What is 5G and how does it work?

What is 5G and how does it work?

If you read business or tech stories, it's hard to ignore 5G wireless tech, but what exactly is 5G and how does it work? And what will it do to improve our mobile experiences?

5G is the 5th generation mobile network. It will take a much larger role than previous generations. 5G will elevate the mobile network to not only interconnect people, but also interconnect and control machines, objects, and devices. It will deliver new levels of performance and efficiency that will empower new user experiences and connect new industries.

5G, or the fifth generation of wireless tech, is fast. How fast, you might ask? Well, you can download a movie in. Oh, you've already done it. That's how fast. And experts believe the tech will enable connected driverless cars to communicate with smart signals in real time and that will improve traffic flow around cities.

 But before we reap the 5G benefits there's much infrastructure work to be done. From a technical perspective, the waves that carry 5G signals are a lot shorter than 4G, so it will be difficult for them to penetrate buildings. As a result, many new and small antenna devices will need to be added to structures and that takes resources and time.

 The trade off for consumers is that while we'll get vastly improved speed, we'll need to change our technology to take advantage of it.

 So, smart phones, tablets, modems, and other devices connected to the internet of things will all need to be upgraded or replaced. Also, according to a story in the Globe and Mail, there could be issues around the safety of the signal as there hasn't been a lot of study around the long term effects of 5G waves on people. 

How does 5G work?

Like 4G LTE, 5G is also OFDM-based and will operate based on the same mobile networking principles. However, the new 5G NR (New Radio) air interface will further enhance OFDM to deliver a much higher degree of flexibility and scalability. For more details on 5G waveform and multiple access techniques, please refer to this this 5G waveform whitepaper.

It's a new radio technology, but you might not notice vastly higher speeds at first because 5G is likely to be used by network operators initially as a way to boost capacity on existing 4G core networks, to ensure a more consistent service for customers.

So we may see clusters of smaller phone masts closer to the ground transmitting so-called "millimetre waves" between much higher numbers of transmitters and receivers. This will enable higher density of usage. But it's expensive and companies could face challenges deploying lots of new masts.

What are the benefits of 5G?

5G is a new kind of network: a platform for innovations that will not only enhances today’s mobile broadband services, but will also expand mobile networks to support a vast diversity of devices and services and connect new industries with improved performance, efficiency, and cost. 5G will redefine a broad range of industries with connected services from retail to education, transportation to entertainment, and everything in between. We see 5G as technology as transformative as the automobile and electricity.

Through a landmark 5G Economy study, we found that 5G’s full economic effect will be realized across the globe by 2035, supporting a wide range of industries and potentially producing up to $12 trillion worth of goods and services.

One expected benefit of the transition to 5G is the convergence of multiple networking functions to achieve cost, power, and complexity reductions. LTE has targeted convergence with Wi-Fi band/technology via various efforts, such as License Assisted Access (LAA; 5G signal in unlicensed frequency bands that are also used by Wi-Fi) and LTE-WLAN Aggregation (LWA; convergence with Wi-Fi Radio), but the differing capabilities of cellular and Wi-Fi have limited the scope of convergence. However, significant improvement in cellular performance specifications in 5G, combined with migration from Distributed Radio Access Network (D-RAN) to Cloud- or Centralized-RAN (C-RAN) and rollout of cellular small cells can potentially narrow the gap between Wi-Fi and cellular networks in dense and indoor deployments. Radio convergence could result in sharing ranging from the aggregation of cellular and Wi-Fi channels to the use of a single silicon device for multiple radio access technologies

Other benefits:

  • Improve broadband
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Public safety and infrastructure
  • Remote device control
  • Health care
  • IoT

Difference between 4G and 5G?

  • 5G is a unified platform that is more capable than 4G
  • 5G uses spectrum better than 4G
  • 5G is faster than 4G
  • 5G has more capacity than 4G
  • 5G has lower latency than 4G

Why do we need it?

The world is going mobile and we're consuming more data every year, particularly as the popularity of video and music streaming increases. Existing spectrum bands are becoming congested, leading to breakdowns in service, particularly when lots of people in the same area are trying to access online mobile services at the same time.

5G is much better at handling thousands of devices simultaneously, from mobiles to equipment sensors, video cameras to smart street lights.

What 5G phones are available and should you buy one?









You can keep tabs on which smartphones support 5G in our guide: Every 5G phone announced so far.

When can you expect 5G? 

Soonish, but likely not in a widespread way 'til around 2020 because it takes time for cities and product manufacturers to catch up. In the mean time, marketers should pay close attention to the shift because the speed of 5G could usher in more opportunities in augmented and virtual reality. Combine that with a commercialization of AI and it's easy to imagine the creative possibilities to enhance customer experiences.