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5G Networks: The evolution and trends today

June 13, 2019


As the world advances towards the next generation of communication networks, there is a pressing need for new technology solutions, architectures, and standards. This evolution of communication networks is set to facilitate many compelling business and consumer use cases & accelerate huge investment in networks infrastructure, applications, and devices. 

The latest next generation of wireless technologies, 5G networks, promise an era of ubiquitous, secure, and high-capacity radio networks. With extremely low latency levels, high energy efficiency, and a comprehensive Gbps capacity, the applications of 5G technology extend to a plethora of industries and fields beyond traditional telecom. Some of the exciting 5G applications include self-driving vehicles, VR/AR, smart manufacturing, telehealth services, smart cities, and many more.

5G capabilities

According to Ericsson’s Mobility Report, by 2023, the number of 5G subscriptions will cross the 1bn mark, and 5G will cover 20% of the global population.

5G connections forecast

Figure 1: Forecast number of 5G connections worldwide from 2019 to 2025 (in billions)

5G market infrastructure spending

Figure 2: Global spending on 5G mobile infrastructure in 2019 & 2021 (in billion US dollars)

International Telecommunication Union’s Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) defines three significant areas of usage and applications as part of its 5G initiative:

  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband: Cater to the growing demand for ubiquitous broadband connectivity with enhanced data rates, connection density, and mobility.
  • Massive Internet of things (IoT): Connectivity for millions of devices transmitting sensitive data. Availability of low-cost devices with long battery lives.
  • Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Services (URLCC): Reliable connectivity with stringent requirements on latency and throughput.

enhanced mobile broadband, Massive Internet of Things, Ultra reliable low latency services

Technologies powering 5G networks

The entire ecosystem of 5G comprises of a transformed telecom core, radio, and OSS to support new requirements. This non-standardized system involves concepts like network slicing, a virtualized cloud-based core, new radio technologies, and end-to-end management and orchestration to facilitate automation.

Further, they can be grouped into two broad categories viz.:

  • 5G radio network technologies:
    • Massive MIMO Communications
    • Millimetre-Wave Mobile Communications
    • Non-Orthogonal Multiple Access (NOMA) for Future Radio Access
    • New Multicarrier Modulations for 5G
    • Generalized Frequency Division Multiplexing
    • Multi-Carrier Waveform for 5G
    • Spectrally Efficient Frequency Division Multiplexing for 5G
    • Full-Duplex Wireless Communications for 5G
    • Device-to-Device Communications
  • 5G core network technologies:
    • Programmable networks
    • Network Slicing & network slice management
    • Software-defined networking
    • Multi-domain orchestration
  • Automation
    • Dynamic deployment
    • Real-time data analytics
    • Closed loop automation
  • Cloud Technologies
    • Network Function Virtualization, Containers, Micro-services
    • Edge computing/ Fog computing

Network slicing in 5G networks

Network Slicing is a virtual networking architecture based on software-based automation which allows the creation of multiple virtual independent end-to-end logical systems running on shared physical infrastructure.  It is one of the most ingenious aspects of 5G architecture, which lets operators provide portions of their network for specific customer uses cases- Smart home, Smart Manufacturing, Connected cars, and many more.

Some of the benefits of network slicing are:

  • Enhanced elasticity, robustness, secure and stable operations through compartmentalization of the network
  • Customizable slices optimized for the service need/segment cluster they are defined to serve.
  • Flexibility and high efficiency with AI-powered automated service orchestration

Security of 5G networks

5G employs a virtually distributed, layered security design and wireless technology to create a highly secure, resilient, and agile system which comprises of:

  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) detection and mitigation.
  • Stronger encryption for over-the-air interface and encryption of IMSI for each device
  • Security Edge Protection Proxy to mitigate vulnerabilities in prior technology and probable attacks when subscribers are roaming between different carriers.
  • Virtualized Network operations through NFV & SDN-which enable adaptable security.

Key challenges in the 5G rollout

5G technology promises transformative applications, new services, and seamless end-user experience for industries and users alike with improved network performance and reliability. However, despite the potential benefits, 5G networks are still evolving, and operators are skeptical about the ROI - given the heavy investment needed to deploy them.

