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The Everyday Guide to 5G: Considerations, Challenges, Applications, and the Future

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(Image: Pixabay)

5G enables lower latency, utilization of wider channel bandwidths, higher speeds, and improved spectral efficiency. Moreover, the new 5G spectrum below 6 GHz and in the millimeter wave range facilitates significant improvements in capacity that were not possible with 4G spectrum alone. Usage of these large wide swaths of new spectrum bands for 5G are part of the reason 5G trials are showing significant increases in peak throughput: up to 8 concurrent streams at 20 Gbits/sec downloads and four concurrent streams of 10 Gbits/sec uploads.

Deployment Considerations & Challenges

The cost-effective implementation of 5G requires a vast toolbox of both passive and active radio solutions in sub-6 GHz spectrum bands that are capable of utilizing Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) and Time Division Duplex (TDD) band plans. In selecting amongst these solutions, operators must consider various factors, including performance versus cost, EMF emissions, and deployment constraints.

To accelerate initial rollouts, early 5G deployments can leverage legacy 4G networks. More specifically, most early deployments of 5G utilize a non-standalone (NSA) architecture, where the 5G nodes (known as gNodeB’s) are connected to the 4G network core. This allows the 5G layer to be anchored to 4G, thereby improving the overall user experience by backing off to an LTE connection when coverage from the 5G layer is unavailable.

In terms of deployment challenges, 5G rollouts require densification of metro cells and bolstering in-buildings systems. Although it is still early days, data and processing are beginning to move from the core toward the edge in an effort to mitigate bottlenecks. In addition, as the metro layer of the network becomes ever more important, powering these locations will be critical from both a cost and time perspective. PBS: power, backhaul, and site acquisition have always been critical for building a network – and this is even truer for 5G.

Leading 5G Applications

Ultimately, the real-world benefits of 5G will be felt across a wide range of verticals and use cases.  Initially, however, we expect 5G to most impact the following applications:

Enhanced Mobile Broadband: 5G will strive for a significant improvement in the mobile user experience over 4G. The typical rate per subscriber under 5G will be from 1–7 Gbps, and the network will support 10 to 100 times as many connected devices as 4G.

IoT: IoT-5G networks are being designed to support a diverse set of IoT use cases by implementing a configurable, virtualized core that will be radio technology agnostic. 5G also enables significantly lower latency for edge devices—less than 5 milliseconds, which is 5 percent of 4G’s latency.

Private Networks: When deployed using shared or dedicated spectrum, 5G is an enabler for service providers and neutral hosts to deploy private networks with highly reliable indoor wireless coverage. Private networks will provide neutral hosts with stronger plays in key vertical markets such as business enterprise, healthcare, and manufacturing. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in the U.S. will help enable such private networks in 5G.

5G in 2020

As 5G begins to ramp in 2020, we will see operators selecting bands for their respective deployments. Operators need efficiency in terms of cost per bit per area, which dictates how, where, and what bands they are going to deploy in 2020 and beyond. If an operator uses a high band, then the cost per bit goes down, but the area decreases, so they need to deploy more cells which drives up cost. Using mid-band or low-band spectrum enables operators to lower cost, as they don’t have to deploy as many cells to cover the same area. This means the cost per bit goes up as the bandwidth of the radios is significantly less.

This year will also see massive MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) trials. Many wireless operators are kicking off 5G network deployments with small trials of massive MIMO technology. As networks are brought online, the amount of data required, along with the cost of power, backhaul, and site acquisition, will dictate if and when massive MIMO plays out in network deployments.

Last, but certainly not least, we believe 2020 will see agreement on key aspects of O-RAN that will help accelerate 5G network deployments. O-RAN – which counts more than 120 member companies – seeks to virtualize various network elements, white box hardware, and standardized interfaces throughout the network. According to the O-RAN Alliance, an ecosystem of innovative new products is already emerging that will form the underpinnings of the multi-vendor, interoperable, and autonomous RAN.

In conclusion, 2019 saw initial 5G deployments limited to select countries and cities. Additional rollouts are anticipated throughout 2020 and beyond, although network operators still have a lot of work to do to help make 5G technology live up to its full potential. With additional spectrum and technology options, we believe 2020 will be the year that network operators put the pieces into place to deliver the 5G promise.