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What is 5G?

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5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile networks, representing upgrades in bandwidth and latency that enable services that weren’t possible under older 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 10 Gbps. 5G service also vastly reduces latency and can expand coverage to remote areas. 

But 5G is more of a blueprint because the supporting infrastructure, as of 2021, is limited to a small number of areas. But this is likely to change fast. South Korea has already performed a nationwide 5G rollout, and Japan plans to complete its integration before hosting the 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.

Because 4G is getting crowded. And the need for speed is greater than ever.

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 connected devices become more ubiquitous, the inconvenience for consumers and businesses 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: higher frequency radio waves, beamforming and network slicing. 5G promises to increase download speeds by up to 10 times that of 4G and shaving latency down to as little as 1 millisecond. Additionally, slices of 5G networks can be dedicated to critical services, for improved reliability.

Every business relies on the telecommunications industry for internet access. 5G will provide advantages to many businesses, especially through network slicing (more on this below): data used for entertainment and communication will get a slice of the network, while critical data will have a separate, dedicated slice. In order to realize this update to our infrastructure the telecommunications industry is focusing on the transition to 5G. This ongoing 5G network transformation often depends on the virtualization of radio access networks (vRAN) and increasingly assumes that this future is container-based and cloud native. For telecommunications companies RANs represent significant overall network expenses, perform intensive and complex processing, and now face rapidly increasing demand as more edge and 5G use cases emerge for customers.

But through the virtualization of network functions telecommunications companies and ISPs can simplify network operations and improve flexibility, availability, and efficiency—all while serving an increasing number of devices and bandwidth-hungry applications. This means greater speed and flexibility for industries that rely on ISPs; which is all of them.

The technologies 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.

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