5G, THE NEXT GENERATION of mobile data networking, is very much a work in progress, but this much we know for sure: It’s been heavily hyped, it will be far faster than the current 4G network, and it will be years before service is available across the U.S. Despite that last fact, however, integrators and managed service providers should look at their customers’ networks today and help them plan for where they want to be when 5G arrives.
There are three focus areas for 5G: Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) for handsets, Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) for industrial applications and autonomous vehicles, and Massive Machine Type Communications (MMTC) for sensors and the Internet of Things.
Together, those standards will combine to provide badly needed mobile networking uniformity, according to Mark Hung, research vice president at Gartner. “Finally, there will be a single technology around the world,” he says.
5G will deliver fixed wireless access (FWA) capable of replacing coax broadband as well, he adds. That’s good news for people with limited connectivity options. “Look at the Bay Area and Silicon Valley—many residents can only get AT&T DSL at 6 Mbps,” he says. “With 5G, you don’t have to get permits to dig ditches.”
Peter Rysavy, president of consultancy Rysavy Research LLC, in Hood River, Ore., expects many end users to find 5G appealing too. “If you’re sick and tired of your cable internet provider, look to Verizon for fixed wireless access rollouts in your area,” he says.
Reduced latency will be another benefit of 5G. “4G actually made latency worse in some areas from 3G,” Hung says. “URLLC will provide much lower latency.”
And 5G will offer much higher throughput than 4G as well. “It uses a new frequency for cellular networks, starting at 6 GHz and eventually going up to 100 GHz,” says Rysavy. “Higher frequencies have penetration challenges, but with dense antenna arrays 5G will support 10 times more data than 4G does today.”
It will do so over long ranges to boot. “Beamforming [a process that allows you to focus your Wi-Fi signal] with the multiple antennas in 5G can direct high bandwidth much greater distances than regular 5G signals,” Rysavy notes. “This will be great if you provide dense deployment in specific areas, like hotels, parks, conventions, or anywhere large groups gather. 5G will support huge capacities, like a TB per second per square kilometer.”
Rolling it out, however, will pose challenges. The Massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas that will support 5G’s millimeter wave (mmWave) signal must be fairly close together. While 4G’s lower frequencies travel three to 30 miles, 5G maxes out at about a third of a mile. “For full 5G rollout, carriers will need to install millions of base stations,” says Rysavy.
That, of course, will take time. “AT&T says they could have some networks out by the end of this year,” Hung says. “But don’t expect much in 2019 or even 2020. It will be quite a few years before 5G rolls out everywhere.”
Even so, Rysavy suggests that integrators should start planning now. 2021 is just three years away, and close enough to align with long-term business plans.
Moreover, New Radio specifications were finished last year, so carriers can start deploying 5G pilots today, adds Hung, noting that in specific applications such as IoT, 5G pilots make a lot of sense. “4G base stations can handle thousands of endpoints,” he says. “5G can handle hundreds of thousands of endpoints.”
As your grandma says, time flies, so don’t wait until 5G rolls out in your neighborhood to consider ways it can benefit your customers. “Look at where your current pain points are and make a roadmap of capabilities from your network providers,” says Rysavy. “Help your customers follow this roadmap to be aware of what’s coming and get them ready for 5G.”