What You Need To Know About 5G

Worldwide, 4G technologies are busy being supplemented by new 5G mobile networks due to improved coverage, speed and reliability. This evolution is necessary in quotation to support the increase in digital devices which require internet access as well as the growing demand for bandwidth and low latency, where 4G will not support this adequately going forward.

5G has the capability of connecting more devices to the internet than 4G, minimising latency (internet delay times) and offers extremely fast gigabit speeds.

The change 5G will bring 

The most significant change that 5G will bring is faster data speeds, from a normal subscriber perspective. Website, video and game downloads and streaming will be much faster and have significantly lower latencies (download wait times). It will also allow for smoother and more realistic Skype and FaceTime calls, while allowing for autonomous and remote control of robotics and other types of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

It will also enable users to connect more devices to the internet simultaneously through the same network base station without experiencing the existing problems with bandwidth. The faster data speeds will support new technologies and better devices due to the improved performance and speed. 5G will pave the way for more technologies to operate seamlessly that require fibre like internet capabilities.

5G vs 4G throughput and speed

The volume of data that can be transferred over a network in a certain time frame is referred to as the bandwidth. Peak speeds can be reached if there are few devices or little interference on a channel. The peak speed of 5G is twenty times faster than 4G. This implies that data can be uploaded or downloaded twenty times faster using 5G in comparison to 4G.

There are many factors that can affect these ideal bandwidth conditions. Therefore, ideal bandwidths will not be possible and average bandwidths should rather be considered. 5G has not yet been implemented widely spread with repeated tests in real-world conditions, however from multiple tests it has been deduced that 5G will have a minimum average download speed of a few hundred Mbps. This is about 10 times faster than 4G networks which have an average speed of tens of Mbps, depending on the network, its topology, available capacity and current traffic demand. Although gigabit speeds are advertised for 5G, it is important to note that the technology theoretical maximum and the real-world experience is much different.

When is 5G expected?

5G is still under test and development for most service provides so there are still many countries and areas where 5G services are not yet available. 5G is at its infancy and service is currently limited in most networks that do market their 5G adoption.

LTE was widely launched before 2010 in various networks internationally, yet ten years later LTE is still growing and has not reached its maturity yet. LTE will continue to grow over the next years to come. Similarly, 5G is still in the hype phase and will only see a significant uptake over the next several years.

Where does 5G fit into the mobile frequency bands?

5G frequency bands overlap the LTE frequency bands. More often, operators will use their existing licensed LTE spectrum or add newly acquired LTE spectrum (e.g. LTE 3.5GHz band) to roll out 5G services.

The 5G spectrum (frequency bands) are categorised on a high level as follows:

5G Band Category Frequency Range Typical Deployment Environments Typical Range in the listed mobile environments
Low Sub 1GHz Rural, Suburban, Urban 2 to 20km+
Mid 1GHz to 6GHz Suburban, Urban, CBD 0.2 to 5km+
High >24GHz Dense Hotspots, Indoors, Stadiums 20m to 0.5km+ (mostly Line of Sight)

5G will not be any specific band, but realistically a wide spread of existing and new frequency spectrum that is used by the operator.

The various cellular mobile phones and CPE devices will cover select frequency bands within this wider spread of bands and likely never cover all the 5G bands within the same piece of hardware – as this will exponentially increase the size, price and impact on performance of the hardware.

Although the 5G high band will be deployed in many networks over the next years, these bands will typically be deployed at targeted hotspots. This millimetre wave, a.k.a ‘MM wave’ are the 5G frequencies from 24GHz and above. They generally require very short distance between the user equipment and the base station with direct Line-of-Sight (LOS) in most cases. These high MM wave frequencies are more easily absorbed by vegetation, buildings, rain and other objects that obscure their direct line of sight signals. 5G base stations will therefore need to be more strategically placed and deployed in dense clusters to be able to offer their desired return on investment.

For this reason, using the existing low and mid band LTE frequency spectrum becomes more practical and financially viable for most operators, at least for the next years. Operators are using their existing LTE bands, and when new spectrum is sought, they are generally looking at the 3.4 to 3.8GHz bands for their 5G roll-outs.

Written by: Peter Prince – Research and Development Jnr RF Engineer

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