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The Importance of Speed: Everyone Wants 5G Now, but What Will it Mean for the Industry and End Users

Jeff Gudewicz, Chief Product Officer - Wilson Electronics

What is 5G?

First, let’s break 5G down to its most basic level, as 5G is much more than faster data speeds on cell phones.

5G stands for 5th generation of wireless technology. Each generation is defined by both its data transmission speeds and its encoding methods. At its foundation, 5G is simply a standard designed to deliver greater than 1 Gbps data speeds and low latency in a cellular environment, to name just a couple of the highly publicized features.

There are two types of 5G service being developed. Existing frequency bands under 6 GHz, referred to as “FR1,” have shown capability of delivering 1 Gbps throughput using existing 3G/4G spectrum.  The other approach is higher millimeter wave frequencies – including 28 GHz, 37 GHz, and 39 GHz bands, referred to as “FR2” – which were approved by the FCC in 2016.

5G promises to introduce three new innovations: greater speed (100 x 4G LTE data), lower latency (< 1 millisecond), and the ability to connect more devices (100x more) at one time.  To be even more specific, 5G performance standards, as outlined through 5G IMT-2020 specification, state 20 Gbps peak data rate with 1 Gbps average user data rate.  For mobility, connections must be maintained vehicle speeds up to 500 km/h but more importantly connection density of 1,000,000 devices per km2.  This connection density is very important in order to support the large-scale number of devices often referred to as IoT.  This technology will help connect far-reaching areas of technology including virtual reality, drones, smart devices, self-driving cars and more. It could even enable “smart cities” by connecting traffic signals, emergency services and other vital applications to increase efficiencies.

As technology becomes increasingly connected (Gartner predicts the number of internet-connected devices will rise from 6.4 billion in 2016 to 20.8 billion by 2020), 5G is quickly moving from a luxury to a necessity in order to support the anticipated increase in the proliferation of IoT products.

The Timeline for Full Implementation of 5G

As you’ve likely read already, the telecommunications industry has been hard at work for quite some time laying the groundwork for 5G. US carriers have been busy building the high-performance infrastructure needed to support a high-performance wireless 5G network. Delivering high speed data wirelessly means that at some point the network has to transfer those wireless signals back to the wired network. 5G can give subscribers “fiber like” performance wirelessly, but at some point you have to get back to fiber. In fact, Verizon is laying 12 million miles of fiber to support 5G. Other carriers are building fiber infrastructure as well to support the network traffic and performance needs.

Additionally, standards are also being finalized for all of the device and infrastructure vendors.  Currently, formal standards and specification needed to test and certify hardware as 5G compliant do not exist but are predicted for mid-2019.

Historically each new generation of wireless technology has taken about 10 years to develop. 1G began in about 1982, 2G in 1991, 3G around 2010, etc. Following this pattern, 5G is likely to begin to roll out later this year or in the early 2020s. However, several challenges exist before 5G can be fully implemented, and it is important to note that 5G networks will be built alongside today’s 4G LTE network and function in tandem with it to prevent coverage outages when a user is in areas not covered by 5G service.

Until 5G is fully in place, carrier aggregation is required to deliver 1 Gbps of speed. In one demonstration, the high data rate was accomplished by aggregating 20MHz of 1800MHz spectrum plus 2 bands of 35MHz spectrum in the 2600MHz band. This doesn’t require new towers on the macro side, but it does require much greater bandwidth, resulting in fewer simultaneous users.  Many have read about the availability of 5G “E” (evolution), announced by AT&T.  This performance is more in line through advanced 4G LTE advancements using existing low band spectrum (FR1) but not yet, however, through high band (FR2) mmWave spectrum.  With this in mind, 4G LTE networks are an important existing layer and will survive well into 2030.

5G Complications and Risks

As frequencies go higher, such as for millimeter wave, their propagation deteriorates greatly compared to traditional frequencies less than 6GHz. This means that signal attenuation due to buildings, trees, foliage and even weather such as snow or rain will severely weaken 5G signals.

Many people and businesses already experience issues with weak cellular signal with 4G LTE, and this complication will only become greater in scope and prevalence as we come to rely on higher frequencies such as those required for 5G. Although previous cellular technology has been able to rely on a smaller number of antenna towers, 5G will require larger numbers of antennas and cell signal boosters to work well.

As 5G enables more and more interconnected technologies, increased risks arise in the IoT industry around loss of cellular signal. Today’s communication is happening between not only people, but also between devices and the platforms on which they operate. The development of 5G will further enable the connectivity of millions of connected devices such as tracking tags, industrial equipment and other automated monitoring devices. But with this rising proliferation of IoT devices, loss of connectivity could have dire consequences and cause significant damage or injuries.

This is made even riskier by the fact that many IoT applications that support smart devices and other initiatives are being deployed in areas that cell networks don’t always reach or are obstructed, such as basement flood detectors or parking sensors in underground garages. In situations like these and with other critical applications, we expect to see more demand from companies that will be looking for reliable, secure connections via signal enhancement products to ensure better and more reliable data transfer across networks.

How Boosters Will Work with 5G

One of the first steps to 5G for carriers is aggregation of bands. Many signal boosters, including those produced by Wilson Electronics, already support aggregation.

But that doesn’t include new millimeter wave frequency bands that are being released. Although carriers are already developing those bands, which include bands 71 and 41, the FCC has not yet approved cellular signal boosters to operate on them. Wilson Electronics and other leaders in the industry are currently petitioning the FCC to update their regulations to allow for the development of new boosters to support these bands.

Once the FCC restrictions are lifted, signal booster manufacturers will be able to begin applying their research to the development of 5G-compatible boosters – a critical step to enable widespread adoption of 5G.

5G adoption is well on its way in the IoT industry and beyond, and in 2019 we will move even closer to transitioning to this next generation of wireless technology.

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