What is 5G ?

Evolution beyond mobile internet


From analogue through to LTE, each generation of mobile technology has been motivated by the need to meet a requirement identified between that technology and its predecessor (see Table 1). For example, the transition from 2G to 3G was expected to enable mobile internet on consumer devices, but whilst it did add data connectivity, it was not until 3.5G that a giant leap in terms of consumer experience occurred, as the combination of mobile broadband networks and smartphones brought about a significantly enhanced mobile internet experience which has eventually led to the app-centric interface we see today.

From email and social media through music and video streaming to controlling your home appliances from anywhere in the world, mobile broadband has brought enormous benefits and has fundamentally changed the lives of many people through services provided both by operators and third party players. 


evolution technology generation


More recently, the transition from 3.5G to 4G services has offered users access to considerably faster data speeds and lower latency rates, and therefore the way that people access and use the internet on mobile devices continues to change dramatically. Across the world operators are typically reporting that 4G customers consume around double the monthly amount of data of non-4G users, and in some cases three times as much. An increased level of video streaming by customers on 4G networks is often cited by operators as a major contributing factor to this. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) has also been discussed as a key differentiator for 4G, but in reality the challenge of providing low power, low frequency networks to meet the demand for widespread M2M deployment is not specific to 4G or indeed 5G. As Table 1 suggests, it is currently unclear what the opportunity or ‘weakness’ that 5G should address is. 

Two views of 5G exist today: 

View 1 – The hyper-connected vision: In this view of 5G, mobile operators would create a blend of pre-existing technologies covering 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-fi and others to allow higher coverage and availability, and higher network density in terms of cells and devices, with the key differentiator being greater connectivity as an enabler for Machine-to-Machine (M2M) services and the Internet of Things (IoT). This vision may include a new radio technology to enable low power, low throughput field devices with long duty cycles of ten years or more. 

View 2 – Next-generation radio access technology: This is more of the traditional ‘generation-defining’ view, with specific targets for data rates and latency being identified, such that new radio interfaces can be assessed against such criteria. This in turn makes for a clear demarcation between a technology that meets the criteria for 5G, and another which does not. Both of these approaches are important for the progression of the industry, but they are distinct sets of requirements associated with specific new services. However, the two views described are regularly taken as a single set and hence requirements from both the hyper-connected view and the next-generation radio access technology view are grouped together. This problem is compounded when additional requirements are also included that are broader and independent of technology generation.

Next -> 5G Technology Requirements

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