You must have heard a lot about 5G network technology and all the wonders it promises, right? But what exactly is 5G?
Currently, the “hype” around 5G is extremely high, as we have large manufacturers such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei making significant efforts to present their solutions and guarantee contracts with operators to launch the first networks and press releases.
There are indeed many benefits to the 5G network: from Gigabit access speeds, latency in the region of 1ms, virtualization or “slicing” of the network infrastructure, to offer differentiated service levels by application and use.
As well as a multitude of unusual applications compared to the current basic model of Voice + Data, such as optical fiber densification, new radio technologies, and the already famous NFV.
This is another chance for the Telecom industry to try and reinvent itself. The promise is of a complete rearrangement of mobile services and broadband infrastructure this time around.
What we call 5G today is a growing excess of technologies that are being added and related by the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) in the new “Release 15” and “Release 16” versions of its standardization.
This standardization aims to allow mobile operators to use modern technologies to effectively improve their products, expanding geographic coverage, speeds, and features available to customers. And more than that, it serves a new generation of applications such as IoT and M2M, among others.
Mobile operators hope that with this technology, they can face the growing usage of broadband with FTTH + Wi-Fi, which has been increasing at an accelerated rate and taking a part of the market previously occupied by them.
Network operators plan to include a range of new services in their 5G products, to recover the margin that has been declining in recent years and expand new and previously untapped markets. These are some of the services:
Mobile Broadband: High-speed broadband connection, with a capacity of 1 Gigabit per second or better, using a new network of geographically distributed antennas close to the end-user.
Distributed Computing: It is also known as Edge Computing – it brings the possibility to distribute computing power to the edge of the network, with a range close to the subscriber, be it a client or a sensor network. Compared to centralized cloud services, latency is radically lower.
M2M Services: Connecting machines with low latency and low bandwidth characteristics, such as robots, sensors, and IoT.
As stated earlier, 5G is a set of modern technologies and a new, more efficient, and distributed network architecture. The main requirements of these modern technologies are:
Energy Efficiency: Perhaps this is the main roadblock for the growth of telecommunication networks, both fixed and mobile. The research and development efforts of the Telecom industry assure significant evolutions in the use of energy and aim at an effective reduction of the costs of refrigeration, which today is one of the most critical operating costs for operators.
Spectral Efficiency: Making better use of currently available frequencies and utilizing new unoccupied bands, allowing spectrum aggregation for superior range and speed. In this regard, governments play a crucial role in evaluating new auctions and spectrum reuse.
With 5G, operators can “slice” their network infrastructure to allow a differentiated level of service for each application, without incurring the costs of building separate networks, making use of each “slice” separately for services such as:
Mobile Broadband: Also known as eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), intended to serve a metropolitan area with high speeds such as 1 Gigabit per second in high-density regions and 300 Megabits per second or better in remote locations.
To meet this requirement, new very high-frequency antennas, known as mmWave (millimeter-wave), will be installed in environments such as homes, offices, lampposts, tops of buildings, towers, and even public buses.
Since each antenna covers a very restricted area, it will take tens or hundreds of them to cover a densely populated metropolitan area. And for rural or less dense regions, frequencies with superior range and coverage will be used, limiting speeds to something between 100 and 300 Mbps.
M2M: An application that is not widespread today but tends to grow is Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication, also known as the Internet of Things (IoT). These applications demand a differentiated level of service and are not like mobile broadband.
M2M and IoT applications would work best with the second-generation (2G) technologies. However, operators’ focus shifted with broadband growth, and services that demanded little bandwidth did not appear on their radars.
With 5G, these applications regain attention and will be presented as a “slice” of the infrastructure with services that allow for a latency below 10ms and speeds between 64 and 128 kilobits per second (common in dial-up Internet times).
Ultra-Low Latency: Known as ULL (Ultra-low latency), this “slice” intends to meet services that require a prominent level of reliability and demand close communication between terminals and data centers.
With the implementation of modern technologies and the need to scale the current model, unfamiliar challenges have already arisen, and some solutions have begun to be developed such as:
Infrastructure cost: One of the biggest obstacles to expanding the operators’ network is the cost of cooling and electrical energy to maintain an extensive infrastructure of distributed antennas.
For the development of 5G, operators need a new network expansion model, which allows new antennas without the high current energy and cooling costs.
Fronthaul: C-RAN (Cloud Radio Access Network) is a new solution for infrastructure costs. It is a new Fronthaul architecture for mobile networks, proposed in 2010 by China Mobile, which intends to modify how base stations are deployed.
In the C-RAN architecture, technologies such as CWDM/DWDM, NFV, and CPRI interface are used, enabling a long-distance transmission of the signal from the base station to the antennas, thus allowing the centralization of the stations and maintaining the antennas in a distributed way.
One of the strengths of this architecture is that it optimizes base units (BBU) which are typically installed at the base of towers and antennas, often connected by low-efficiency copper cables.
In the planned architecture, the BBU is centralized and manages to serve dozens of distributed antennas from a single point because with the use of virtualization (NFV), it is possible to accelerate the deployment of new BBUs on the edge data center, which can be up to 30km away from the antennas.
To interconnect these 30km, optical fibers appear!
In the future architecture of 5G networks, the densification of optical fibers is the main factor for better quality and coverage. It is possible to meet a high capacity for each antenna with low cost and energy savings with the fiber. And if necessary, it is possible to multiplex several channels on the same fiber using technologies such as CWDM/DWDM or even GPON.
Cooling Optimization: By applying the C-RAN concept, it becomes possible to eliminate all the equipment at the base of a mobile station. This eliminates the primary source of heat dissipation, allowing the remaining equipment to be passively cooled – exactly, open-air cooled! With air conditioning eliminated, the cost of electricity is reduced dramatically and more – the infrastructure takes up less space, and the rent costs can be cut.
Edge Computing, or distributed computing, defines the architecture that extends computing capacity and cloud storage to the network’s access layers.
And the success of 5G technology is linked to this new class of Data Centers, as these are where the Fronthaul BBUs will be hosted and the computing power distributed on servers that can perform many functions, such as local content distribution and management for networks.
Operators can develop a new line of business to explore this opportunity. However, smaller companies and startups are also investing in the “Edge”, and these companies will have at their disposal a large amount of distributed computing power and an infinitely lower latency than “cloud” centralized datacenters.
All recent studies point to the exponential growth of data consumption on mobile devices. And for 5G, the word mobile does not necessarily mean the smartphone as we know it.
5G technology should extend to many devices and not just smartphones. Industrial robots, cars, machines, and sensors are some of the possibilities and each of these devices will have a distinct communication requirement.
Some will require high speeds, some will require extended battery usage, and some will require low latency. Therefore, there is not just one scenario, and networks will have to adapt to various devices and requirements.
To meet the demand for broadband, 5G will also use extremely high frequencies – known as mmWave – which operate in the 24Ghz to 100Ghz range. These frequency bands allow speeds 100 times higher than those used today in 4G LTE, but with a much smaller range, and one problem to be solved is “human interference,” as the mmWave frequency band is sensitive to interference or even blocking when in contact with a face, a body, or the palm of your hand.
This effect is already known to researchers, and technologies such as beamforming are being studied to make the transmission to smaller devices more efficient.
We live in a critical moment for the Telecom Market, where new winners and new markets will be defined.
5G technology is a big bet for the industry. This chance will demand a remarkably high sum of investments, and just increasing the data connection speed on smartphones will not be enough justification for this endeavor.
The truth is that the increase in speed is a side benefit of the technology and will be leveraged by operators, but the real reason for this new wave of investments is much more than that and, we are experiencing that with 5G.