The Mobile World Congress 2019 held in Barcelona a few days ago will be remembered as the 5G MWC (with the permission of folding mobiles). Although the new generation of mobile phone networks was already a trend last year, it has been this edition that has been saturated with the first compatible devices and demonstrations by the operators. However, to what extent is its adoption by users and companies imminent?
First, a little context. 5G is a commercial term that refers to the fifth generation of mobile phone networks , a generation that had its origin with the 1G or first generation, that is, the networks that were born with the launch in 1981 of the Ericsson NMT 450 system, with analog channels and frequency modulation. It was not until a decade later when 2G or the second generation appeared, with GSM as the main protagonist and making use of frequencies of 900 and 1800 MHz. One of the great milestones of that time was the birth of SMS and the WAP protocol, the predecessor of the mobile internet. Before its appearance, voice communication was only possible via mobile.
With the UMTS, 3G or third generation, the market prepared for the emergence of massive data consumption, with connection speeds increasing exponentially, bringing with it technologies such as video calls. Despite the fact that the auction of frequencies was held in the year 2000, the 3G era did not begin until 2005, which allowed video calls, among other things, although the real adoption of this type of news was scarce.
Since its birth in 2013 – although until recently an extended reality – 4G has been the standard that has allowed speeds of up to 1 Gbps to be reached, higher even than ordinary fiber optics. This has triggered the consumption of multimedia content, especially video, on mobile. Now we are at the gates of the new generation and these are its five keys.
1. 5G won’t be “real” until 2020
Unlike what happened with previous generations, characterized by arriving a little later than expected in our country, with 5G a very fast antenna installation rate is expected, accompanied by the same speed to reach the end user. Of course, as much as a good number of 5G devices have been presented at MWC 2019, users will still take time to really take advantage of this technology in full.
In July 2018, the Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda auctioned the frequencies, which range from 3.6 to 3.8 gigahertz (GHz), that is, 200 megahertz (MHz) were tendered. Previously, another 200 MHz has already been auctioned, between the frequencies of 3.4 and 3.6 MHz. In addition, later there will be bands designed to obtain vertigo speeds in open or small spaces, with little penetration indoors, ranging from 24 GHz to 100 GHz.
In Spain, for long distance and high penetration, as we now use the 800 MHz band in 4G, in 5G the 700 MHz band, previously used by DTT channels, will be used. But the latter will not happen until 2020. All in all, the GSMA (GSM Association) is the body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting both operators, device manufacturers, software companies, equipment suppliers and Internet companies, such as organizations in adjacent industry sectors) estimates that 5G will be real in 21 markets, including the United States and China.
However, networks and devices will still take time to reach the full potential of this new generation of mobile internet. The reason is that the deployment of 5G is being carried out in two stages: NSA (Non-Standalone), which takes advantage of the existing 4G infrastructure, and SA (Standalone), a 100% autonomous technology that takes advantage of 5G in its entirety, both in the data transfer as in control with base stations.
In this way, the first generation of 5G networks and devices is compatible with version 15 of the 5G standard proposed by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) , the NSA. The SA standard was approved in June 2018 and its completion is scheduled for 2020. Keep in mind that many of the devices that are being announced and that will be launched this year only use the NSA standard, so they will not take advantage of everything the potential of 5G in the short term.
2. Speed and coverage
Thanks to the 700 mhz band, at least a download speed of 100 Mbps will be achieved. With those of 3.4 and 3.8 GHz, it will reach up to 3 Gbps. Finally, there would be a 26 GHz band, designed for nearby access points, such as those located in airports or stadiums, and speeds of up to 10 Gbps would be achieved, that is, 10 times the speed of the fastest fiber optic for the public .
The initial coverage will depend on the deployment carried out by the operators, but something very new is that 5G will allow, in an easy and economical way, to have many more access points. There has even been talk that some smartphones could become 5G signal repeaters for those terminals around them, so 5G is expected to spread much faster than 4G.
3. Lower saturation, lower latency, higher efficiency
The saturation of 5G networks will also improve enormously compared to 4G networks, which on the one hand will allow operators to offer a greater amount of data or the same amount as now but at a lower cost. On the other hand, it will allow the 12.5 connected devices per person in 2025 to be supplied, without the need for WiFi.
In this way, the greatest advantage of 5G over the previous generation of networks will be an enormous reduction in latency, which will allow reaching the spectacular figure of 4 milliseconds under ideal conditions, for 20 of the 4G LTE networks. The performance will also improve, so much so that, under ideal conditions, each node will be able to supply 20 Gbps downstream and 10 Gbps upstream. It could happen that, by dividing those quantities among all the connected devices, and as the number of them grows so much, the difference with 4G will not be as large as the figure may imply. Still, 5G will make it possible to service up to 100 devices per square meter, a scenario in which 4G networks irretrievably collapse.
Energy efficiency will also increase up to 90%, so we can expect better autonomy figures in our smartphones, wearables and home devices. The problems that existed in the adoption of 4G, whose first smartphones ran out of battery in a few hours, will be solved in the era of 5G. In addition to these advantages, 5G will open up infinite possibilities that we still do not know and that, as always, will be exploited by companies and people who are leaders in innovation.
4. A new life for mobile devices
Mobile devices already offer an incredible amount of services and benefits, thanks to the different improvements that have been offered by different generations of mobile internet. This is: video games, video conferences, apps, etc. With 5G we will see how smartphones improve their performance, with services and uses unthinkable until now, such as:
A new boost to VR / AR: In its advanced stages, 5G will give internet access to all kinds of devices, even allowing some to exist anywhere that are now connected by cables. Emerging technologies that until now have become especially popular in homes and offices, will become increasingly common and ubiquitous, thanks to the bandwidth of the 5G mobile network. This is the case of advanced virtual and augmented reality glasses, as well as the always futuristic holograms.
Less WiFi and less cable: devices such as most Internet of Things components, which currently access the Internet with a WiFi connection, can be released. In fact, 5G networks will have enough capacity to make household wired connections disappear, which is essential in developing countries that cannot afford large investments in cabling.
5. More efficient traditional industries
Most pre-5G mobile networks have served to connect, above all, mobile phones of all generations, but that will change. Thanks to 5G we will see how traditional industries are completely transformed, to be more efficient, such as:
A new concept of mobility: it will be, without a doubt, the urban space where we will see more transformations with 5G. Today, the inhabitants of many cities already have access from the terminal to much real-time information on transport or air quality, but it is nothing compared to what will come with smart cities.
Ideally, we are talking about spaces where there will be no traffic lights or accidents, because once autonomous cars arrive there and there is an urban network, all knowledge will be shared. The intentions of other vehicles will be known in advance. Before that happens, 5G can help improve and bring efficiency to traffic distribution.
Smart agriculture and livestock: in rural areas, 5G will provide greater intelligence and precision to the techniques used in agriculture and livestock, which will increase productivity on farms. It will be thanks to the use of drones and IoT devices designed for this purpose. A BI Intelligence report estimates that there will be 75 million IoT devices installed by the end of 2020 dedicated to smart farming.