Next Generation Networks: The Promise of 5G


Is 5G the transformative network technology that will revolutionise every industry it touches? We assess the current state of 5G development and ask whether the reality will match the hype

Will the telecoms world change on July 3rd when Vodafone launches the UK’s first 5G network? The hype surrounding 5G and its capabilities have been widespread. All of the other major networks should have their 5G services up and running by the end of this year. Watch this space for more details.

The speed of a 5G network has been its main defining advantage. Using higher frequencies in the 3.4GHz – 3.8GHz spectrum should mean 5G could deliver download speeds approaching 10Gbps, which is 100 times faster than the best 4G performance available today. The reality is a more realistic 20 times faster, which is still a significant performance boost if you are transmitting or receiving large quantities of data.

According to research from Accenture that quizzed 1,800 mid and large sized companies, 70% believe that 5G applications will give them a competitive edge with customers, 60% said there is a lack of knowledge among communications services providers about the challenges in their industries. An example is how diverse industries can apply 5G technology to innovate, and 36% cited ‘upfront investment’ as a barrier to 5G adoption.

“The reality is that 5G will bring a major wave of connectivity that opens new dimensions for innovation and commercial and economic development,” said Amol Phadke, Global Network Practice Lead at Accenture. “Breakthroughs in three-dimensional video, immersive television, autonomous cars and smart-city infrastructure will unleash opportunities that are difficult to imagine today but will soon be transformative. Telecommunications companies will play a pivotal role in bringing these prospects to light.”

Having fast and reliable data communications are central to the expansion of many industries. The burgeoning IoT sector will see massive growth when 5G networks become ubiquitous. Industry 4.0 and its requirement for reliable connectivity will have its current restraints removed. February saw the first 5G enabled factory at Worcester Bosch become a testbed for 5G IoT capability.

The 5G Consortium, international defence company QinetiQ and the Japanese manufacturer Yamazaki Mazak are all involved. Carl Arntzen, CEO of Worcester Bosch said: “It’s important to our business to have the real-time element 5G brings so that we can react in real time in the factory environment to mitigate any losses in output and protect and grow our business bottom line.”

Autonomous vehicles need fast and reliable connectivity at low latency that only 5G can deliver on the edge of the networks. Healthcare and retail could be transformed. Also, consumers will have the current constraints on their use of multimedia completely removed. Manchester Airport opened its ‘blast spot’ in February where travellers could download an episode of the new series of Tin Star in just 45 seconds.

The trial used 5G with Active Antenna (or Massive MiMo) technology – a wireless network that allows the transmitting and receiving of more than one data signal. This creates multiple 5G ‘motorways’ from one antenna, which is then beamed to a 5G router to create a fixed wireless access connection for many users. This allows any device with Wi-Fi to connect to the router and benefit from a high-speed data connection.

Enrico Salvatori, Senior Vice President and President, Qualcomm EMEA also told Silicon: “With 5G allowing new levels of connectivity, businesses will be able to reshape or invent entirely new business models. Latency will be drastically reduced between devices and infrastructure, while compute power will be increased, allowing for better automation and more complex communication between devices. This will also lead to further opportunities to scale.”

The promise of 5G is the delivery of a communications network that has very low latency, flexible architecture, robust security and is agile enough to remove the current communications constraints that many industries and business sectors suffer from. Manufacturing and transport are clearly the primary beneficiaries of faster low-latency networks. However, having a network in place across all the environments businesses and consumers inhabit could be disruptive and transformative.

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