What is 5G Technology?
The acronym 5G stands for “fifth generation” cellular communication. The “G” is used to describe the generations of cellular device communication technology that have been or will be introduced. 5G is able to operate in the millimeter wave (a super high frequency spectrum that ranges from 24 to 100 GHz), where the amount of spectrum available for 5G means that data can be transferred much more rapidly than is currently possible.
Additional key elements of 5G technology include expanded use of MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antenna arrays, sophisticated implementation of beamforming technology to transmit signals more directly to end users, and network “slicing”, which is the intelligent partitioning of resources based on the service or application being delivered. The broad range of technology and infrastructure changes inherent to 5G deployment will create tremendous benefits as well as potential challenges to individual users, businesses, and service providers.
When is 5G Coming?
With all the hype to deliver exponential speed improvement and latency decreases, the often-asked question is “when will 5G arrive?” This is actually a two-part question because the timetable for initial deployment will not coincide with the widespread adoption of 5G as the new de facto standard.
The first hurdle has been crossed, with various versions of the Release 15 standard completed by the 3GPP. Release 15 is the first to include elements of 5G. The “non-standalone” portion of the standard had been completed in 2017, with the addition of standalone mode in June 2018 now completing the puzzle. In the short term, non-standalone mode will allow 5G deployment to utilize existing LTE RAN and core network and hardware infrastructure in the sub 6GHz band as well as the millimeter wave end of the spectrum.
All major carriers are now tracking towards limited 5G release by early 2019. Unlike the network infrastructure, there will be no forward compatibility for using existing cell phones and modems. Most major phone manufacturers are quickly developing 5G hardware to prepare for the rollout, but any widespread adoption will require a wholesale swap by consumers. For this reason, any significant conversion to 5G will probably not occur until at least 2020.
Standalone deployment will continue to expand over the next several years as carriers, device makers, and consumers continue the transition, and new 5G networks are built from the ground up. The next 2-4 years should see a gradual conversion to 5G at optimal speed and coverage levels in all regions.
How Fast is 5G?
The conversion to 5G technology and the accompanying breakthrough in speed might seem a bit like going from covered wagon to transcontinental airliner in one swift step.
Operators performing 5G speed trials have reported speeds of up to 70 Gbps. Industry-sponsored simulations have also produced impressive results with data speeds increasing from 71 Mbps for 4G users to 1.4 Gbps for 5G users in the millimeter wave.
Accompanying the uptick in speed is the dramatic decrease in latency. This will be an important factor for new technologies such as self-driving cars and “virtual” robotic surgery that rely on instantaneous communication. With 5G, latency in the 1 millisecond (ms) range can be expected, whereas latency of around 20 ms is typical for 4G.
The trade-off for speed at mmWave frequencies is limited range. Testing of 5G service range in mmWave has produced results approximately 500 meters from the tower, meaning a huge propagation of MIMO-enabled antenna arrays would be required for pure standalone 5G deployment. In addition, the inability of millimeter wave signals to penetrate obstructions further limits the range potential because these obstructions would need to be factored into network designs for mobile users. The range constraints have motivated a trend towards more flexible architectures in 5G with the decomposition of the base station into new logical elements. These facilitate the network to be deployed flexibly using the available real estate with local aggregation of some functions with minimal space footprint and other requirements needed for radio sites where this is limited.
With these prescient range concerns in mind, anchoring with LTE or low-band 5G may remain a component of 5G networks for the foreseeable future, with only users close to the antennas reaping the full benefits. Small cell technology and other creative alternatives to the traditional cell tower can be utilized effectively to make standalone 5G networks viable.
What 5G Technology Will Mean for Consumers and Businesses
While the need for 5G technology has been driven by the persistent demand of consumers and businesses for enhanced speed, better security, and additional applications, many users remain unaware of the impact that 5G will have on their everyday lives. The most noticeable and immediate impact on consumers will be exponential faster streaming capability. Traditional home Wi-Fi systems connected to the internet by wire or cable may in some cases become connected to direct 5G connections as speeds will be on par with most fiber optic networks.
The impact of 5G on the business world will be massive. Chip, modem, and phone manufacturers are already tooling up for the inevitable conversion. Other industries, such as banking, automotive, and agriculture will see a significant impact from the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT). Everything from ATMs to irrigation equipment could eventually become part of the vast network of “smart” products. The healthcare industry may see the biggest impact, with billions of wearable devices streaming data to doctors and clinicians, and improved transmission of large data files from one provider to another.
What 5G Technology Will Mean for Service Providers
While service providers race to build the infrastructure necessary to support 5G, it may very well be a case of “hurry up and wait”, with phone manufacturers lagging behind in their expected 5G rollouts.
