5G – Fifth Generation of Mobile Networks


We are hearing a lot about 5G these days, but the question is what is it and how it will change our life? 5G is not something that will replace 4G completely at once and will continue to exist, rather it is an organic phenomenon that will evolve and change over time. This should also clarify the perspective that why there are already some efforts going on for 6G. We need to recognize the fact that there are more promising developments to come ahead of this. All smartphone companies are doing their level best to launch 5 G-enabled devices and connections. These devices will operate in different frequency bands such as from 3 to 300 GHz. Let’s put these promising opportunities aside for now and start with actually introducing 5G and how mobile technology has evolved from 1G to where it stands today. Before, concluding, I will also discuss the advantages of 5G and some limiting factors/disadvantages of 5G (as of now).

What is 5G?

This is the next generation of mobile technology which will be very fast compared to 4G. It will enable ultra-reliable and low latency communications. It will introduce new opportunities for everyone, especially for businesses to become more agile, data-driven and competitive by offering and enabling new business models. At its minimum, it will decrease the need of face to face meetings as the participant would have the feeling of being in the same place, thanks to the technologies such as Virtual reality, Augmented Reality in addition to 5G.

As the mobile network changes its generation, the tower and its components get updated, as well as sims and mobile phones. To understand this better, we need to understand how the mobile works and how the radio waves around us, enable us to communicate with other people. Various instruments / equipments are used to make these signals work, namely:

  1. Mobile Phone
  2. Regional Tower
  3. Main Tower
  4. Main Controller (Master Switching Center-MSC)

The traffic flows between them starting with a user dealing the number, then it goes to the regional tower, which tries to connect with the main tower. The main tower in turn as the MSC to try to get connected the user 2 by following the same procedure in reverse. If all channels are occupied, the new user is put to wait otherwise he gets connected with its intended user. I’ll skip further details on this but in case you are interested to dig deeper, please have a look at [1].

Evolution of Mobile Network Technology: From 1G to 5G

There has been 4 generations of our mobile technology as illustrated in Figure 1, and the fifth is on the horizon. We will briefly discuss each of them in the following paragraphs.

Figure 1- Evolution of Mobile Networks: From 1G to XG

All of the different generations of mobile technology followed a very evolutionary path, starting with a baseline of standards, which were further enhanced by the developments over time.

  1. 1980s: Mobile Technology Wireless, 1G- Using Analog technology which started for the first time to send a message using audio signal (wireless). For example walkie talkie. 1G had issues like call drop, battery life and call security issues. This technology remained in use until 1990.
  2. 1990s: 2G came in 1990 which offered digital CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access), GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and other mobile communication standards. Good voice calls, picture messages and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) were also introduced with the introduction of this generation of mobile technology. Later on, fast speed GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) [2] was introduced which is known as 2.5 G. This was used from 1990s to 2000.
  3. 3G: With the introduction of 3G, fast speed (relative, back then that was fast, believe me) internet was offered to the users. Through this technology, video, live television , video call, fast speed internet browsing. Evolutionary and wax are based on 3G. 512KB/s to 3.1 MB/s speed of internet can be offered through which most social media services were made possible to be accessed. This was used during the period of 2000 to 2010.
  4. 4G: To date, this is the most fast speed technology, 100 MB/s, VOIP calls, online calls, HD streaming features are included. available in most countries and suers are using mobile internet through this. This made the lives a lot easier. With each new generation of technology, mobile phones and mobile towers are required to be upgraded. If you have a 3G phone, but you cannot use it for 4 G. Since 2010, this technology is being used until now (Nov 2019).
  5. 5G: Now we are about to enter the era of 5G, which is expected to be available by 2020. The speed of 5G would be 1000 times of 3G and 100 times of 4G. It will control thousands of networks and will further strengthen IoT applications. It has a speed of 4GB/s which means you will be able to download a 50GB file in just one minute. Isn’t it super exciting and a big relief for those of us who have been struggling 20 years ago when they had to download a small file and it took ages. while 100 GB file will be downloaded in 4 minutes approximately. Otherwise, you would be able to download 10 to 15 files of full HD in one minute.

5G in One Square kilometre can connect one million devices. And this is 1000 times faster than present mobile connection and 100 times faster than a home based broadband connection. It will have more features which will change our world. Some of the (five) new things that will get introduced to the world, due to 5G are:

a. Milimeter waves: Mobile communication depends on radio frequencies. 4G had 3MHz to 6MHz frequency, 5G will have it increased to 300 MHz (multi-gigahertz frequencies). Due to this, thousands of devices will be able to connect with each other simultaneously.

b. Small cell: A route from Base tower to mini tower. The tall buildings stop the signals and we get the message that the signal is weak or dropped. To overcome this, small cells or mini towers will be introduced so that when the user moves from one location to another, they will automatically connect to mini tower, so that the signal will be able to reach the base tower.

c. Massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output). 4G base stations are weak to control all mobile communications. 5G would be able to do this based on Small cell and MIMOs. Which will keep the sum of signals to it, so there will be no lost.

d. Beam forming. It works like traffic signals, which means the data will be given to the user who needs it the most. It controls both the incoming and outgoing data of the users. If you are somewhere near big buildings area, then with the help of MIMO, beam forming will tell you about the coming signals and will provide the full service. Even in the neighbourhood of tall buildings it will have complete signals and will send the signals in the same direction.

e. Full Duplex. When the signals come and go from same direction (as it was the case with Half Duplex), they become weak. Full duplex will keep them strong, by offering the dedicated path for each type of signal.

Impact of 5G on our lives: How it will impact our lives and other fields?

5G will bring great and highly influential changes to our businesses and lives. It is impossible to cover all of them in a short blog like this, but I will just list some of them in the following paragraphs.

