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5G Sparks New Possibilities

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Describing the 5G vision to be more prolific than initially realised, Lindsay Notwell, VP 5G Strategy at Cradlepoint, clarifies why both network and technology companies are excited to get a slice of the 5G pie.

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There is certainly huge hype around 5G. Billed by Qualcomm as a next generation network with the potential to be as transformative as electricity itself, both network operators and technology companies are excited to get a slice of the 5G pie.

It is the vision for this new 5G world – a combination of various technologies that will create the next generation wide area network (WAN) needed to support the world’s growing connectivity needs. The GSMA, which tracks the number of mobile devices worldwide, estimates that there are more than 5 billion mobile devices being used by people around the world. This represents 93% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) since mobile phones were introduced in the early 1980s.  By the end of 2017, Gartner predicts the number of connected ‘things’ globally will reach 8.4 billion, projecting 21 billion by the year 2020.

The next generation WAN will have all the features of 4G, plus capacity for massive mobile data. It will offer the voice, video and mobile data features of 3G. It will include Wi-Fi spectrum, and offer 2G-like for Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity and long battery life. With virtually zero latency and gigabit throughput, these features will together form the next generation 5G WAN.

Work in progress

As this vision becomes clearer, so does the realisation that it will be some time before this technology becomes a full reality.  We are still in a pre-standards phase for 5G.  But whilst an agreed specification is not expected until 2019, network operators are already conducting 5G trials today using pre-standard architecture – in the hopes of driving the full standard, and being first to market.

One new technology being used is ‘millimetre wave’ spectrum, a very high frequency spectrum ranging from 6 to 100GHz – which is most effective for point-to-point wireless communication. The spectrum effectively carries data, but is inadequate in its quest to penetrate solid objects. Once specification is set, operators are being able to combine millimetre wave spectrum with sub-6GHz spectrum, which is what all Long-Term Evolution (4G LTE) and Wi-Fi are deployed in today.  Whilst this carries less data, it is much better for penetrating buildings and provides standards for cell-site handoff.

Operators now test pre- specification; however, this is only a temporary solution with a few restrictions. The current 5G trials include no interoperability between carriers and no mobility – so it’s good for Fixed Wireless Access, but widespread 5G device adoption is still a long way off.  The potential benefits of 5G technology, nevertheless, are huge: less latency with more throughput, connection density, spectrum efficiency, traffic capacity, and network efficiency — all of which is achievable within the next couple of years.

Bigger, better, faster

The ultra-low latency requirements of 5G will cause operators to re-architect current networks, distributing their centralised routing engines to the network edge.  In addition, the IoT industry, which primarily occupies the low bitrate range, is expecting new standards such as NB-IoT, CAT-M1 and CAT1, enabling lower cost devices with longer battery life and further reach.

To manage the next generation network, companies will need to consider the value of hardware combined with software-defined networking (SDN) technology. Enabling this on the next generation 5G WAN will be a fundamental framework that securely connects all of the people and IoT devices around the world, while providing the capacity to process the huge volumes of data being generated.

Many organisations are already deploying SDN to increase bandwidth and lower costs in their corporate networks. This fundamentally changes not just how networks are built and managed, but how they evolve. It makes networks more agile and efficient, enabling new functionality to be deployed on a much more agile basis, rather than on a hardware-constrained timeline.

This will be crucial in delivering the vision of 5G, which has the potential to make a real impact in life-saving areas and applications. The reduced latency will transform areas such as remote surgery, where remote controlled robotics can be controlled wirelessly in real-time. These applications are currently limited to a wired environment; 5G will extend high-performance connectivity to a wide array of devices. 5G will be more than just higher speeds and lower latency; it will offer the higher connection density central to IoT maturity.

For IoT to reach its fullest potential, intelligence, processing power and communication capabilities need to travel quickly and effortless across networks, mobile devices and connected sensors. But new, software-based networks will be needed to handle 5G’s throughput capabilities and massive scalability.

The information superhighway

The amount of data being generated by IoT devices is already growing significantly faster than the ability of the network to process it.  5G will only make this problem exponentially worse.

The cloud is a vital part of the IoT ecosystem for its ability to store, process and analyse data at a massive scale, but the substantial increase in data generation from IoT poses both infrastructure and economic problems. Rather than trying to move all this data to the cloud, we need to find ways of moving data processing intelligence to the source of the data – before it hits the cloud. Edge Computing – otherwise known as Fog Computing – will pay a key role here.  This brings some of the processing to where the data is generated, rather than moving all of the data to the cloud to be processed.

Bringing computing power to the Edge of the network helps address the challenge of data build-up, mostly in closed IoT systems. The ultimate goal is to minimise cost and latency, and to control network bandwidth. A major benefit is the reduction of data needing to be stored in the cloud. It costs around £3,000 per petabyte for long-term cloud storage and around 10 times that for real-time access storage. Being able to use a technology to reduce these costs is a real benefit for businesses.

This also reduces the lag that can occur between data transmission, processing, and the action required at the end. For example, since cloud data centres can be hundreds – if not thousands – of miles away from a connected device, this round-trip latency can be tens to hundreds of milliseconds. For IoT use cases like robotic control, autonomous vehicles and precision manufacturing, increased latency at these levels can be a relative lifetime. Bringing computing power to the Edge of the network can reduce the cycle to just a few milliseconds.

A wide reach

For IoT to reach its full potential, intelligence, processing power and communication capabilities need to travel quickly and effortless across networks, mobile devices and connected sensors.


While there are many components, 5G will be a central part of this solution. It could be the light at the end of the tunnel for unlimited wireless network bandwidth and performance. While the specification is yet to come, the vision for 5G is set, and it will likely be more prolific than anything we’ve seen before.

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