Preparation for 5G

19th July 2019
Anna Flockett

Ericsson predicts that by 2023 every active smartphone in the US will consume 48 gigabytes of data per month. This is roughly seven times higher than in 2017. In global markets, this trend is the same, driven by improvements in our smartphones, increasingly data-heavy content, and better, more affordable data plans.

As smart homes, cities and industries connect to the cloud, new applications are opening up in many vertical industries with demanding network capacity and capability requirements, including latencies of less than a millisecond and the ability to service over one million devices per square kilometre. A new generation of mobile networks will be needed to redesign existing 4G networks and extend the reach of mobile technologies into new vertical markets such as the automotive, satellite and cable markets.

The industry's response to increased network capacity and hyper-connected society is towards 5G mobile communications. 5G is the fifth generation of standards in cellular technology, mainly defined by the 3GPP initiative, the standardisation body for the definition of global mobile communications standards.

1G mobile technology (never mentioned before) offered wireless voice communication based on analog technologies. With each successive generation from 2G to 3G to 4G, data has gained in importance as reach and capacity have been increased. Today, we've arrived at 4G networks designed primarily for data, with data rates up to 40,000 times faster than the first-generation technologies. 5G networks are another important step forward in these trends, while enabling completely new services and applications.  

Not only faster...
5G standards are defined by the 3GPP initiative in two separate releases. The first phase, Release 15, in mid June 2018 adopted. Release 16 should be completed by December 2019. Together, they address future needs and enable new services through three key usage scenarios: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-low latency and reliability (uRLLC), and massive machine-type communications (mMTC).

eMBB is expanding the spectrum dedicated to mobile communications to significantly higher frequencies that transmit data at a faster rate. This would mean that mobile phone masts could be equipped with more than one hundred antennas, all receiving and transmitting signals simultaneously, using large-scale MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology. To ensure that data is delivered reliably and securely across the network, it uses a range of advanced technologies, such as Beam Forming, which sends signals with data packets in the optimal way to end users.

The letter sequence "uR" in the term uRLLC stands for "ultra-reliable", ie extremely reliable, and that is by no means exaggerated. For 5G standards, the failure rate must be 10-5 , compared to 0.05 today. And the latency requirements of radio transmission are less than one millisecond without interruption as users move from one cell to another. Such unprecedented reliability paves the way for a new wave of innovation in industrial automation, for unmanned vehicles and healthcare, to remote-controlled medical operations. 

And finally, mMTC will continue to develop the developments in LPWA communication (low-power wide-area) (eg NB-IoT and LTE Cat M1) with 5G LTE in Release 16 and above. This will help achieve a device density of one million units per square kilometre, with battery life of 15 years possible and extremely good ranges of up to 400km. Most of these improvements are achieved at the cost of reduced peak data rates, by reducing modem complexity and repeating transmissions for improved range, not only indoors, but also in basements and underground. In parallel, new solutions, NR-IoT, are designed for industrial applications to operate with the 5G New Radio (5G NR) air interface to exploit the features of uRLLC in Release 16.

It will take a few more years
5G was first used during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where it was used to broadcast impressive live HD footage of the Virtual Reality sports competitions. It is no coincidence that China, Korea and Japan are driving the transition to 5G, with the United Kingdom and the United States also in attendance.

Networks will evolve incorporating existing NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies and their developments into the 5G era. However, 5G NR Standalone (SA) will require new network infrastructure. However, the worldwide introduction of networks will take a few years. The completion of 5G radio specifications in Phase 1 was certainly a big step towards the commercial use of 5G. Of course, the wait will put our patience to the test, but on the positive side, everyone will have time to fully prepare for 5G.

Guest blog written by Sylvia Lu, Senior Engineer, Cellular Technology, u-blox. 

Courtesy of u-blox.

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