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5G: What Is It & Why Does It Matter?

It's 5G month at Light Reading, which means we're exploring everything from what 5G entails, what it means for the industry, its challenges, opportunities and progress across the globe.

Sarah Thomas

April 1, 2015

5 Min Read
5G: What Is It & Why Does It Matter?

Try as you may to avoid it, 5G is here. Well not actually here... it won't commercially launch until around 2020. But the groundwork is already being laid, and the hype is rampant, even though it's easier to explain why it matters than what it actually is.

As chairman of the 5G group at Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Ltd. and CTO of Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Bruno Jacobfeuerborn explained at Mobile World Congress how network technology evolves every ten years: 3G defined the early 2000s; the second decade of the 2000s was all about 4G LTE, with LTE-Advanced updates now starting to trickle out. That's why it's so important that work on 5G starts now, so that by 2020, operators will be ready for commercial deployments. (See NGMN Chairman Outlines His 5G Vision.)

Light Reading has actually been talking about 5G since 2012 when the 5G Innovation Center opened at the University of Surrey to study advanced orthogonal frequency division multiplex (OFDM) technology and non-orthogonal waveforms for 5G. Shortly thereafter our editor-in-chief, Ray Le Maistre, posed the right question in 2013, asking "How many definitions of 5G will we end up with?" (See UK Kicks Off 5G R&D and The 5G Landgrab.)

That brings us to the present, where we are still trying to figure out a de facto definition of a 5G future that's being pegged with enabling everything from driverless cars to 8K video streaming to the millions of connections inherent in the Internet of Things (IoT). Our omniscient editor was right (for once) in that definitions around what makes a network 5G are proliferating, as the standards for the technology won't be defined until late this year or early next. (See Poll: 5G Steals the Spotlight at MWC and 5G Visions Dazzle at MWC.)

That said, a number of requirements are emerging to qualify networks as 5G.

  • Speed: 5G will be achieve peak data rates of 10 Gbit/s, which is ten times faster than LTE's peak speeds of 1 Gbit/s. Samsung Corp. has shown record speeds of 7.5Gbit/s in 5G trials, and the University of Surrey has even cracked 1 Tbit/s (terabit per second) in trials. That's about 65,000 times faster than 4G LTE download speeds, but shouldn't be expected in commercial networks.

  • Capacity: The NGMN expects 5G to eke out between 100 and 1,000 times more capacity than 4G, which will be important if it is to support IoT applications such as the connected car.

  • Latency: 5G will have latency of a single millisecond, 50 times faster than 4G, making it markedly more reliable than earlier networks, which is -- again -- important for envisioned real-time IoT apps such as remote surgery and self-driving cars.

The network will run on either spectrum frequencies below 6GHz,the low bands, or above 6GHz in the high bands, another spec that is still being worked out. The higher bands use millimeter wave technologies and tend to have more spectrum available for higher data rates, but the lower bands tend to have better coverage and propagation. (See The Many Faces of 5G , Spectrum Muddle at the 5G Huddle and 60GHz: A Frequency to Watch.)

According to a recent Heavy Reading report, common themes amongst groups discussing 5G also include elements such as:

  • densely deployed indoor and outdoor small cells;

  • new antenna designs, such as Massive MIMO;

  • intelligent, flexible, adaptable and automated networks;

  • interworking of multiple RAN technologies (Multi-RAT), including WiFi;

  • massive machine communications (MMC);

  • the tactile Internet;

  • extending the principles of SDN and NFV from the core network to the RAN; and

  • network performance metrics for energy efficiency. (See Ready or Not, Here Comes 5G.)

For more on 5G, visit the dedicated 5G section here on Light Reading, and register to attend the upcoming "Building America's 5G Ecosystem" event in NYC.

Despite the ambiguity around the definition of 5G, there seems to be a global consensus that it will be important -- even game changing -- for the future of the wireless industry. Big vendors such as Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Samsung Corp. and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) have been vocal about their plans to support 5G and a number of wireless operators are speaking up too. (See 5G Threatens Mobile Sector Disruption and Sprint's Saw: '5G' Opp Is Moving Signal Closer to Customers.)

Initial deployments are expected to come from South Korea and Japan as the operators and governments there have promised deployments in time for the 2020 Olympics. The US, while a leader in 4G LTE, has been slower off the 5G mark than Europe and the rest of the world. (See 5G: So Where's the US? and 5G by 2020: Too Much, Too Soon?)

This next-generation network will mean much more than just downloading videos in mere seconds (although you'll be able to do that). Connectivity will become a part of everything we do, and 5G will make robust, reliable, super-fast connectivity the norm at a personal, professional and industrial level. It's easy to see why the industry is pumped for 5G, even if it's yet to truly understand what it means. (See 5G Use Cases, Pre-Standards Groups Proliferate and Prepare for a 5G Onslaught.)

It's 5G month here at Light Reading, which means we'll be exploring the next generation of mobile broadband in depth all month, including a look at the key stakeholders influencing the standards-making process, interviews with service providers on the cutting edge and coverage from our upcoming "Building America's 5G Ecosystem" event in New York City. Check back all month for more, weigh in with your questions and comments on the message boards and vote in our poll asking about the biggest challenges on the road to 5G. (See 5G Challenges.)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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