated service plans. This is the reason why it is not uncommon for the business sector to rely on 2G networks. In a design standpoint, it makes sense to ensure that 5G networks are capable of catering to these growing needs. Lastly, the 5G network also focuses on polishing latency rates; that is, decreasing them by as much as 1 millisecond. To put it simply, 5G networks will require 4G networks, similar to the ones available at xyzies.com.
How does it work?
Think of the 4G network as the foundation that the newer, more able 5G network will lean on; at least, until 5G networks will have grown to the point where they can stand on their own. This is the initial plan, but when 5G becomes the industry standard, or is going in that direction, they are planning to trade in the order 4G networks for the newer 5G networks. However, despite this, the 5G radio system known as 5G – NR will not be backwards compatible with 4G.
Cellular networks basically use radio waves to transfer data. This is similar to how 5G networks function. They will use a system of cell sites that will segregate their general territory into smaller sectors and transmit encoded data through radio waves. This requires each and every individual cell site to be connected to the equivalent of a network backbone. An advantage here is that this connection can either be a wired or wireless backhaul connection.
5G incorporates its own encoding, and is called OFDM. Not unlike the 5G encoding, 4G makes use of a similar method as well. Where they differ is in design. As one of the core focuses of the 5G network, this air interface was designed with greater flexibility and lower latency compared to LTE networks. This doesn’t mean that it won’t be compatible. Remember how we mentioned that 4G would be the foundation for 5G networks, at least at the beginning? This standard will benefit over 4G networks at higher frequencies despite being compatible with frequencies that range from low to high.
What is LAA?
In the US, all the carriers save for Sprint make use of a technology called LAA. LAA is basically using unlicensed frequencies that are used for Wi-Fi. The problem with this initially was that sometimes the frequencies clash with each other and cause issues. 5G has the ability to transmit data over these unlicensed frequencies without causing any conflict for greater connectivity.
When you walk around your neighborhood or go for long cross-country drives, have you ever noticed those huge, towering cellular sites? Those cell towers are there to make sure that connectivity is being transmitted and is spread out for maximum coverage. Compared to these lumbering structures, 5G will make use of a smaller network of cells; think the size of a shoe box.
When we put it like that, having a small network of cells the size of a home router isn’t too bad, right? In a neighborhood it could be scattered through public structures or things such as lamp posts. Not only does this prevent the eye sore that is the gargantuan cell towers, it also makes connectivity that much more efficient. The more cells you have, the more data is efficiently allowed in the network.
This works for 5G, which is in a way, smarter than the older 4G networks; and it needs to be, considering it has to juggle smaller albeit a significantly larger amount of cells. That may also vary in shape and size as compared to a few, larger cells scattered about. According to Qualcomm, a popular chipset maker and a significant contributor to the development of 5G. 5G should be able to boost capacity by about 4 times compared to existing systems by leveraging wider bandwidths and advanced antenna technologies.
Now we know
Now that we know a bit more about 5G, the next thing we should do is determine who it’s for. The most obvious answer is that 5G is meant to improve people who use and rely on smartphones. However, Verizon is the exception, as they want to use 5G as a means of improving the home network scene. 5G isn’t just limited to scrolling on social media sites faster, though. With more data comes endless possibilities.
Virtual reality, augmented reality, higher resolution videos, and streaming services among others are expected to increase in popularity. While these may seem like novelty ideas, it has room to grow into things that will legitimately contribute to society in a positive way. Ideas like stroke rehab through virtual reality, smart bandages that have the ability to track your healing in real time, and other similar ideas were the top picks in an event called the 5G Hackathon that was held in Oulu, Finland. This is especially relevant because that seems to be the trend the smartphone industry is heading towards. The latest and greatest flagship phones from the top tech companies feature chips that are designed for artificial intelligence as well as augmented reality.
With 5G networks just peeking around the corner, the world is waiting to see the final product. Even though it doesn’t deliver on its more bold promises. It is nice to see the combined efforts of companies cooperating in order to make its fruition a success. In the grand scheme of things, the introduction of 5G technology will definitely be making waves. In only a few years, the nature of the internet and online computing may be changed as we know it.