Although the so called “fourth generation” of wireless technologies (4G) still isn’t in common use in many countries, 5G – the next generation of information technologies is already coming. Miniature antennae are appearing in Shanghai and New York, AT&T and Verizon announced that they are testing how the new technology works indoors and both South Korea and Japan are planning to have it up and running before 2020.
5G (fifth generation wireless systems) is a proposed name for a new mobile telecommunication standard, hoped to be much faster and hence able to send much more data than the previous 4G technology. In fact, it is predicted to reach the connection speed of 10 to 100 Gbps and response times of below 1 millisecond.
The new generation of wireless systems will also operate differently. It will use not only mobile-phone masts but also other, smaller and more difficult to spot devices. China Mobile is currently testing boxes and even smaller tiles full of above-mentioned antennae that will be put on the building walls and can mediate data transfer between devices.
The new standard is a response to the rapid growth in data traffic and growing expectations of the users who want to stream ever bigger photos, videos and play more and more sophisticated games without having to wait for them to load. In the time when a big and growing part of devices are wirelessly connected (making up the Internet of Things), a new way to send ever growing amount of data is not only an interesting but a vital idea.
However, 5G so far rises many questions and challenges too. Unsettled standards, different ideas of how the revolution should proceed and many actors involved in it don’t make the process any easier. Let’s take a look to see what they mean.
It should be noticed that today 5G is not a real standard but more of an idea to develop a way of sending data in a quicker and more convenient way. As the 5G revolution is still in the initial phase, no actual standard of speed, latency or radio spectrum used have been agreed. The main players such as media companies, information technology firms and online-gaming owners want the new standard to provide services that suit best their users’ needs. And these needs differ greatly from one online activity to another.
To solve the dispute, the World Radiocommunication Conference will have to look to this issue and decide which standards to set. As the Conference failed to solve this problem in 2015, companies will have to wait until 2019 to make sure they operate within the agreed 5G standard. In the meantime, they risk that by introducing new devices and services earlier, they’ll miss the 5G characteristics.
Although 5G technology can be called a revolution, according to Stéphane Téral of IHS two different approaches towards this process can be taken. The first one is more evolutionary and includes developing the infrastructure and systems which already operates. Such approach will be probably taken by existing producers of hardware and operators.
Another view is a revolutionary one. Companies who are not afraid of taking risk and don’t have so much to loose will be more willing to jump straight to a new technology and take advantage of the technology introduction stage. Which approach is better? This question can be only answered after introducing 5G to the broader audience.
The new technology will have many advantages. It is said to be not only useful and fast but also “green” because of decreasing the energy consumed to send data. A lot of network’s specialised hardware will be also virtualised (replaced by software) and hence easier to operate.
However, some challenges can also appear. Issues such as setting standards for 5G, designing devices to meet these standards and making money out of new technology have to be worked out. Also the digital divide between countries that will manage to introduce 5G and those who haven’t already finished 4G infrastructure will surely become bigger.