Next Generation Networks: The Promise of 5G

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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

Omnipresent connectivity

One of the critical advantages that 5G could deliver to businesses is the ability to shape the network to their precise needs. Network slicing is the ability to take the general physical 5G network and create virtual architectures using NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) to deliver specific services. A good example is in manufacturing where network slicing could be used to create multiple IoT connections with sensors across the factory floor to develop IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) across all manufacturing sectors.

5G, though, is more than just a faster communications network. With communication performance at low latency, pervasive computing becomes a reality. The network that all devices connect to disappears into our environment. To borrow a phrase from a well-known consumer electronics brand, a pervasive network ‘just works’ with few barriers to connectivity, where everyday objects are given a level of intelligence to enable them to connect to each other and, deliver more advanced services to end users.

Says Amol Phadke, Global Network Practice Lead, Accenture: “The important thing to know is that the ultra-fast connections and lower latency are what makes 5G so exciting. We’re still very early on in the experimentation phase when it comes to these ideas. However, a lot of the hype we’re seeing is justified. We have many ideas that could completely change the way we live, and 5G is the only way to make them a reality.”

In addition, Sudhir Sharma, Global Industry Director for High Tech at ANSYS points out that it’s critical to understand that the 5G network is more than the sum of its parts: “We need to look at 5G as not just a wireless technology but an ecosystem inclusive of devices that speak with the wireless network or base station, the wireless base-station network, and the backhaul networks that connect the wireless base stations to data centres that house the information we create.”

Michele Zarri, Technical Director, GSMA, also pointed out: “5G is a global opportunity, but uncertainty still surrounds several key technologies required to make it a reality. Not all technologies for 5G have been proven, especially at commercial scale. The speed and extent of 5G deployment will also depend on the local demand for it, and this means that fragmentation could be a real danger for its global success. Governments and operators have differing ambitions for 5G – some want to future-proof while others are concerned with short-term shareholder value.”

To work effectively, all three elements of the ecosystem must work reliably. The engineers developing 5G systems face significant challenges in every part of the 5G ecosystem. For example, with 5G, you often hear the term millimetre-wave design – that’s how long the wavelengths are in some 5G signals above 28Ghz (1-10mm). At these wavelengths, rain and trees can impede signal propagation, forcing engineers to develop innovative antenna technologies that use focused beams of signal energy. Also, it is estimated that the number of cellular base-stations required to support 5G will be 10x over what is needed for 4G, increasing deployment and operating costs.

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