Some providers are leveraging massive MIMO deployment on existing towers as a bridge between LTE and 5G. The shorter range of 5G in mmWave and increased antenna quantity will drive both competition and cost-cutting innovation among providers during deployment.
The IoT will change how service providers interact with customers. For example, some applications may require lower bandwidth across multiple devices, meaning the focus may shift from quantifying data usage to overall quality of experience (QoE). For industrial applications such as factory robotics, reliability of service may be the driving value factor for customers. The varying application of 5G technology could lead to more diverse service menu offerings.
5G Technology Benefits and Drawbacks
As with almost any major advancement in technology, the obvious benefits are sometimes at least partly offset by some negative consequences. While diligent testing of 5G technology has been ongoing for several years, the true advantages and disadvantages may not be fully quantifiable until the transition is well under way.
The speed and latency improvements that 5G brings are an obvious and significant advantage over 4G as well as all the previous standards that preceded it. Another advantage of 5G technology is the inherent upswing in device support facilitated by the smaller size and more precise directional signal delivery of the MIMO antenna arrays which will accompany 5G.
The improved network architecture of 5G will make handoffs smoother when users move from cell to cell. This will improve the overall user experience by limiting data transfer interruption and lost signals.
5G Technology Drawbacks and Dangers
Much like the inherent advantages of 5G, many of the obvious drawbacks also stem from the shift to higher frequencies and the behavior of radio signals in the millimeter wave. Shorter range and increased susceptibility to obstructions are the most obvious disadvantages in this category.
In addition to obstructions like buildings and trees, high frequencies are also more susceptible to humidity and rain, so the already-limited range will be further challenged by suboptimal weather conditions. If more antennas are the obvious solution to limited range, the aesthetic and environmental issues related to this propagation become another potential concern.
Other 5G drawbacks are related to cost. The antenna arrays are just one aspect of the deployment costs. These arrays will require maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting proportional to the larger volume of hardware. Although the millimeter wave antennas for devices have already been developed, their complexity may render economies of scale ineffective in driving down prices which will in turn be passed on to consumers in increased phone cost.
The concepts of beams and smaller cell size in 5G breaks down the fundamental unit of coverage into much smaller parcels than in older technologies. These will have interactions and will need to be configured and optimized to support coverage whilst maintaining capacity while also supporting mobility in appropriate scenarios.
The planning, deployment, management, operation and optimization of a more flexible network architecture on virtualized infrastructure will challenge operators in new ways and require new expertise.
5G Technology from VIAVI
5G technology is truly revolutionary as is the impact on service providers and users. Test solutions that keep pace with these advancements while remaining flexible to the changes in standards and deployment strategies are essential to the successful rollout of this technology. Innovative 5G testing tools can build a bridge between existing technologies and the new 5G paradigm.
Test solutions for installation, commissioning, and maintenance of 5G cell sites have been challenged to adapt to the complexity that 5G entails. VIAVI Cell Advisor 5G has incorporated analysis features such as massive MIMO beam validation and real-time millimeter wave spectrum analysis into a comprehensive and versatile feature set with superior fiber, coax, and air interface testing capabilities included for 5G and legacy applications. The 5G beam analysis function characterizes individual beam ID, power level, and signal to noise ratio. 5G route mapping features facilitate real-time beam strength mapping and coverage verification.
Network Development and Optimization
Rigorous testing through the design and development phase of this new environment is vital to the success of commercial 5G deployments. The earlier you test, the earlier you find problems. Testing may be complex, but it does not need to be difficult.
VIAVI provides the tools to develop and prove network performance to meet current and changing demands. These tools enable the analysis, development, and validation of performance and capability of a wide variety of network functions and devices, providing improved operational efficiency and security.
VIAVI TM500 is regarded as the industry standard when it comes to base station development and testing via RF. It is a scalable test system for validating network performance as experienced by end users, across multiple cells and different radio access technologies. It can measure the complete performance of the network, from RF through to the packet core. The TM500 is accelerating 5G network development and remains vital to the industry as signal density, MIMO antenna propagation, and higher data rates continue to push the network testing envelope. The TM500 is poised to meet the next set of 5G network test challenges with configurable traffic and channel conditions that support a high level of user equipment for capacity testing along with exceptional mobility and scalability.
5G Core Emulators
TeraVM is a virtualized application emulation and security performance test solution, ensuring that highly optimized networks and services can be delivered with minimal risk. TeraVM was established in the industry with the first-to-market NFV test solution, delivering comprehensive test coverage for application services, wired and wireless networks.
TeraVM has full RAN and Core emulation capabilities, making it a one-box solution for 5G network development. And, when used in conjunction with the TM500, TeraVM can perform full 5G wrap-around testing in both standalone and non-standalone modes.
The TeraVM Core Emulator is aligned to the latest 3GPP standards, simplifying the development of 5G RAN networks.
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