5G technology is the next generation of wireless communications. It is expected to provide Internet connections that are least 40 times faster than 4G LTE. 5G technology may use a variety of spectrum bands, including millimeter wave (mmWave) radio spectrum, which can carry very large amounts of data a short distance. The drawback of the higher frequencies is that they are more easily obstructed by the walls of buildings, trees and other foliage, and even inclement weather.
The forthcoming 5G technology will come from various vendors and will be composed of solutions designed to provide very fast download speeds and low latency. Today—in advance of 5G’s expected debut around 2020—companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Samsung, and Ericsson are testing new advances in signal processing, chips, and antenna technologies that will enable the next generation of mobile connectivity.
But when you dig deeper into the 5G evolution, you’ll find an array of 5G technology that will underpin future wireless communications.
The 5G Technology That Will Make Everything Happen
As the 5G technology market comes into focus, we’re seeing a number of technologies emerge as vital to the 5G experience. These include the aforementioned mmWave technology; small cells; massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO); full duplex; software-defined networking (SDN); and beamforming.
- Millimeter wave: Millimeter waves are broadcast at frequencies between 30 GHz and 300 GHz, compared with the bands below 6 GHz used for 4G LTE. The new 5G networks will be able to transmit very large amounts of data—but only a few blocks at a time. Although the 5G standard will offer the greatest benefits over these higher frequencies, it will also work in low frequencies as well as unlicensed frequencies that WiFi currently uses, without creating conflicts with existing WiFi networks. For this reason, 5G networks will use small cells to complement traditional cellular towers.
- Small cells: Small cells are low-powered portable base stations that can be placed throughout cities. Carriers can install many small cells to form a dense, multifaceted infrastructure. Small cells’ low-profile antennas make them unobtrusive, but their sheer numbers make them difficult to set up in rural areas. As 5G technology matures, consumers should expect to see ubiquitous 5G antennas, even in their own homes.
- Massive MIMO: 5G technology enables base stations to support many more antennas than 4G base stations. With MIMO, both the source (transmitter) and the destination (receiver) have multiple antennas, thus maximizing efficiency and speed. MIMO also introduces interference potential, leading to the necessity of beamforming.
- Beamforming: Beamforming is a 5G technology that finds the most efficient data-delivery route to individual users. Higher-frequency antennas enable the steering of narrower transmission beams. This user-specific beamforming allows transmissions both vertically and horizontally. Beam direction can change several times per millisecond. Beamforming can help massive MIMO arrays make more efficient use of the spectrum around them.
- Full duplex: Full duplex communication is a way to potentially double the speed of wireless communication. By employing a 5G full duplex scheme on a single channel, only one channel is needed to transmit data to and from the base station, rather than two. A potential drawback of full duplex is that it can create signal interference.
- SDN: SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV) are considered the foundation for how 5G will be deployed.
5G Technology Is Rampant
This assemblage of 5G technology—along with much more that’s still evolving through vendor cooperation—will power the wireless networks of the future, enabling such use cases as interactive television, high-definition and 3-D video, social gaming, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), robotics, automated vehicles, advanced manufacturing, healthcare imaging and diagnostics, and more.