As devices evolve into a more complex and evolved state, our wireless standards must follow. Thus, we are looking towards the evolution from 4G to 5G, which promises a whole new level of potential. But 5G comes with potential barriers, including the adoption of formal specifications, rollout across carriers, and management of signal attenuation.
While specifications of 5G have not yet been established, there are many considerations under way for its rollout, which is projected after 2020:
- In July 2016, the FCC-approved spectrum in the microwave bands of 28 GHz, 37 GHz, and 39 GHz. These higher frequency bands are needed to achieve the allowable channel bandwidth required to reach the data rates, which will be 1000x higher than those of today’s 4G LTE speeds.
- Telecommunications companies such as T-Mobile and Ericsson have demonstrated trials with download speeds more than12 Gbps and latency -- the time it takes for data to travel between source and destination -- at under 2 milliseconds. Next, the carriers need to incorporate all of this into their own build-outs.
Not only will 5G be adopted as standard in fixed wireless devices, but there are also many potential applications for 5G for the connected home and smart city that will improve communication bandwidth and speed: TVs, traffic lights, IoT devices, VR applications and games, self-driving cars and more.
In a connected-car or machine-to-machine environment, the current 4G performance shows on average 50ms of latency through speed tests. That means a connected vehicle going 65 mph travels approximately five feet in that 50ms period of time. This includes the signal latency and not the time it takes to send the vehicle’s information from the local base station to a remote server to process the data and back to the base station to then back to the vehicle. This extra process could easily double the time, resulting in 100ms and 10 feet of travel. Under proposed 5G standards, that latency is proposed to be no more than 1ms, cutting the distance travelled in the example down to a mere 1.2 inches.
Reducing latency is just as important for IoT performance. Automated factories and assembly lines can move gears and belts extremely quickly and milliseconds count for commands and reaction time. There are also predictions of robotics controlled by a human hand at a remote location miles away. This can make an important impact in many areas, from medical to the entertainment and gaming industries.
Still, all of this new technology brings with it some obstacles to overcome. Signals at higher frequencies have greater attenuation – that is, reduced effect -- through physical objects. Surprisingly, even the insulated glass in windows can be a culprit in blocking cell phone signals from coming into homes and offices. There are many homes and offices now that have a difficult time getting 3G and 4G signals inside due to infrastructure and location. Getting higher frequency 5G signals -- those above 24 GHz -- through physical objects will be considerably more difficult.
Today’s energy-efficient building materials can attenuate 4G radio frequency signals anywhere from 2 to 15dB. This is impactful as just 3dB of attenuation is a decrease in power of 50%. Therefore, the strength of a signal inside a car or building could be as little as half, or even only 10%, of the strength of the outside signal. Higher frequency microwave 5G signals will be reduced even further.
Until 5G standards are put into place and cell phone carriers gear up their networks for us to actualize all these benefits, we’ll have to remain content with our “mere” LTE network speeds and dream of the bright future ahead. When 5G does enter our daily lives, the industry will look to cellular signal booster experts and brands to ensure people are enjoying optimized cellular communications for anytime, anywhere.
Jeffrey Gudewicz has been the Vice President of Corporate Development at Wilson Electronics, LLC since January 2015. He served as director of business development and product line management at Wilson Electronics since 2013. Prior experience includes business development, marketing, sales, business unit and engineering management roles at RFMD, Sirenza Microdevices, Vari-L and JFW Industries. He has diverse background in technical management, product development, marketing, sales and business development. Gudewicz holds a bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University in Aviation Sciences and an MBA from Regis University with a concentration in operations management.