Building the network of the future
From the 1980s onwards, wireless data transmission has grown exponentially. The very first generation of wireless data transmission, 1G, was eventually replaced by 2G, which gave way to 3G, which is currently transitioning into 4G. Each new generation adds layers of complexity, improving bandwidth, data speeds and accessibility. 4G currently transmits up to one gigabit per second (Gbps), and supports essentially all Internet based communication. It’s working well enough for now, but the relentless growth of the Internet of Things is placing increasing strain on the network. Big Data and mass connectivity demands a solution that can handle vast amounts of digital information, and handle it well. The need for a super fast, highly accessible service has inspired projects like Facebook’s satellite internet and SpaceX’s ubiquitous connectivity, but there’s another development in the works – 5G. Since 2008, various groups and organisations have invested in 5G R&D. Now, advances in chip development are facilitating the next big step towards super fast networks. But who is leading the way in 5G development, and how disruptive will it be?
What is 5G and how will it work?
5G refers to the next step in bandwidth capacity after 4G. Like its predecessor, it uses a type of encoding called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) to provide more data at higher speeds. We can currently access up to one gigabit of data per second via 4G. According to the International Telecommunications Union, 5G will offer impressive download speeds of 20Gbps. It will also deliver low latency, which is basically the lag between action and command. It’s not just a pipedream – super fast network solutions have already been tested by numerous companies including Nokia, who claim to have achieved speeds of 10Gbps. The general benchmark for fully operational 5G is 2020, although wireless telco company Verizon plans to release an unspecified commercial service later this year. Qualcomm has also announced that it will market a new modem called the Snapdragon X20 in 2017, which they describe as essential for 5G distribution. As confident as these companies may be, there are various barriers to creation and adoption. For a start, the next-gen network isn’t going to come cheap – and the reality of finding sufficient funding is incredibly uncertain. There are also compatibility issues, because in order to use a super fast network, you have to have a device that can support it. This goes for business infrastructures as well as individual consumers. But how, if implemented, will 5G affect businesses?
How will a super fast network disrupt technology?
Obstacles aside, switching to a super fast, super accessible wireless network will lead to faster data transfer, at a higher quality. This has clear implications for all aspects of connectivity, especially concerning the Internet of Things. Autonomous cars, for instance, need to be able to communicate with everything around them for obvious reasons. 5G networks would provide a platform for these complicated interactions, accelerating development and consequently adoption. Due to its incredibly low latency, 5G connectivity will also be a massive enabler for virtual environments. With so much capacity to store data, smartphones will support quality, on demand virtual and augmented experiences that could become almost indistinguishable from the real world. One industry which could take full advantage of this is retail – specifically eCommerce. Somewhat unsurprisingly, online retail giants Amazon are already working on a virtual checkout system that stores items in an online location before purchase. Marketers could team VR enabled personal devices with personalised ad campaigns to directly target consumers. The ability to share vast amounts of data at ridiculously fast speeds will positively impact countless technologies and businesses, regardless of industry. On the other hand, though, it could be problematic for legacy systems. Businesses with outdated infrastructures will need to prepare for 5G before it leaves them behind.
The adoption of 5G connectivity is certain, but exactly when and how this will happen is anyone’s guess. Qualcomm has taken an incredibly important step in creating a chip which can support super fast networks, and their partners Samsung, LG and Apple are likely to benefit from it. Numerous others are fuelling research and development, and it’s not to see why. A super fast network is something that we need to facilitate continued technological development. Despite the potential challenges, it’s only a matter of time before someone cracks 5G. . . and when they do, it will open the floodgates for widespread technological advancement.
How might 5G connectivity affect your business? Which other industries and technologies will super fast networks disrupt? How might legacy systems prepare for the advent of 5G? Share your comments and opinions.