5G is climbing the hype cycle, just sitting behind IoT / M2M and virtual reality, per the MWC 2016 Hype Curve. There is quite a bit of hype being built around 5G; however, there may be enough clout behind it to live up to people’s growing expectations.
In a recent post 5G Is Nearer Than You Think: The 5 Things You Need to Know, I stated that 5G will provide ultra-high speeds. In this article, we’re going to talk about the higher (and lower) speeds that 5G will enable, how these will be accomplished, and what relevant benefits they will bring.
What does “Better” mean, anyway?
When most people hear “better” in terms of wireless communications, they generally assume it means faster. And faster networks can allow you to get things done quicker, increasing productivity. Now, 5G will certainly provide the ability to have faster throughput, but we need more than just 5G to make things go faster. In the wireless world, the biggest factor affecting speed is the amount of wireless spectrum available. The wider the band (more spectrum), the faster you can go; thus, the term bandwidth.
The same principle also applies to 4G. All of the frequencies that are currently used for 4G are limited by regulatory specifications and in some cases, pure physics. So some smart engineers figured out a way to “glue,” or aggregate various bands (or “carriers” as those bands are often called) together with a technique called “carrier aggregation,” abbreviated to CA. Most mobile networks today support 2CA or 3CA (two or three carriers aggregated together), and will soon support up to 5CA. And we’re still talking 4G, which means that over time, 4G will get faster, even before 5G arrives.
But even with CA, 4G standards have a limit for how wide each band can be (up to 100 MHz with CA, but typically 5-20 MHz on a single channel), and bands in different frequencies perform differently, thereby limiting practical throughput. 5G standards allow for an order of magnitude wider bands (1 GHz+), allowing for much faster throughput. As I mentioned, different frequencies perform differently, so we’ll come back to that in a future article.
The other benefit that 5G will bring is higher spectral efficiency, which means that for an equivalent amount of spectrum, 5G can pump more bits through than can 4G, effectively making it faster.
When slower is better
One of the other promises of 5G is slower speeds – specifically targeted at IoT devices–with the objective of further reach (from the cell site and/or into buildings) as well as longer battery life–in some cases up to 10 years! This is achieved by using a lot less spectrum and less complex encoding so less expensive hardware is required, and the devices only check into the network periodically so they don’t need to be consuming power the entire time.
At the end of the day (or decade), 5G has some pretty aggressive goals that not only make things better, but solve many of the existing problems in networks today. Next time, we’ll talk about another one of those better things that 5G will bring: Lots Lower Latency.