Even as Digicel has launched 4G LTE branded as Digicel LTE as per my ditty How to Activate a Digicel LTE Smart Plan on your Smartphone, Telecom Provider around the world are preparing for the coming of 5G by 2020.
There are no standards for what qualifies as 5G, only a Roadmap from the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), the Telecommunications arm of the UN (United Nations), 5G’s official name is IMT-2020.
The ITU has published their 5G Mission Plan published under the “IMT for 2020 and beyond”, laying out some basic standards and specifications. The current 5G Standards, referred to as 5G NR, are aiming for the following:
- 20Gbps speeds
- 1ms latency
But first, a quick review of previous Telecoms Technologies that we’ve used to communicate.
The G in 5G – Generations of Telecoms Standards get faster and Faster
The G in 5G refers to the generation of wireless technology, which is defined by:
- Data transmission speeds
- Encoding methods
- Interface Technology using Free Space Propagation
Telecom Equiptment Providers are in the business to make money. Each generation is incompatible with the previous generation as can be seen in the list below:
- 1G was analog cellular
- 2G were the first digital cellular technologies e.g. CDMA, GSM and TDMA
- 3G introduced Wireless Internet e.g. EVDO for CDMA, HSPA and UMTS
- 4G introduced Broadband Wireless Internet 720p Video e.g. WiMAX and LTE
3G and 4G may sound a lot alike but they are not.
3G Technologies, referred to as IMT-2000 by the ITU such as EVDO, HSPA, and UMTS introduces mobile phone users to speeds as low as 200kbps to about 1MBps e.g. Digicel and FLOW Jamaica. 4G Technologies, which the ITU calls IMT-Advanced such as WiMaX and LTE made 100 Mbps to 1Gbps possible.
So expect 5G to make speeds of 100GBps to 1 Tbps possible. But how will Telecoms Providers achieve such high speeds?
5G and Telecom Providers – Millimeter Waves and Optical Spectrum being considered
Albeit no official standards exist, most Telecom Provider agree on several necessary aspects of 5G:
Higher switching speeds
- More Wireless Bandwidth
- Lower latency
- Faster Backhaul Networks
5G networks will use OFDM, is similar to the encoding that LTE uses. The OFDM (Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) scheme is used as a digital multi-carrier modulation method.
This is basically QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) that allows for the parallel transmission and encoding of data streams or channels. Thus more data can be packed into the same frequency, making QAM spectrally efficient. Additionally, the distance between the cellular towers and the UE (User Equiptment) will have to be shorter, almost akin to Wi-Fi.
5G Network will be all Data Networks, with Voice being just another service transmitted on spectrum with very large bandwidth. To this end, some Telecom Equipments provider who make Telecom gear such as Samsung are considering the idea of using Millimeter Waves as explained in How Samsung’s 5G Technologies at MWC 2016 will help Telcos.
Millimeter Waves, which are in the 30 GHz to 300 GHz range, are being tested for use for 5G wireless broadband technology due to their high bandwidth. Some Telecom Equiptment Providers are even considering the use of visible light from high speed LED’s as a data transmission, as such optical transmitter flickering on and off would appear to be permanently on to the naked eye.
Others are considering the use of White Space spectrum from repurposes NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) Television Channels. These spectrum are being used inefficiently by analog and Television Stations, who are yet to switch to DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) services as noted in The Future of Free-to-Air Broadcasters in Jamaica as Digital Switch Over Approaches in 2015.
However, all of these high bandwidth technologies are strictly LOS (line of Sight) and can only transmit data reliably over short distances. For this reason, more robust low BER (Bit Error Rate) encoding schemas are needed.
5G Cell Routers – Mesh Network with Renewable energy, Fiber Optic Waveguides and AI
So expect Cellular towers for 5G to not only be very short, but very small, possibly even small as a router, but with a Fiber Optic Backhaul direct to the 5G Cell Router. These 5G Cell towers could basically fit inside of your home, transmitter and all and may be mobile and would be best referred to as 5G Cell Routers.
This means smaller cells that represent coverage area may be possibly no larger than Wi-Fi, which is currently limited in range to 100m. These 5G Cell Routers will have to be designed with more autonomy similar to a Mesh Network, requiring AI (Artificial Intelligence) to track the location of 5G Cell Routers as they are mobile and can be moved around.
These 5G Network may also work interchangeably with Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11ac, a standard referred to as LTE Unlicensed. Fiber Optic Backhaul may also use hollow Fiber Optic Waveguides to reduce attenuation due to glass in Fiber Optic Cable.
These waveguides will increase the speed and bandwidth of the Backhaul network connecting to the 5G Cell Routers. Interestingly, we may also see these 5G Cell Routers use not only millimetre Wavelengths to connect to UE but also Li-Fi, a technology based on using high-frequency LED to transmit Data using visible light.
Even the power sources may be more renewable, possibly Solar, Wind and even small portable Nuclear Reactor due to the high transmit power demand of 5G Networks!
5G Networks – 4K streaming at 100Gbps to 1Tbps speeds by 2020
All of these technologies will allow Telecom Providers to achieve the requirement specified above in order to deliver speeds of 100Gbps to 1Tbps. The CAPEX (Capital Expenditure), may not be as challenging as expected for new Technologies.
Owners of Homes and buildings may be able to make money from hosting these 5G Cell routers, which would have to be powered by Alternative Energy sources. This translates to saving as it relates to deploying 5G Networks, as this means reduced maintenance cost over the life of the Telecom Network.
Customer will have to have new UE, as current smartphone and Modems will not work with 5G NR. 5G will make 4K streaming possible and connect smaller low-power devices. So look for early applications such as IoT (Internet of Things) as well as AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality) and even Driverless Cars.
The real cost of 5G will be the Spectrum and Bandwidth, which is needed in abundance and in most countries is yet to be identified in as 2020 approaches……
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