What do we talk about when we talk about 5G

17th February 2016
Enaie Azambuja

Way beyond faster connection, 5G means a whole new generation for technology and a whole new experience for human life. It will revolutionise the production and application of technologies such as self-driving cars, video multi-casting, smart grids, robotics, virtual reality, and even remote medicine. 

An apparently faraway dream at first, 5G is expected to debut in South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics, with mass deployments beginning sometime in 2020. Allegedly offering a promising speed - it has the potential to offer speeds up to 40 times faster than 4G, fast enough to download a 3-D movie in about 6 seconds - 5G works with high-frequency signals that are capable of providing significantly faster data speeds.

A possible problem is that the signals travel much shorter distances and can't easily penetrate walls, which means that thousands, or millions, of mini cell towers, or "small cells" would need to be placed on top of every lamp post, every building, inside every home and potentially every room. As the result of the amount of data to be processed, 5G would have to be a complement of 4G at first.

The wonders of 5G start by its unbelievable speed. Nokia, aiming to be one of the world's biggest 5G providers, claims that it has tested a 5G connection with download speeds of 30 gigabits per second, therefore more than 1,000 times faster than the average 4G connection. In reality, if trees, buildings, the distance from a cell tower and other customers are also taken into consideration, the speed will be slowed down in comparison to the achievements of a lab. However, 5G will still be pretty fast, between 10 to 100 times faster than 4G, according to Brian Daly, director of government standards at AT&T. 

But forget being able to stream porn faster! Let's talk about what 5G really means in terms of invaluable improvements for our lives. I will list here some for you: 

Self-driving cars

Network delay is a common refrain in discussions of 5G. Executives from some of the major infrastructure vendors say they expect fundamental changes from 4G to allow for lower latency.

When self-drivng cars become a reality, one reason to have lower latency would be to avoid auto accidents, which can happen in a flash. The hope is for vehicles to share real-time location data over a 5G network so they won’t run into each other.

Though self-driving cars can already see the traffic around them using sensors, 5G might give them better information so they can travel closer together and still be safe. That could dramatically improve vehicle safety and reduce congestion.


Another key role for 5G will be to link the IoT, letting cells communicate with thousands of sensors and machines. This could help to connect lights and parking meters in smart cities but may also have implications for enterprises.

At MWC, Nokia will demonstrate industrial robots staying in sync using potential 5G technologies. They’ll each do the exact same thing at the same time, another demonstration of 5G low latency. Apart from industrial robots, there is a whole new world of applications in robotics which could improve with the 5G technology. 

Virtual Reality

Nokia plans to let attendees play catch using only VR to watch each other and the ball. A VR system will track the positions and movements of two players and of the ball they’re tossing back and forth. However, when you’re counting on a wireless network to tell you where a ball is so you can catch it, low latency is critical.

Smart Grid

Smart grids interconnect sensors, using digital information and communications technology to gather and act on information. This information can include the behaviors of suppliers and consumers, allowing smart grids to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics and sustainability of the production and distribution of fuels such as electricity in an automated fashion. Smart grids can be seen as another sensor network with low delays. 

Stadium video

Video multicast to thousands of mobile device users in a sports venues will also benefit from 5G. It will allow fans to see camera feeds from vantage points all around a stadium or racetrack with virtually no delay thanks to its low latency. 

Smart Societies

Smart cities and smart homes, i.e. smart societies, will be embedded with dense wireless sensor networks. Distributed networks of intelligent sensors will identify conditions for cost -and energy-efficient maintenance of the city or home. A similar setup can be done for each home, where temperature sensors, window and heating controllers, burglar alarms and home appliances are all connected wirelessly. The task for 5G will be to integrate the management of these very diverse connected devices.

Remote medicine

Communications systems enable telemedicine, which provides clinical health care at a distance. Ericsson, alongside with TeliaSonera, is planning to promote 5G in the application of remote medicine around 2018. The aim would be to use low-latency 5G networks for surgery when a doctor can’t be in the same place as the patient. The doctor's hands will control instruments from a distance. “The surgeon should really feel like he’s holding the real stuff,” said Erik Dahlman, a senior expert in radio access technologies at Ericsson.

Although all these are applications for the long term future, they are just the beginning of what the new technology would need to handle. “We want to be better than the applications we can see now, because there may be new applications that we don’t even know about yet”, said Dahlman. 

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