Broadband and cellular service providers are always hatching up new ways to enhance customer service. From 2G through 4G, each generation of wireless technology has improved broadband and cellular services in steady, incremental steps. Now 5G is on the horizon and promises to boost the speed and capacity of broadband and cellular systems far beyond anything one might have imagined. Slated for deployment as early as 2020, 5G is generating more excitement within the wireless community than all of the previous generations of wireless combined. This article will explain what 5G is, how it will improve customer service, and the crucial role it will play in the emerging Internet of Things (IoT). The article also calls attention to thorny IoT issues relating to cyber security; we caution against a simultaneous rollout of 5G and IoT.
5G download speeds are expected to exceed 10 gigabits per second. That’s fast enough to download DiCaprio’s two and one-half hour movie, The Revenant, in only five seconds. Compare that to current 4G technology, which would take about seven minutes to download, or 84 times longer. Also, 5G promises to reduce signal latency, provide more uniform cellular coverage and otherwise enhance service to millions of broadband Internet and cellular customers.
Will 5G live up to expectations? Is it all it’s cracked up to be? The answer is a resounding yes. 5G is all that and more.
THE INTERNET OF THINGS
Because of 5G speed and bandwidth capacity, IoT is a major driving force behind the 5G buildout.
IoT involves interconnecting computers and embedding sensors in billions of everyday objects. Torrents of data will continually stream, wirelessly, between sensors, computers and control devices. IoT presents a major new revenue stream for wireless carriers who will provide connectivity for monitoring and control systems used by private companies, government agencies, municipalities, research firms and more.
Equipment manufacturers will also benefit from IoT. According to Gartner analysts, the number of networked devices will soar from 5 billion in 2015 to 25 billion by 2020. The first 5G carrier rollouts are expected as early as 2020. How soon other carriers follow suit depends to what degree customers in their markets are willing to pay for 5G services, including IoT.
Analysts predict that the IoT market will be worth $19 trillion over the next 10 years.
HOW 5G WORKS
With the growing number of wireless devices in use today, the lower end of the radio frequency spectrum is becoming overcrowded. Our current 4G technology is straining to handle signal throughput and is pretty much at the breaking point.
5G networks provide a solution. 5G achieves greater speed and bandwidth capacity, largely by operating in the higher frequency range above 3GHz, which is relatively uncluttered. However, radio waves at these higher frequencies don’t travel very far and are easily obstructed by buildings and walls. 5G engineers solved this problem by increasing the number of macrocell towers and small cell antennas within the 5G network.
5G has the speed and bandwidth capacity to meet the growing needs of cellular customers, plus it can handle the torrents of data that will be generated by IoT monitoring and control equipment.
GENERATIONS OF IMPROVEMENT
|A new generation of cellular standards has appeared roughly every ten years since 1G systems were introduced in 1981. Each generation is characterized by new frequency bands, higher data rates and non-backward-compatible transmission technology.|
|1G||1G (First Generation) cellular is the first “modern” cellular mobile telephony technology. The main difference between 1G and its successors is that the radio signals used by 1G networks were analog. Cellular networks from 2G through 5G are digital.|
|2G||Introduced in 1991, 2G provided three primary benefits over its predecessors: phone conversations were digitally encrypted; 2G systems were significantly more efficient; and 2G introduced data services for mobile, starting with SMS text messages.|
|3G||3G technology provided an information transfer rate of at least 200 kbit/s. Later 3G releases, often denoted 3.5G and 3.75G, provided mobile broadband access of several Mbit/s to smartphones and modem-equipped laptop computers.|
|3.5G||As an interim step towards deployment of full 4G capability, 3.5G included High-Speed Downlink Packet Access and 3GPP Long Term Evolution (the precursor of LTE Advanced Evolved HSPA).|
|4G||Our current standard, 4G capabilities include mobile broadband Internet access for a wide range of mobile devices. Applications include amended mobile web access, IP telephony, gaming services, high-definition mobile TV, video conferencing, 3D television, and cloud computing.|
|4.5G||4.5G provides better performance than 4G systems and is an interim step towards deployment of full 5G capability.|
|5G||5G denotes the next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards. 5G trials are currently underway and implementation is expected to begin by 2020.|
OUR CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Soon our nation will be bristling with millions of new 5G towers and antennas. Macrocell towers, which have a range of up to 20 miles, will be supplemented with millions of small cell antennas that have a range of only a few hundred feet. These small cells will use Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) and Beamforming technologies to enable them to transmit radio energy in any desired direction.
Mounted about one block apart, small cell antennas will cling to utility poles and buildings like proverbial flies on the wall. Besides voice communications, small cells will be used to receive information from IoT sensors and relay this data to distributed computer networks, typically within the cloud. There, cloud processors will crunch the numbers in an effort to determine what, where and why things are happening both locally and around our planet.
IOT BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES
Properly implemented, IoT has the potential to improve our quality of life. IoT devices can monitor industrial operations, help control pollution, and enable municipalities to operate more effectively.
At the same time, IoT raises many issues relating to network security and personal privacy. Recent events suggest that anything can be hacked, from U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) records to email servers of government officials.
Many security experts now fear that interconnecting billions of IoT sensors and control devices via the Internet could make every device a potential gateway for cyber-attacks. A country-wide network of interconnected systems could enable a single attack to disable infrastructure in huge sections of the country.
Nonetheless, companies are investing billions of dollars in developing IoT systems and equipment. Vested interests will be pushing hard to implement IoT sooner rather than later.
A ‘SMARTER’ APPROACH
Fortunately, the 2020 target date for the 5G rollout isn’t necessarily the same date for introducing IoT. That may buy time for security experts to find better ways to harden IoT networks. Lawmakers also have more work to do in addressing personal privacy issues presented by IoT.
Finally, let’s observe Smart Cities awhile longer. For example, Barcelona Spain has computers connected to more than a million sensors that monitor pollution, traffic, parking, noise, water pressure, electricity, weather and more. Smart City planners are grappling with some of the same security issues that challenge IoT. In other words, studying Smart Cities enables us to look before we leap.