5g wireless networks are going to usher in a new age of Industry 4.0, IoT devices, and driverless cars -but to support the millions of devices invading our lives we must first take all of our supporting infrastructure to the next level. Innovative companies investing in 5G are constantly drawing up new solutions to big issues like the fundamental limitations in higher frequency- e.g. the proliferation of small cells. If these technologies work, we’re that much closer to the next iteration of the digital world.
All of these innovative technologies coming out for 5G speaks of the steady progress companies are making towards developing game-changing wireless networks.
Let’s take a look at where 5G wireless technologies are right now
Setting aside for now all the exciting new applications of 5g; let’s focus on outlining where 5g currently stands, where it’s headed and what needs to be dealt with for the technology to leave the lab and hit consumers.
5G, the next generation of wireless standards and technologies, looks to be the biggest one yet. The International Telecommunications Unit stepped in around a year ago amidst the chaos to make a name for the 5G standard – IMT-2020(which shows the time-limit to deploy the standard). But the ITU tends to be conservative with their estimates, and many other organizations and companies have predicted rollouts as early as 2018.
Market Status: No active real-world implementation. Advanced companies like AT&T are currently trialing a limited 5G solution. Roadmaps for different companies show deployment dates ranging from from mid-2018 to early 2020
Development-status: The scope of technologies and standards that 5G is going to define is building-up to be absolutely massive, probably surpassing all 4 previous generations combined. The standards and technologies that 5g will use have a long ways to go before being viable. Most professionals estimate the standards to be finalized no earlier than 2018.
Where 5G is headed
This world is moving towards a highly connected society where the internet will become nearly as important as running water, electricity and transportation. Wireless networks help us attain a mobile aspect of the internet within our lives that has helped us achieve an uninterrupted connection to this digital world. This lucrative industry with never-ending demand has given rise to equally massive networks, and the impact emerging 5G wireless networks are set to have on our lives will directly correlate with how capable the deployed networks are. Service providers now know that their next rollout of technologies and infrastructure must be the biggest one yet, as their success in 5G implementations will set the pace of their potential growth.
10Gbps+ speed, sub millisecond latency and exponentially better user density are the widely touted and anticipated improvements 5G is set to bring to the table. These improvements constitute the foundation for the communications of emerging applications, like machine2machine learning, augmented reality, virtual offices, driverless vehicle fleets, smart cities, tactile networks and so much more.
How to get there
The technological requirements, spectrum limitations/inefficiencies and user demands have necessitated the implementation of more dynamic,cost-effective and scalable technologies. While previous generations like 4g employed a single technology like LTE, 5G will need to source bandwidth from multiple technologies; like small cells using millimeter-waves (high-frequencies, <6GZ) and unlicensed spectrums (e.g. WI-FI) to get anywhere close to the speeds of the developing standard. Because there is only so much usable frequency for wireless communications, companies like Sprint who have large amounts of licensed spectrum will have an immediate advantage when it comes to deploying 5G wireless networks.
Examples of solutions emerging for 5G deployment problems:
Intelligent spectrum sharing – by dynamically sharing the usable spectrum between wireless providers companies will be able to increase network capabilities without additional resources. This is becoming more and more of a necessity for the future of 5G. Since usable spectrum is THE limited resource for wireless technologies, dynamically sharing it is one of the best ways to improve capacity overall.
Small cells– high-frequencies while faster, do have a trade-off. They don’t do well with walls, windows, trees and obstacles in general. All of this equates to a range of around 1/10th that of LTE. This is where small cell technology comes in. Simply place a distributed network of these small cells over the area instead of large cell towers.
Solar-powered small cell drones–
Taken a step further, Google is attempting to make a network of solar powered drones to solve the coverage issue. Given the cost, time and legal issues with deploying small cells everywhere, this seems like a viable solution if it pans out.
Behind-the-scenes supporting infrastructure
Of course the mobile networks are only one (albeit big) part of the puzzle. Another important thing to take into account is the infrastructure needed to support all of the new services. Thankfully telecoms have been addressing this issue with the shift to software-defined networks (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). By moving all the network functions from proprietary hardware to virtualized software solutions, networks can now be deployed faster, smarter, more efficient and inexpensively on x86 rackmount hardware. This means now ISP’s can scale their networks as easily as plugging in a new white box appliance and powering it on.
Given these benefits, our networks are inevitably headed towards software-defined orchestration, utilizing artificial intelligence and big data analytics to improve the efficiency of implemented hardware beyond individual means. Examples include technologies that pool resources, like software-defined air interfaces; which can intelligently balance traffic loads across the usable spectrum- i.e. shift to a lower frequency upon detecting an overloaded channel.
While the standard legal issues, disputes and technical problems are quite present within developing 5G solutions, capable companies are showing great efforts and results which all look promising in the goals set towards 5G wireless networks for this decade. 5G looks to be just around the turn of the decade and now is the time to be preparing for the myriad of potential, new revenue streams. It’s impossible to tell exactly what new applications and life-altering capabilities 5th generation wireless networks will have in store for us, but still incredibly fun to speculate and envision it while we wait.