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Understanding 5G

Mobile network technology has changed a lot since the first generation was introduced a few decades ago. Now, the fifth generation—5G—promises faster and more reliable data transmission than ever before.

What is 5g?

5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile networks. It’s designed to augment existing 4G LTE cellular networks or even replace them completely. Each generation is defined by several factors, like the technology used, the amount of time between sending and receiving a signal (latency), and the speed of data transmission over a network to connected devices. 5G networks promise gigabit speeds—or data transmission speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps. 5G service also vastly reduces latency and can expand coverage to remote areas. 

But 5G is more of a blueprint because the supporting infrastructure is limited to a small number of areas. South Korea already performed a nationwide 5G rollout, and Japan plans to complete its integration before hosting the next Olympics. The United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—and other jurisdictions like Australia, China, and Europe—are all working with regional service providers to expand 5G coverage.

How does 5G work?

The technology supporting 5G networks are complex. Today’s networks rely on large, high-powered cell towers that send low-frequency (under 6 GHz) signals over long distances. The problem is that low radio frequencies can’t transmit data fast enough to accommodate the fast speeds that 5G service is supposed to reach. 

The number of connected devices is also increasing, which will slow down speeds even further—which is why new technologies will have to be employed.

Millimeter waves (mmWaves)

These are waves at very high frequencies (20 to 100 GHz) that can transmit signals with incredible speed. Unfortunately, these high-band, high-speed frequencies don’t travel well over long distances, around corners, or through walls. Mid-band and low-band frequencies are usually used to overcome these obstacles. However, by installing mmWave nodes within sight lines, higher frequency waves can jump from point-to-point while providing maximum 5G wireless coverage with lower latency.

Beamforming

Cellular towers broadcast their signals in every direction, potentially causing a lot of interference. Beamforming works like a traffic light by moderating cell tower signals to focus on a single stream of data for a specific user at a given time. Once the data is transferred, the signal moves to accommodate another user’s request. This personalized signal can cut down on interference between cell sites significantly, making data transmission faster and more efficient.

Network slicing

Considered by some as the defining feature of 5G, network slicing allows providers to dedicate virtual slices of their networks to specific uses. For example, data used for entertainment, communication, and the internet will get one slice of the network, while machine-to-machine (a core component of the Internet of Things or IOT) data transmission will have its own separate slice. Critical data—such as that needed for driverless vehicles, emergency services, and other vital infrastructure—will have dedicated 5G access that cannot be used by other services.

What about the other generations?

1G

This first generation of mobile networks emerged from Japan in the late 1970s, spreading to global use a few years later. 1G used analog data transmission, like AM/FM radio, which was readily accessible, but unreliable and insecure. The maximum speed was a little over 2 kbps (kilobits per second), just enough for just a few lines of text. As of 2018, the last existing 1G network continues to operate in Russia.

2G

Arriving in the early 1990s, 2G gave us digital voice transmission, short message service (SMS), and multimedia message service (MMS) texting. At speeds of up to 200 kbps, it was much faster than 1G, but still quite slow compared to today. Data was a little more secure, but sparse network coverage gave rise to expensive roaming charges and dropped calls.

3G

Arriving in the mid-2000s, 3G gave us the mobile internet, which helped to speed up the global adoption of smartphones. Data speeds increased dramatically to around 40 megabits per second (Mbps), more than 200 times that of 2G. Packet switching, along with general packet radio service (GPRS) helped achieve faster speeds that ushered in the age of the mobile internet.

4G

Coming onto the market around 2010, 4G is currently the mobile technology with the widest global use. It’s largely responsible for integrating smart devices into the very fabric of our lives. With average download speeds of up to 100 Mbps, 4G networks allow us to download high-definition video files, play fast-action 3-D generated games, stream music, virtual reality, and a host of other services.

Why is 5G important?

Because 4G is getting crowded. 

The surge in demand will inevitably cause problems for consumers, corporations, governments—everyone. Latency will increase, downloads will get slower, and overall performance will suffer. And as cell phones become more prevalent, the inconvenience for consumers is obvious. Services that rely on mobile data to function (finance, emergency services, and data security) will experience growing delays and failures in transmitting and receiving data.

5G intends to solve these problems by taking advantage of several different technologies that work together, increasing download speeds by up to 10 times that of 4G and shaving latency down to as little as 1 millisecond.

What can 5G do?

There are obvious advantages to 5G use as it relates to speed, latency, and bandwidth. Consumers will enjoy faster downloads, reduced social media buffering, 4K mobile phone games, as well as enhanced virtual reality experiences. 

5G also has use cases well beyond consumerism. This is the wireless technology that will enable instantaneous transmission of enormous amounts of data, creating a nearly seamless connection between the digital and physical worlds.

Transportation

Using real-time connectivity, 5G will help traffic signals manage intersections more efficiently by detecting approaching cars. Wider access to 5G speeds will also better support edge devices optimized for 5G, like self-driving cars that pilot themselves and communicate with other cars.

Medicine

Physicians can use virtual reality to treat a patient in another location. Artificial intelligence (AI) combined with instant access to huge amounts of medical data will help medical staff make diagnoses and devise treatments more quickly and accurately.

Farming

By 2050, farmers will need to feed 9.8 billion people using the same amount of land that feeds 7.8 billion today. 5G can increase efficiency by guiding autonomous farm equipment, like tractors and harvesters, and operate drones to detect changes in plant health, soil quality, and moisture—and apply the exact amount of pesticide, water, or fertilizer needed.

Public services

5G can aid emergency services, like the 911 system in the U.S., by streamlining coordination of services, such as police, ambulance, and fire departments. Location information will be much more accurate, so first responders can pinpoint their destination, even in rural areas. Disaster response will be more efficient, identifying critical areas faster and providing more comprehensive assistance.

What service providers offer 5G?

Icon-Red_Hat-Documents-Paper_Lined-A-Black-RGBSamsung

Samsung’s 5G network solutions are being built on Red Hat OpenShift.

Icon-Red_Hat-Documents-Paper_Lined-A-Black-RGBVerizon

Red Hat helped Verizon build a cloud-native 5G core.

Turkcell

Regional 5G leader created a unified cloud with Red Hat OpenStack®.

Icon-Red_Hat-Documents-Paper_Lined-A-Black-RGBEricsson

Ericsson partners with Red Hat to build solutions using OpenStack and containers.

What's the future of 5G?

Beyond 5G phones, imagine all kinds of 5G devices working together to create 5G homes. This is the future of 5G wireless networks. 5G technology may even generate US$13.2 trillion of goods and services—and create as many as 22.3 million jobs—by 2035.

The tools you need to provide 5g

Red Hat OpenStack Platform product logo

A platform for public and private clouds.

Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform

An agentless automation platform.

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