The 5G Technology Race

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“In a 5G world, the Internet of Everything will be fully realized; everything that can be connected will be connected. Most important,5G will enable killer applications yet to be imagined.” – FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

In July of 2016, the US government opened up airwaves for a 5G network. They allotted 11 Gigahertz of the high-band spectrum, including 3.85 GHz of licensed and 7 GHz of unlicensed airwaves for 5G. This makes the U.S. the first country to open airwaves for 5G.

According to Business Insider, by 2020 there will be 34 billion connected devices and 24 billion of those will be IoT devices. 5G at speeds of 10 to 100 faster than 4G is necessary for that amount of traffic. The Internet of Things Report found:

  • Nearly $6 trillion will be spent on IoT solutions over the next five years.
  • Businesses will be the main users of IoT solutions. The IoT can improve their bottom line by lowering operating costs and increasing productivity.
  • Government will be the second-largest adopters of IoT ecosystems as smart cities come online and improvements to military connectivity are employed.
  • Consumers will purchase a massive number of devices and invest a significant amount of money in IoT ecosystems, including smart home appliances, smart cars, and internet connected devices.

There is a worldwide race to adopt 5G technology. Both Japan and South Korea plan to have 5G networks available during their Olympics in 2018 and 2020, respectively. China is working on 5G technology. In Europe, many of the major carriers have formed the EU 5G Public-Private Partnership and are tackling 5G with a consortium-type approach. In the U.S. it is shaping up into a battle between AT&T andVerizon.

2G was the first digital network, 3G was the first broadband network and 4G made the first use of multiple smart antennas on transmitters and receivers. What exactly is 5G? For the end consumer, 5G is an entirely wireless network. For the service providers, it is much more complicated.

The 5G network uses a high band spectrum and those waves don’t travel as far as the lower spectrum waves used in 3 and 4G bands. Providers need to create a system that will deliver the 5G network to consumers. At this point, the answer seems to be small cell networks. The Small Cell Forum definition is:

Small cell is an umbrella term for low-powered radio access nodes, including those that operate in licensed spectrum and unlicensed carrier-grade Wi-Fi. Small cells typically have a range from 10 meters to several hundred meters.

Many websites talk about how networks must be densified for 5G to work. This just means lots of small cells to carry the higher spectrum wavelengths. Providers of 5G must supply these small cells and also the connection to them known as backhaul. The backhaul is the network that connects the small cells to the core network and consists mostly of dedicated fiber, copper, microwave, and occasionally satellite links. Backhaul means more cellular towers and more fiber optic lines.

There are other options for 5G. MIMO is one. Multiple input, multiple output is a scenario where both sets of equipment have multiple antennas. Millimeter waves are also under consideration but don’t seem to be a serious contender. They have short wavelengths that range from 10 millimeters to 1 millimeter and are affected by the atmosphere.

Right now there is no 5G, the standard doesn’t exist yet. 5G is purely a concept. It will be years before it’s finally defined. Who will define it and what it will really be is what the race for 5G is all about. Governments, industry, and schools are all involved in the competition. If 5G is available in 2020, as most websites predict, a winner should emerge soon.

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