The advent of 5G isn’t so far away so maybe now is the time to understand the when, why and how of 5G.

The ‘when’ is the easiest part to answer, with current expectations that 5G will be rolled out by 2020, but this could drift to 2022 in a worst case scenario.

The ‘why’ is also an easy answer. 5G is intended to solve the problems we don’t have today, but we will have in the very near future. It isn’t just about speed, it is about enabling a truly digital society, because at present we do not have a mobile network with the capacity to achieve this.

5G will aim to go much further than simply building a new infrastructure for smartphone and tablets.

Tomorrow’s world will be one of smart cities with intelligent transport, online education, e-health and more immersive entertainment and media.

Augmented realities will require the capacity of 5G in order to create overlays of information onto things like car windscreens for example, whilst the speed of 5G will be needed to create virtual realities with complete artificial views. 5G is also needed to reduce the lag time before data is transmitted and this will be essential for things such as self driving cars where a 1 millisecond lag time is needed for complete safety.

Main benefits of 5G:

1000 times higher wireless area capacity compared to that of 2010

A reliable, secure and dependable internet with zero perceived downtime

Capable of connecting over seven trillion wireless devices and serve seven billion people

Access to services and applications at a lower cost

Download speeds of up to 10Gbps compared to the 100Mbps delivered by 4G

How does 5G work?

Even though the technology that will create 5G is partly theoretical, we can take a look at technologies currently under development.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing and will eventually lead to a scenario where the majority of electical objects will require a wireless connection to the internet. IoT devices include everything from sensors on farm animals to sensors in your fridge, net connected smoke detectors and smart thermostats. It also includes smart watches, sleep monitors and fitness bands which will be used to measure health signals that could warn us of an imminent stroke or heart attack.

Understanding the effect of IoT devices on our mobile internet connections is key to understanding the challenges that need to be overcome by 5G. In order for 5G to be successful, it needs these IoT devices to achieve greater value through new services.

Everything from sensors on rubbish bins to street light sensors which monitor traffic, pollution, noise, weather and parking all need routes of communication. So part of the 5G process will see network capacity increased by developing Mesh Networks, where uniquely identifiable devices can talk directly with each other. This will then lessen the amount of data transmitted over mobile or Wi-Fi connections and free up bandwidth.

“If you think that the internet has changed your life, think again. The IoT is about to change it all over again!”

Our airwaves are already congested so 5G will almost certainly look to employ Millimetre waves. Millimetre waves as the name suggests use higher frequencies that are capable of transmitting much more data in a smaller frequency range. Using millimetre waves, however, will require lots of smaller macro cells placed closer together to transmit and receive signals. This is because the range (of up to 12 miles) of a typical mobile phone network’s base station cannot be achieved.

In the past, millimetre waves haven’t been used due to interference caused by the oxygen in the air and rain, but new frequencies have been discovered that are not affected by this interference. Millimetre waves can also take advantage of Beamforming antenna technology where the direction of the signal can be controlled as opposed to the omni-directional antennas used on today’s larger base stations.

Beamforming can also take advantage of MIMO (multiple input multiple output) technology where hundreds of tiny antennas can be placed in a small space. This will allow receivers and transmitters to send multiple packets of data simultaneously to produce remarkable speeds with high capacity.

5G will be offering reported speeds of 20Gbps, which means that an ultraHD film could be downloaded in just ten seconds…

The 5G Timeline

Recently, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) defined an official timeline for the development of the 5G network. Named the IMT-2020, the implementation of 5G is now being put to work by the ITU alongside governments and the global mobile industry.

The timeline itself points out just what will happen when with the implementation of 5G, which should eventually be fully rolled out by 2020. The plan also outlines the speed of the service (20Gbps), which should be fast enough to download an ultraHD movie in just ten seconds.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao has commented on the timeline, which brings 5G closer than ever to our smartphones.

“The buzz in the industry on future steps in mobile technology – 5G – has seen a sharp increase, with attention now focused on enabling a seamlessly connected society in the 2020 timeframe and beyond that brings together people along with things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in a smart networked communications environment”.

The final word is that 5G is on its way and if we get 5G right then there won’t be 6G!