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5G on the Horizon

Hundreds of companies are pouring billions in resources into developing the next generation of mobile network infrastructure - 5G, and we may soon see the fruits of their labor. Key issues in universal limitations are being solved with advanced topologies and slowly but surely the networks are becoming increasingly viable. This massive collective undertaking speaks greatly of the potential 5G has in the coming years, it's good time to take a look at where the technology needs work, it's rate of progress and where it stands.

5G Expectations

The internet is heavily embedded into our everyday lives, and the 5th generation of wireless technology will entrench it even further with a powerful mobile implementation. 5G will bring about the true mobile internet age where less compromises have to be made. Mobile network operators know that their future growth greatly depends on the success of their 5G implementations.

We may be seeing the first iteration as soon as 2019.

IMT-2020 is the international standard for 5G, developed by the ITU (International Telecom union) and much like the name implies, it’s slated for a 2020 release. 5G will introduce great changes in the RAN (Radio-access Network) that will require extensive upgrades to backbone and mobile core infrastructure along with it. A few Network operators are already ahead of the curve, having gradually replaced their outdated core infrastructure with more scalable, virtual solutions (NFV).

Hurdles for successful 5G implementation

Even as development unceasingly continuous towards 5G, there are physical and financials limitations which ultimately limit the usable range of 5G wireless RAN technologies. The most important factors being:

Limited range for high-frequency signals: Due to how waves propagate, the higher the frequency, the more noise that's introduced over long distances. This limits frequencies over 1Ghz to a usable distance of approximately 2km. Combined with the fact that high -frequency signals also have trouble penetrating obstacle (trees, walls, hills) and this really limits the deployment options for 5G.

Finite usable spectrum for wireless communications: Due to the limitations noted above being present in varying degrees amongst the 1Ghz-60Ghz spectrum, only certain ranges of frequencies are usable for communications. For example, the L-band (1-2GHz) used in LTE has just the right characteristics that enable long-distance high-speed communication with decent penetration through obstacles. A large portion of microwave frequencies (1-100 Ghz) require line-of-sight and are therefore mostly useless outside of fixed wireless communications (satellite uplinks, wireless bridge, etc.)

Birth of the Mobile Edge

With the inherent range limitation in high-speed wireless communications, only one viable solution is available: network densification. Instead of having a large cell tower servicing a wide area, small cells are placed strategically to cover an area. Although this RAN topology solves most of the technical issues, it does introduce new ones in the form of legal (small cell location) and financial hurdles (small cells are not cheap, and many will be needed to service the same area s single cell tower could).

Small cell deployments at the same time open up many new applications, as the small cells themselves house powerful general purpose computing and are conveniently placed at the network edge. Mobile Edge Computing  or MEC will open up low-latency applications such as: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, improved VoIP/VoLTE.  

Where is the technology now?

Large mobile network operators are following through (and in some cases even exceeding) with their goals set for NFV migration, this is a crucial step for evolving the mobile core networks into a more scalable and manageable solution ready for the gigabit speeds implemented in 5G networks.

Currently there are only proof-of-concept network implementations with real deployments slated for 2018, , and even if there where, 5G cellular phone modems haven't even been released much less integrated into a phone. We are at least a year away from the first market-ready solution. Still, the largest players are showing no signs of slowing down their efforts to capture the 5G craze, and the technology is all but ready to change how we go about our lives

5G on the Horizon Reviewed by James Piedra on 3:40 PM Rating: 5

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