Here are some of the key challenges that are to be addressed before 5G networks are widely adopted:

  1. Small cell deployment challenges
    • Planning and permission delays from local authorities
    • Human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF)
    • Access and code powers to install antennas on public properties like the lampposts 
  1. Fiber backhaul (Deploying the fiber networks)
    • Poor availability of fiber networks in cities
    • Refused or delayed planning permissions
    • Complex wayleave processes 
  1. Spectrum availability and network deployment feasibility
    • Allocation & identification of globally harmonized spectrum across a range of frequencies
    • Efficient reuse of available spectrum
    • Cost of procuring fresh spectrum
    • Deployment fees demanded by regulators
  1. Rapidly changing specifications & no interoperability
    • Lack of interoperability and coordination within the ecosystem (device & chip manufacturers, equipment vendors, and network design teams) for developing new standards and services
    • 5G standards are still evolving with active testing across many 5G test-beds
  1. Other factors
    • 5G compatible device availability.
    • Net Neutrality

The Race to 5G

All major technology-focused countries in the world are working on early 5G network trials, and 5G testbeds as competition turns fierce to secure 5G leadership globally.

According to a report by CTIA, here are the top 5G-ready countries as ranked on 5G Readiness Index by Analysys Mason to determine which countries were in the best position to win the race to 5G. Some of the key factors on which these countries were evaluated are spectrum availability—including low-, mid-, and high-band, industry commitment, government initiatives & support, and their pro-5G infrastructure country policies.

Countries racing towards 5G

  1. China has deployed 5G pilot networks in Beijing, Shanghai, and a dozen other cities. Beijing alone has approx. 300 5G bases.
  2. US private service providers are collaborating with cities to roll out 5G pilot networks and innovation labs. Total investment in 5G networks is about $275 billion for the year 2019.
  3. South Korea telecom providers are partnering with government, cities, and research institutions in the country & launched a 5G network trial on April 24, 2019.
  4. Japan aims to build nationwide 5G networks by 2022, but initial services are slated to go live beginning 2020.
  5. EU as a part of their 5G for Europe action plan designated 20 “testbed” cities to trial consumer-focused 5G applications. This action plan aims to have a 5G city in every member state by 2020

As per a report by Global Mobile Supplier’s Association, As on May 2019, 59 countries in the world are formally considering introducing certain spectrum bands for 5G services, having consultations/have reserved 5G spectrum allocations.

Sector-wise Applications of 5G Technology

5G is set to enhance connectivity across communication networks and enable faster data transfer speeds. Thus, it has the potential to creates tremendous opportunity for a plethora of industries and disruption across applications currently powered by traditional networks.

Let us discuss the applications of 5G technologies across some of the sectors:

Manufacturing

  • Smart factories that leverage automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and IoT.
  • Tethered and untethered robots which can be controlled, monitored and configured remotely over a 5G mobile network through Augmented Reality
  • Simulation of factory process and training support

Retail

  • VR dressing rooms & mobile AR experiences in-stores and at home through low-latency 5G networks
  • Seamless personalization using facial recognition technology & IoT to alert in-store sales executives identify customer loyalty and grade

Media & Entertainment

  • On-demand video/games for rich mobile user experience over low-latency 5G networks
  • Immersive Experience through Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality

Supply chain & logistics

  • Logistics digitized through 5G IoT sensors to counter manual inefficiency or misplaced containers.
  • 5G signals to build warehouses with centrally-controlled networks to reduce the complexity and cost of their connectivity
  • Enhanced vehicle-to-vehicle communications(V2V to improve road safety in for driverless vehicles.

Hyperdense Environments

  • Seamless connectivity in crowded events like the Olympic games.
  • Better interoperability with WiFi-6 to provide seamless connectivity.

Healthcare & medicines

  • Real-time remote patient monitoring & surgery.
  • Personalized and preventive care through Artificial Intelligence tools.
  • Telemedicine appointments powered by 5G to support high-quality real-time video

Tourism

  • Mobile AR/VR for heritage locations.
  • 5G Smart tourism

Smart Cities

  • Smart traffic management
  • Smart energy grids
  • Intelligent transportation and public safety

Power & electricity

  • Advanced automatic metering infrastructure
  • Automated distribution generation and management system

Conclusion

5G technology is not just about increased speed for your mobile data. It promises a plethora of transformative services, revolutionary applications, and business opportunities. Along with technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, AR & VR and blockchain, 5G represents an increased economic opportunity and would power the world towards a new age of digital economy.

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