The first steps of 4G were implemented more than ten years ago, following predecessor network technologies. In general, 4G follows the IMT-Advanced standard. The switch to 5G will follow the IMT-2020 standard, in which new requirements are defined.
5G is not considered new technology in itself, but rather an evolution of already existing 1G to 4G technologies, with which it will co-exist. This will result in a blended network of networks – multiple layers of frequencies, a mixture of devices exchanging data, and myriads of user interactions. As a result, 5G will for example be able to provide ultra-high-speed links for HD video streaming, as well as low data-rate speeds for sensor networks.
Requirements to make 5G work
To achieve this plethora of new technological possibilities, 5G has to go beyond what current technologies are based on. The two main crucial technological requirements are the usage of additional frequency bands and a denser network of antennas.
Frequency bands: Current communication systems mostly operate below a frequency of 6 GHz – the frequency bands used in 4G for example range from 700 MHz to 3 GHz.
Whereas the first implementations of 5G pioneer bands that were not used for 4G, like the 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz bands, the spectrum below 6 GHz is generally too saturated for 5G technology to efficiently live up to its full potential.
This results in additional frequency bands being needed to make 5G technology work - researchers are particularly looking at the spectrum from 6 GHz to 300 GHz. The new 5G bands would be well above ultra-high frequencies (UHF) ranges, having wavelengths in the centimetre (3–30 GHz) or the millimetre ranges (30–300 GHz; mmWaves). These are currently not used for mobile communication, but the latter bands have traditionally been used in other capacities, such as in radar or satellite technology.
Furthermore, much higher radio frequencies (RF) are also planned to be used at later evolutionary stages of 5G technology.
Antenna networks: For 5G to work effectively, more cell phone antennas will have to be built. Whereas an antenna for 3G and 4G has an operating range of 2 to 15 kilometres, those of 5G technology are a magnitude smaller – 5G antennas will have to be set up in a range between 20 and 150 metres. This will result in people being exposed to additional sources of electromagnetic radiation.
These technological requirements will facilitate a multitude of technological improvements.
BENEFITS OF 5G COMPARED TO 4G
The faster, more seamless, and enhanced user experience provided by 5G is based on three distinct technological features: better data rates, lower latency, and higher possible connection densities.
Data rate: How smoothly you can stream a video or how fast you can send an email with large attachments depends on the data rate your network provides.
Usually, networks provide different upload and download capacities, but on average with 4G, the user-perceived data exchange rate is around 1 Mbit per second (Mbps). Researchers anticipate 5G speeding this up at least a hundred times to 100Mbps, and may even peak as high as 20 Gigabits per second.
Low latency: The wait for a chat message to be sent after hitting the send button is called latency – a time delay between cause and effect. Those few (Milli) seconds might not seem like a big deal on an individual level, but they can make a considerable difference at the societal level. Researchers have found that in an experiment by Google, "20% revenue loss was reported due to a 500 ms delay in response time", while "Amazon reported a sales decrease of 1% due to an additional response time of 100ms" – and if a company operates in the millions or billions of dollars, those percentages can have a profound monetary impact.
Latency within existing 4G/LTE technology is estimated at 15 ms. With 5G it is projected to be reduced by around ten times – resulting in less than 1 ms.
Connection density: Anyone who has tried to connect to the Wi-Fi at a conference or use their mobile data network in a concert crowd knows how slow a network can become if accessed by many people at the same time. In 2020, more than 50 billion mobile devices are estimated to be simultaneously connected and making use of mobile networks.
5G is set to increase possible connection density by a factor of ten, from 100,000 devices per square kilometre to 1,000,000 devices per square kilometre. Researchers also suggest that 5G comes with yet another benefit – It is anticipated to reduce network energy consumption by 90% compared to current standards.
And 5G will not be the end of the story: 6G has been suggested to link 5G with satellite networks, while 7G may even incorporate space roaming.