  1. Medical: Other than speed, it shortens the time of connection and period of getting a response from a network device. 4G had this issue, but 5G would solve it. Now the surgeons would need not to be physically in the same room as of patient. Through VR headset, and 5G service he would be able to operate a patient who is far away. This would greatly address the shortage of medical practitioners on one hand and would likely to save many lives on the other hand, which are otherwise lost due to unavailability and shortage of doctors.
  2. Haptic Feedback: A team of researchers from Kings College London is working on haptic feedback. Through which, users would be able to share their experiences of experiments with other people and places without having the need to relocate or move physically. Video and sound could also be shared and transmitted over longer distances.
  3. Self Driving Cars: This will only become true through 5G, since there is a limitation to send a signal / message from main centre to self driving car, which results in not having the possibility to stop cars from accidents. A network which has the capability to show instantaneous reaction and take over the control if there is a chance of accident or some danger.
  4. Drones: 5G can bring their true power to the next level. Through 5G, HD videos can be obtained and 4k resolution can be used which is 4 times better than HD. These videos can be used to see and monitor the drones.
  5. Live Gaming through VR Mask Glass: Engaging experience, will look like real life. Players from far away can engage in competitions potentially resembling the near real life experience.
  6. New services and businesses (models) will emerge: Data download speed will increase, data resolution, data storage will increase due to which hard disk and system quality level will increase. The potential to leverage the power of Data & AI will exponentially grow. All the limitations which come in the way of downloading, exchanging data and processing data will become story of the past.

As I mentioned before, these are just some of the changes which will happen. There are countless opportunities that we can think of and realise them within less time and budget, thanks to the power of 5G. However, other considerations that still have to be taken into account are legal, regulatory aspects and of course, it is needless to say regarding security and privacy. How those landscapes will change? and corresponding models, implementations and compliance requirements would definitely be required to be adapted.

In the next section, I will briefly touch base on the advantages and disadvantages of 5G.

Advantages and (Limitations) Disadvantages of 5G:

Advantages of 5G:

  1. Increased Bandwidth for all users
  2. Faster Speed: Smart devices will become truly smart as they will not have limitations in terms of bandwidth and speed, which means they will more likely to have real time access to data. This will take the Analytics and AI applications to next level.
  3. Uninterrupted connectivity across the world.
  4. It will offer 10 times decrease in latency, 100 times traffic capacity, 100 times network efficiency and other benefits like these.

Limitations and Disadvantages of 5G:

Razvan and Giuseppe outlined the limitations of 5G in their paper[3] and highlighted that the AI will be the driving force for 6G. 5G equipments and devices will be costly. It will take some time before all the required infrastructure will be in place, as to take the full advantage of 5G strengths and power, a connection to be established a 5G device would be required at both ends; (a) client side: a 5 G mobile device, (b) On the server / provider side 5G antennas and other infra requirements have to be met.

Millimeter wavelengths have smaller coverage profile, despite the fact that they can carry more data, they can’t travel much far. To combat this problem, the carriers would need to provide a huge range of network antennas for stronger coverage.

In addition, skilled workforce and engineers are required to install and maintain 5G networks, which might limit its quick adoption. High costs would yet be another factor for initial deployments.

Although a few countries are front runners, many are late adapters, so it will take some time to become mainstream. Rural areas and remote locations, which are ideal candidates in terms of empowering the humanity and getting them connected, probably won’t have it anytime soon. For remote site, applications in agriculture, mining, remote site management etc are best candidate for leveraging 5G, carriers might be reluctant to deploy 5G in some of those remote areas.

Other considerations with reference to operationalisation and truly leveraging the potential of any technology such as privacy, and security are yet to be evaluated. Businesses would have to understand new security models enabled by 5G. As 5G would enable a whole lot of new capabilities, new legal restrictions and regulatory requirements will surface which organisations, individuals and operators have to comply with.

Conclusions and Future of Mobile Technology

While world has barely started to deploy 5G (in US it is expected to be launched between 2019 and 2024, China has planned to activate 130000 base stations of 5G networks by end of 2019 [4], South Korea claimed that they were the first to launch a 5G network in April 2019) and 4 million Koreans have 5G enabled phones since Oct 2019 with 5 million more expected to be by year end, many researchers have already started to work on 6G. The Academy of Finland announced the funding of “6Genesis,” an eight-year research program to conceptualize 6G under the auspices of the University of Oulu’s Centre for Wireless Communications [18 Apr 2018]. As we can see by looking back and refelcting at the history, a new mobile generation emerges after every 10 years, 6G will emerge around 2030 (hopefully even before) to overcome all the limitations of (or expectations not met by) 5G as well as the ones which are yet to be defined. 6G will offer TeraHertz frequencies and AI-infused applications.

Qualcomm and other companies are also thinking about 6G. China has officially started investigating about 6G with a team consisting of Government departments and 37 other researchers from universities, research institutes, and corporates, as announced on Nov 6, 2019. Who knows it would be empowering or impacted a lot by technologies such as Quantum Computing, Lifi or Light-Fidelity [5] (using infrared and visible light spectrum to transmit data and position between devices), Wormhole [6]: which has the power to link disparate datapoint in spacetime, and their likes which have not been invented yet. This technology 5G and its sequels will greatly enhance the capabilities of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality(AR), IoT, Edge Computing etc. as they need a great deal of increase in wireless capacity. Some of the other areas, where it will have great influence include but not limited to Industrial Automation, Mission-Critical Applications, Self-Driving Cars, Autonomous Systems.

Whatever you do and whatever role you play, it is evident that 5G will have not only an incredible value proposition to our lives, but will also greatly influence, change and enhance the way we do our business, we live our lives. Familiarising yourself and your dear ones with this and other technologies is not only critical but also would help in great deal for our time to come.