5G mobile networks (or 5G network) —the next-generation standard for wireless communications—are scheduled to follow (but not replace) current 4G networks with vastly increased capacity, lower latency, and faster speeds. Anticipated between 2019 and 2020, some 5G networks will initially operate in a high-frequency band of the wireless spectrum — between 28 GHz and 38 GHz — also known as the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.
The new 5G networks will be able to transmit very large amounts of data short distances. However, 5G is also expected to work in low spectrum frequencies such as 600 MHz as well as unlicensed frequencies such as the 3.5 GHz spectrum.
Smaller Cells for 5G Networks
The high frequencies of 5G networks come with a wrinkle: Rather than the huge, geographically dispersed cell towers that characterize 4G networks and earlier, much of the 5G networks will likely to be composed of small cells. Consumers should expect to see ubiquitous 5G antennas, even in their own homes.
Small cells are key to the functionality of 5G networks because they provide the increased data capacity that 5G demands, they help providers reduce costs by eliminating expensive rooftop systems and installation costs, and they help improve the performance and battery life of mobile handsets.
Small cells will also be important to the workability of 5G in the millimeter wave spectrum at these mmWave frequencies, whose signals have trouble getting through walls.
5G Network Cooperation
It will be important that 5G networks support the coexistence of multiple standards (e.g., LTE, WiFi) and coordinate with various site types (macro, micro, and pico base stations). A premier challenge of 5G network design has been to create a network architecture capable of supporting this kind of flexibility while meeting the multifaceted access demands of an Internet of Things (IoT) future.
The new 5G networks will also need to incorporate seamless coexistence of 4G and 5G standards. The transitions from 2G to 3G and 3G to 4G involved completely separate networks, but 4G will remain in force for the foreseeable future—more than that, 4G infrastructure is critical to the evolution and functionality of the 5G network.
5G Network Expectations
The precise details of what 5G networks will look like remain somewhat unclear. Networking and hardware vendors are still trial-testing their technologies. For example, Verizon is conducting friendly user tests in the U.S., and AT&T is testing its own network. In particular, Verizon is looking at a mobile hotspot and home-based fixed wireless for initial 5G network deployment in 2018. The company wants to build a fiber and wireless infrastructure to deliver mobile video efficiently.