What is 5G (for Enterprises)?

Definition

5G is the latest generation in the series of cellular communication technologies, operating in higher radio frequency bands, enabling novel usage scenarios beyond current mobile broadband.

Overview

We live in a data-driven world, with data traffic – spurred by mobile data consumption – expected to reach 77.5 exabytes per month by 2022. In addition to the growth of video traffic, we are moving to the hyper-connected world of the Internet of Things (IoT) where smart connected devices, such as wearables, home appliances, industrial equipment, and vehicles demand connectivity with varying requirements for latency, reliability, coverage and bandwidth.

While currently deployed 4G and LTE networks meet some of these demands, 5G has been designed to anticipate and meet multiple, varied requirements (often simultaneously).

These requirements include:

  • Higher capacity to support a large number of active devices, as is often the case in dense urban areas.
  • Greater bandwidth to support mobile video streaming from headcams, bodycams, traffic lights, and surveillance equipment.
  • Lower latency to enable time-critical solutions required for connected cars, remote surgery, or virtual reality applications, where ~1 millisecond response time is crucial.
  • Ultra-reliable communication to enable lifeline applications needed for health monitoring and disaster recovery scenarios.

But 5G is not just higher bandwidth mobile broadband operating on a different part of the radio spectrum. It is a complete reworking of the technical solution to enable use cases beyond traditional mobile communication, allowing novel applications for use in many enterprise sectors.

How 5G Works

5G is a new technology and requires new interfaces for both end user equipment as well as network components. Like all cellular technology, 5G operates in exclusively-licensed frequency bands. 5G will operate in the ~3GHz to ~100GHz range, with the lower range providing much-needed relief from the current spectrum congestion while the upper range allows for some novel solutions.

This very high frequency “millimeter wavelength” portion of the spectrum is short range, subject to environmental conditions and requires line-of-sight communication. Thus, this spectrum is ideally suited for deployment in dense urban areas—both indoors and outdoors—where the cells can be more densely spaced to achieve higher bandwidths and greater capacity in each cell.

New technologies are being developed with multiple antennae for adaptive “beam forming” between devices and base stations in each cell, with multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) techniques using multiple antennae to reduce interference from environmental factors.

5G also includes a change in the way telco networks are architected internally, allowing mobile network operators (who will own the 5G spectrum) to “slice” the network using virtualization technologies to partner with different enterprise segments (e.g., manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, etc.) by creating “slices” with the appropriate characteristics (for bandwidth, latency, reliability, etc.) for use by each specific vertical enterprise sector.

Examples of 5G

5G networks, especially using the millimeter wave spectrum, can offer many features that move the network “edge” closer to end users. This enables applications and services to deploy computing and storage facilities that can take advantage of the lower latency, higher bandwidth, and greater capacity provided by 5G. Data does not have to travel all the way back to data centers for storage and processing, and local decision-making for time-critical applications can improve response times.

5G is on the verge of initial deployment, and it will take time before all its features can be exploited.

At this time, some examples of edge-centric solutions that could be expected from a 5G-based infrastructure and employed by various industries include the following:

  • Government: Smart traffic lights can receive and process traffic data from embedded road sensors and cars to determine congestion patterns, set traffic signals appropriately, and reroute traffic to improve traffic flow throughout a large urban area.
  • Automotive: Low latency communication is critical for on-board computers in autonomous cars to communicate their presence, as well as sense and react to obstructions, traffic signals, and nearby vehicles.
  • Travel: A local video cache at an airport gate can allow hundreds of passengers to simultaneously download movies in HD for offline viewing when airborne.
  • Real estate: High-rise residential or commercial buildings can use line-of-sight, mm wave 5G links to connect to a base station on a lamppost or traffic light without the need for the placement of cables or fiber to the premises (which is not always easily achievable in dense urban areas). Storage and processing at the base station site can be used for value-added services such as caching.

Key Takeaways

  • 5G is not just a generational improvement on mobile communication technology, but a new way to use the licensed radio spectrum to enable new applications across multiple enterprise sectors.
  • It can enable cross-industry solutions that require all or some of the following requirements: greater bandwidth, increased capacity, and reduced latency.
  • Moving storage and processing to edge nodes in densely populated areas allows for new applications that can take advantage of the lower latency, higher bandwidth, and greater capacity supported by 5G technology.