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The 5G Revolution?

By: Chris Piedmonte

Don’t get too excited about 5G wireless networks just yet.  The truth is that an initial examination of what 5G networks are promising sounds like a lot more of the same use cases already available, or quickly becoming available, with 4G/LTE technologies.  Add to that the fact that 5G technologies will not be widely available anytime soon and the thrill of 5G quickly fades.  Some say that 5G is going to be revolutionary, while others say that it will be the simple evolution of our existing infrastructure.  The truth is that it is a mix of both which requires some explanation.

5G Evolution vs. Revolution

An examination of the features and capabilities typically associated with 5G reveal that they are basically the same that have been available in 4G since it was introduced a few years ago.  According to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance, the following are seven requirements for what they believe comprises a 5G network:

  1. Data rates of several tens of megabits per second should be supported for tens of thousands of users,
  2. One gigabit per second to be offered simultaneously to many workers on the same office floor,
  3. Several hundreds of thousands of simultaneous connections to be supported for massive sensor deployments,
  4. Spectral efficiency should be significantly enhanced compared to 4G,
  5. Signaling efficiency should be enhanced,
  6. Latency should be reduced significantly compared to LTE, and
  7. Coverage should be improved.

Nothing on this list is new or radically different than the services already provided by 4G/LTE networks.  Yes, 5G is faster than 4G.  Sure, 5G supports more users than 4G.  5G is more efficient than 4G, true.  But in these respects 5G is nothing more than an evolution of our existing 4G networks to become faster, wider, and deeper.  As it generally takes about a decade from the initiation of work on the next generation of wireless technologies before they are ready for commercialization, 5G can be expected to be reasonably available in the early 2020s.


So if 5G is not that big a deal and a ways off, why is Pipeline talking about 5G in the this, Future Trends issue?  The answer is that the new technologies that 5G will require and the applications that 5G will enable ARE, in fact, revolutionary.  5G will enable applications and capabilities that are simply not possible using today’s 4G networks.  From this perspective, 5G is a great example of what happens when sufficient quantitative change occurs to introduce a qualitative change in the nature of things.  Evolution creates revolution.

5G Technology

Despite the fact that research and development of 5G technologies has been going on for half a decade, there is still much work to do.  According to sources to a recent interview conducted with Qualcomm, there is still substantial research and development required to meet the communications requirements for 5G.  Part of this work includes integrating the various wireless technologies to provide a high-bandwidth, low-latency seamless experience and communications standards that will be necessary.  By integrating large and small scale cell technologies, the current and emerging IEEE 802.11 standards for Wifi, and technologies specifically developed to support the emerging Internet of Things, an implementation of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s Demand Attentive Network (DAN) will likely emerge.  This type of heterogeneous network will provide automated switching between the various communications technologies to match the demands of the wireless devices to the most appropriate means of wireless communications.  The application of a DAN is necessary to provide more efficient use of available bandwidth while still ensuring acceptable performance and customer experiences.



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