This blog is by Volker Held, head of Innovation Marketing at Nokia Networks. Twitter: @VolkerHeld
The 5G debate rages on. Some stakeholders have even claimed they have pre-commercial 5G systems already available, suggesting that the launch of 5G is imminent. We have also seen announcements of speed records generated by systems that were labelled “5G”. Surprisingly, there is far less debate about why 5G is needed.
It’s essential that 5G meets a future market demand. 5G needs to enable something different to previous technology generations. Seen from a historical point of view, each of the cellular standards has evolved around a set of key use cases:
1G – Voice services 2G – Improved voice and text messaging 3G – Integrated voice and affordable mobile Internet 4G – High capacity mobile multimedia
So, what is the set of key uses for 5G? It certainly won’t be used for human communication alone. Instead we will see a steep increase in machine type communications between the things humans have invented, forming the ‘Internet of Things’.
In 15 years’ time there will be many uses that we haven’t even thought of yet. In fact, this is quite likely in a world that will have 10-100 times more “Internet-connected devices” than there are “connected humans”. Hundreds of billions of machines will be sensing, processing and transmitting data without direct human control and intervention. The Internet of Things requires more reliable communication links but also lower transmission delays (latencies) – machines can simply process information much faster than people – as well as extreme throughput if necessary.
5G will need to provide the low latency that will allow the remote control of robots performing dangerous work in construction and maintenance, for example. Such solutions need instant, synchronous visual-haptic feedback, requiring overall response times of less than a few milliseconds.
Or consider the myriad of industrial processes. Currently, machines and sensors are usually connected via wireline. In the future, these systems can be replaced by reliable and more flexible wireless technology.
Smart cars, smart homes, healthy people
There’s already been much talk of driverless cars. By 2030, cars may be autonomous, perhaps allowing the driver to read a newspaper during a long journey, while the car downloads real-time traffic information and uses it to avoid congestion. With direct car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication, the safety and efficiency of road traffic may be greatly increased.
Another use case that is already becoming reality is the smart home, where temperature sensors, window and heating controllers, burglar alarms and home appliances are all connected wirelessly, keeping the home owner informed and in control wherever they are. Although many of these sensors have typically low data rates, low power and low cost, real-time high-definition video may be required in some surveillance devices. 5G will therefore need to reduce unnecessary signalling, ensure energy efficiency and integrate the management of these diverse connected devices.
Applications in the health sector also open up a variety of use cases for 5G. Wireless sensor networks based on mobile communications can provide remote monitoring and sensors for parameters such as heart rate and blood pressure.
These examples illustrate that 5G performance targets stretch far beyond speed and capacity to lower costs for connected sensors, low energy, zero latency and more. 5G will enable extremely diverse use cases of the Internet of Things and it will be the first mobile generation designed from the beginning for machine type communication.
What new technology will be required in the 5G era?
New spectrum ranges: First, more radio spectrum is vital to meet increased demand for capacity and data rates beyond 2020. Until now, only frequencies below 6 GHz have been considered, mostly due to their favorable wide area coverage properties. While more spectrum below 6 GHz is needed (also for 5G), there will be a growing need to unlock new spectrum bands in the 6 to 100 GHz range. If this doesn’t happen, the 5G era will not be able to meet the demand for high capacity and data rates.
New radio access technologies for ultra-dense deployments: Exploiting centimeter wave and millimeter wave spectrum for ultra dense high capacity scenarios will require new radio interface(s) that can take advantage of massive MIMO and beamforming techniques. And flexible air interfaces will be needed to handle the differing characteristics inherent in large frequency ranges. The benefit will be contiguous carrier bandwidths of 1-2 GHz, for example.
Optimized frame structure: Various future applications such as vehicle-to-vehicle communication and the tactile Internet require minimal latency. Achieving radio latency values of 1 millisecond will require extremely small radio sub-frame lengths. In combination with flexible dynamic TDD, the bandwidth and power efficiency of the system can be optimized.
Architectural evolution and multi-technology integration: 5G will provide high quality and consistent connectivity for people and things, creating the perception of infinite capacity. Therefore, the variety of solutions for the various 5G use cases and multiple network layers will be combined with unified control of the network operation. Different radio access layers and technologies will tightly collaborate with each other and use cognitive capabilities and Software Defined Networks (SDN) technologies.
Will this make 4G obsolete? No. In fact, 5G radio will complement LTE because it will integrate existing and new technologies. LTE evolution will need to meet many requirements on the macro layer until 2020 and beyond. With no need to replace 4G, 5G will include existing systems like LTE-Advanced and Wi-Fi, coupled with new, revolutionary technologies designed for ultra dense deployments and highly reliable communication, as well as minimal latency.
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