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Where 5G technology is headed and when

The 5G technology standard is under development as the Internet of Things and an increasing number of mobile users create demand for next-generation wireless infrastructure.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a reality, wireless networks will need to support a greater number of users and devices. Next-generation 5G networks may be the answer to IoT's needs to ensure wireless infrastructure can handle the load.

In a recent Frost & Sullivan webinar, industry experts discussed the motivation behind 5G technology to bring IoT to life and improve users' mobile experience.

James Kimery, director of marketing for RF and communications at National Instruments, said 5G promises to be a 10x improvement over 4G wireless, with prototypes achieving speeds up to 5 Gbps.

Kimery said data networks will have a heterogeneous group of users, with some using low bandwidth and others using high bandwidth. He said low bandwidth users will be using mobile devices for voice or machine-to-machine communication, a key technology to enabling IoT infrastructure.

Frost & Sullivan estimates the 5 billion global Internet users by 2020 will each have five connected devices.

Harish Viswanathan, CTO partner of Bell Labs and Alcatel-Lucent, said 5G must meet several requirements for devices, including longer battery life and massive machine-to-machine communications.

"The key for 5G is to enable services and improve user experience," Viswanathan said. Devices using high data rates at a high traffic volume are not expected to have a long battery life, he said, but 5G networks could allow devices to perform a heavy workload without sacrificing battery power.

5G technology challenges

But 5G networks won't become a reality any time soon.

"Cellular standards are enormously complex. It takes a huge amount of time to work," said Sundeep Rangan, associate professor at NYU Wireless, an academic research center at New York University's Polytechnic School of Engineering in Brooklyn.

Rangan has been researching 5G technology and prototypes at NYU Wireless with industry partners including National Instruments, Samsung and Intel.

"Right now, most of the focus has been on technology, moving cellular standard design to high-frequency bands," Rangan said.

High-frequency bands have shorter wavelengths and are not typically considered viable for cellular networks. But Rangan said low-band spectrum is constrained and becoming expensive. Research and testing has focused on deploying 5G on spectrum above 30 Ghz, known as millimeter wave.

The lack of a business case to drive innovation is another issue facing 5G. When 4G was under development, the competing standard, Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX), was a driver for faster standardization of 4G, Rangan said. But 5G does not have a competing standard under development to drive further innovation.

Alcatel-Lucent's Viswanathan said different technologies involved with 5G are at different stages of maturity.

"Not all technology we think will be part of 5G are ready," he said. Technology like network functions virtualization can support 5G, but other technology like millimeter wave requires more research.

The first step will be determining the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) requirements for a new generation of wireless technology and then consolidate the requirements, Viswanathan said. Once requirements are determined, the standardization process can begin.

When will 5G hit the market?

5G is expected to make its debut in 2020. The time frame is realistic when compared to the development of similar technology, like LTE, Rangan said, but the question is whether mobile operators will find a business case to start putting out large deployments.

Events like the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea and the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan are coming up in the 5G time frame, he added. Operators may have limited deployments of 5G technology as a showcase, but Viswanathan does not expect widescale deployments at that time

Next Steps

Is it too soon to plan for 5G?

Samsung 5G tests hit speed records

Internet of Things means more network pressures

Dig Deeper on Wireless Services and Networks

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When 5G technology becomes a reality in 2020, internet connectivity will be enhanced vis-à-vis the capacity of supporting a large number of users.
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