5G is the term used to describe the next-generation of mobile networks beyond LTE mobile networks. At least four major phone carriers in the US — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint — have solid plans to introduce their mobile 5G networks in 2019. AT&T has even started trials with 5G mobile hotspots in 12 cities. Verizon is advertising a 5G home network (however, Verizon’s offering does not align with what standard bodies are defining as 5G).
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has released several reports on the standards for the 5G network that it refers to as the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)-2020 network.
The 3GPP is a mobile industry standards body that created its own standards for 5G New Radio specifications, published in December 2017. Both mobile operators and vendors participate in the 3GPP specification process.
5G standardization roadmap for 3GPP and ITU. Source: ITU
According to ITU guidelines, 5G network speeds should have a peak data rate of 20 Gb/s for the downlink and 10 Gb/s for the uplink. Latency in a 5G network could get as low as 4 milliseconds in a mobile scenario and can be as low as 1 millisecond in Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication scenarios. Not only will people be connected to each other but so will machines, automobiles, city infrastructure, public safety and more.
5G networks are also designed to have always-on capabilities and aim to be energy efficient by minimizing how much power a modem uses based on the amount of traffic going through it.
The 5G Race
Some operators are attempting to be very aggressive with their deployments and push the standards process forward. In the U.S. Verizon formed a 5G Tech Forum in 2015 in partnership with other vendors like Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, and Apple. The group’s goal was to collaborate on early 5G specifications and then contribute those to the 3GPP. Verizon, with input from the group, released specifications in July 2016, separate from the standards body. The company plans to transition to 3GPP’s 5G non-stand alone release. AT&T waited until October 2018 to release its first official specifications, after 3GPP released their 5G standard mentioned above.
5G Will Integrate LTE
LTE Advanced Pro is foundational to the 5G network. While 5G can access the extremely high-frequency millimeter wave radio spectrum, there will also be spectrum sharing with the LTE wavelengths. The use of mmWave bands will also be aided by existing LTE macro and small cell sites.
Self-organizing networks (SON) are also a key factor in reducing costs of installation and management of the network by simplifying operational tasks. Other technologies, such as coordinated multipoint, which lets operators have multiple sites simultaneously transmitting signals and processing signals, will play a part in limiting inter-cell interference.
Virtualization is a key Step in Achieving 5G
SDN will be necessary for operators to carve virtual “sub-networks” or slices that can be then used for bigger bandwidth applications. That includes video, which is projected to be 82 percent of all IP traffic by 2022 with use cases like video conferencing or streaming 4K video that can use between 15 to 25 Mb/s. Lower bandwidth applications, such as smartwatches, will also be part of a sub-network connecting devices that are less demanding on the network.
What is 5G? The Uses Cases
One reason it took so long to define 5G is because its architecture and deployment depended on how it was going to be used, which was made more clear with the IMT-2020 report. Video traffic has become a key factor in the demand for a faster network. Video traffic is expected to grow from 56 exabytes used globally in 2017 to 240 exabytes globally in 2022. Higher data speeds are now warranted for applications such as streaming video, video conferencing, and virtual reality. To achieve this type of performance, the network will likely need a lot of small cell coverage and will take advantage of higher bandwidth spectrum.
At the same time, 5G is also designed to be the network for the Internet of Things (IoT). In order to support a huge number of devices, many of which require longer battery life, the 5G network will be building off of the LTE Advanced Pro platform. 5G will use the platform’s two narrowband technologies, enhanced machine-type communication (eMTC) and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), to scale down device and network complexity to reach these support goals.
Updated March 2019