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5G: The Buzz vs. Reality

January 12th, 2021 by admin

A black rotary phone

5G - is it all it's cracked up to be? Read this before you panic

5G was a prominent topic at the recent annual CES 2019 conference. Designated as an emerging trend with its conference track, 5G focused on various sessions, exhibits, and keynote speeches. There is a lot of excitement happening around 5G technology and its impact on the wireless landscape. However, is all the buzz warranted? Or is it just marketing's way of keeping people engaged? Or, even panicking that their enterprise isn't ready?

5G: The basics

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there are a few basics we should hammer out first. 5G denotes the fifth generation of wireless technology. Like the preceding generations, 5G will usher in significant changes to wireless technology and data transmission. It will provide increased speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second—which is more than 600 times faster than today's typical 4G speeds—and lower latency for improved responsiveness to other devices within a network. It will also enable more devices to be connected to the internet simultaneously, improving the Internet of Things' (IoTs')potential.

Using millimeter-wave technology, 5G takes advantage of unused bandwidth at the high end of the wireless spectrum. This results in faster speeds. However, there is also a significant downside: The millimeter-wave signals require shorter distances between access points and can be easily disrupted by common obstacles (e.g., trees, people, etc.). Thus, 5G requires significantly more access points than the current 4G technology.

Roll-out: What's needed?

Given the need for more access points for 5G, wireless carriers will need to build an entirely new infrastructure that consists of denser networks. Rather than relying on the few large cell phone towers that currently can provide coverage to an area, McKinsey reports that numerous small access points (15-20 per square kilometer) connected to wired networks will be required to provide coverage to a site instead. Not surprisingly, this comes at a substantial cost and will take a significant amount of time to establish.

In addition to addressing gaps in infrastructure, there are also regulatory considerations for 5G deployment. For 5G to take off, the government will need to open more wireless spectrum to carriers. Furthermore, there are regulations regarding the geographical areas in which carriers can install wireless equipment. This may hinder roll-out efforts if carriers run into obstacles while attempting to establish enough access points.

Where do we stand right now?

While there has been a lot of talk about 5G's potential, there has been little in the actual roll-out of 5G technologies in the real world to date. In addition to building the infrastructure for a 5G network, there must also be more product development for 5G-capable devices. Even if 5G were already widely available, there are currently very few products capable of utilizing the network. Fortunately, all the buzz around 5G promotes competition, and 2019 should see the launch of new 5G devices and carriers competing to roll-out the first 5G networks.

Do we need to reset our expectations?

With 2020 set to achieve national 5G coverage, most of the buzz to date across the industry has been limited to proclamations of the great potential for transforming wireless performance. However, millimeter-wave networks will take years to build. Even if 5G networks are established by 2020, they will likely be low-band networks and potentially unable to fully perform at the touted speeds of 10 gigabits per second. High-band 5G networks may be available in select areas, but broader roll-out may take more time.

Is 5G something to be excited about? Definitely. However, given the significant time and investment required to build the 5G network infrastructure, the current lack of 5G compatible devices, and regulatory considerations, widespread consumer access to 5G technologies is still way off. Like the previous wireless generations, 5G will completely change the technological landscape through improved network connections, speed, and responsiveness once it's here. It's just going to take a bit more time before the buzz and expectations become a reality.

Posted in: Solutions

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