In order to meet the requirements of 5G, a family of technological advancements are being implemented by telecommunications companies. Some of these are an evolution of existing components, but some are totally new.
In the first step to implementing the new 5G technology, existing networks and base stations will be enhanced with software updates so that they are capable of transmitting and receiving electromagnetic waves on more frequencies than those used with 4G.
Additional, small cell antenna arrays will be installed with more base stations that are closer together. These will be capable of using millimeter waves (mmWaves), and Multiple input Multiple output (MiMo) antennas, a technology combining an array of many antennas with designated software, for many more parallel connections.
5G networks use a system of cell sites that divide their territory into sectors and send encoded data through radio waves. Each cell site must be connected to a backbone network, either through a wired or wireless backhaul connection.
5G networks use a type of encoding called OFDM, which is similar to the encoding that 4G LTE uses. It greatly reduces the problem of crosstalk in the network - where signals in one cable induce electromagnetic interference in another. However, its air interface is designed for much lower latency and greater flexibility than LTE. With this greater potential, 5G technology will introduce advances throughout network architecture.
New antennas will incorporate technology known as massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), which enables multiple transmitters and receivers to transfer more data at the same time. This hugely increases data capacity and performance compared to 4G, enabling a 5G network with a much greater number of antennas than could previously be supported. But 5G technology is not limited to the new radio spectrum. It is designed to support a converged, heterogeneous network, combining licensed and unlicensed wireless technologies. This will increase the bandwidth available to users.
5G architecture is based on software-defined platforms, in which networking functionality is managed through software rather than hardware. Advancements in virtualisation, cloud-based technologies, and IT and business process automation enable 5G architecture to be agile and flexible. This will enable it to provide “anytime, anywhere” user access. 5G networks can create software-defined subnetwork constructs known as network slices. These slices enable network administrators to dictate network functionality based on users and devices.
The development of open standards in 5G is crucial for interoperability across vendors and technologies, and is increasingly gaining support from both the scientific community and industry groups. The O-RAN Alliance is working on open software interfaces between the different layers of the carrier-equipment stack to give providers more flexibility as they roll out 5G services that include support for IoT and ultra-low-latency applications. The group has more than 200 members ranging from carriers, to hardware and software vendors of all kinds. O-RAN aims for open standards at every level to enable multi-vendor networks and the use of white-box equipment. Such interoperability will feature a far greater range of wireless capabilities and much denser equipment deployments.