Operators across the globe will begin deploying 5G networks in earnest in 2019, and the technology will set itself apart from 4G LTE. in terms of speed, latency and capacity.
5G is a Lot Faster
In 2008 the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) stated goals for LTE network data speeds should be as high as 1 Gb/s in perfect low mobility conditions. But data speeds can be impacted by a number of factors, including how congested the network is and what spectrum frequency an operator uses.
The new 5G standard from ITU’s IMT-2020 report on 5G shows an increase in download speeds to 100 Mb/s minimum and a theoretical maximum of 20 Gb/s. However, current 5G speeds found on Verizon’s 5G home internet FAQ in early 2019 claims speeds of 300 Mb/s to 940 Mb/s while AT&T claims to have measured wireless speeds at about 1.2 Gb/s in late 2018. To achieve gigabit data speeds, 5G will employ many technologies. Beamforming will be used to identify the most efficient route for data delivery. Dynamic time-division duplex (TDD) will be used for changing the direction of download or upload transmission to achieve faster data transmission.
5G Boasts Lower Latency
The 5G standard is designed to drastically reduce download latency — down to 4 milliseconds for mobile use and 1 millisecond for devices like automated cars that rely on Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (around 10 times faster than LTE’s 10 milliseconds).
Low latency will benefit a plethora of use cases — from mobile and at-home video downloads, to automated vehicle communication on a massive scale — where performance is key. The IEEE Access document “Business Case and Technology Analysis for 5G Low Latency Applications” outlines four uses cases where the use of ultra-low latency technologies offers great opportunities: remote health care and medical intervention, assisted driving and transport services, entertainment content delivery and gaming, and industry automation.
5G Offers Greater Capacity
A major difference between 5G and LTE will be 5G’s use of a higher frequency bands, operating at millimeter wave (mmWave) bands on the radio spectrum, in conjunction with lower band spectrum. That aspect of the 5G architecture will make great amounts of bandwidth available and overcome LTE’s traffic congestion issues. However, 5G traffic will share certain bandwidths with the existing LTE network.
According to a 2017 paper from IEEE Xplore, “the wireless industry is already investing heavily in developing systems that operate in the mmWave bands, which are attractive because of the large quantities of available spectrum and the spatial degrees of freedom afforded by very high-dimensional antenna arrays (which are possible thanks to the smaller size of antenna elements at higher frequencies).”
5G is Designed to be Ubiquitous
5G promises to bring far greater and more consistent coverage than LTE, thanks to a trend toward smaller land areas per transceiver, or cells, which is a result of the dense placement of smaller antenna elements. One of the essential goals of 5G is to deliver a more consistent user experience. The 100 Mb/s minimum connection consumers can expect in dense urban areas is a major improvement over 2018’s United States speed of 16.31 Mb/s. In rural areas, that kind of ubiquity will rely on low-band spectrum, and in smart cities, high-band spectrum will achieve that consistency.
“High-frequency signals can be reused across short distances by different cells in a network, meaning the available spectrum is used more efficiently,” wrote Larry Greenemeier in Scientific American. “In addition, antenna size is inversely proportional to frequency size, so higher-frequency signals would require smaller antennas.”
Jumping from 4G to 5G
All of these ways that 5G is different from 4G are preparing the industry for new and ever-more-complex applications. The future is full of streaming 4K video, virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) experiences, and instant communications.
Updated March 2019