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Is 2020 the year that “true” 5G is available for
enterprises? As we wrote in our Network
World article last year (“Like 4G before it, 5G is being hyped“),
when it finally happens, 5G will truly be revolutionary. In
this article we’ll describe what 5G is and how it technically
differs from today’s 4G technology. We’ll look at
what 5G means for the enterprise, touch on what you can buy today
and assess 5G’s future potential, explore some of the concerns
CIOs have with 5G, and lay out what you need to do in 2020.
5G is the newest wireless technology that promises speeds ten to
hundreds of times faster than what most users receive today with 4G
LTE. Today’s 4G networks can deliver speeds of 10 –
50 Mbps, and theoretically reach a download speed of 150
Mbps. 5G networks, on the other hand, promise a speed of 1
Gbps and could theoretically hit a peak download speed of 10 Gbps,
and possibly higher.
4G ushered in the ability for wireless users to download movies
and gigabyte-sized files in minutes. It enabled the seamless
streaming of music and video conferences and users were able to
make high definition voice calls using Voice over LTE. 5G
will take all of this up another step … one very big step.
5G is not a tweak to existing wireless technology or the
re-branding of a faster version of 4G. 5G requires the
service providers to buy and use more, and different, wireless
spectrum. It also requires a lot more infrastructure –
more cell sites, antennas, base stations, and fiber backhaul.
5G also requires a fundamental redesign of the service
providers’ edge and core networks, with edge servers close to
or at the cell site location to minimize latency for real-time
HOW 5G USES WIRELESS SPECTRUM
5G is based on the 5G NR (New Radio) standard which has been
adopted by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an
international standards organization responsible for the
development of GSM and related 2G and 2.5G, 3G UMTS and 4G LTE
standards. 5G NR networks operate on different frequencies
described by the 3GPP in two Frequency Ranges (FR) or bands defined
as FR1 (410 MHz – 7 GHz) and FR2 (24 – 52 GHz) at the
low and high-ends of the spectrum. These allow operation on a
wide variety of frequencies, including the frequencies vacated by
decommissioning previous wireless spectrum from commercial and
government communications services.
In practice, these two ranges are further categorized as low
(below 1 GHz), mid (1 GHz – 6 GHz) and high-band (24 GHz and
above) spectrum. The high-band is also referred to as
millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum. Based on early
implementations and announcements by wireless carriers, deployments
will be in the low-band and mid-band spectrum space. There is
on-going research using the mmWave frequencies given the
connectivity challenges and trade-offs for this spectrum.
While 5G deployments that use mmWave frequencies allow for much
faster data speeds, there are challenges that must be
resolved. Typical challenges are signal quality –
due to lack of the mmWave’s signal to penetrate buildings
– rain fade, atmospheric gases, distance, multi-path
interference, and foliage. Established techniques that can
mitigate these effects include Massive MIMO (i.e., 100’s of
transmit and receive antennas to support dozens of end-user
devices), beam-forming and beam-tracking antenna technology as well
as adaptive modulation, coding and power control. The typical
challenge with mmWave frequencies occurs with moving users.
For example, the signal may be dramatically impaired when a mobile
user turns a corner due to buildings or other structures blocking
the beam. For a fixed site, such as an office building
or stadium, the end-user is fixed in relation to the antenna beam,
so the radio signal and antennas can be optimized to maintain a
strong mmWave connection.
5G INFRASTRUCTURE AND RESOURCES
As service providers are investing to secure their rights to the
wireless spectrum, they are also aggressively building out their
wireless access networks. Companies such as Ericsson, Nokia,
Samsung Electronics, Cisco, Juniper, and Qualcomm are key providers
of 5G wireless equipment and chip sets.
Outside of the US, one of the favored potential 5G equipment
providers is Huawei (pronounced “wah-way”), a Chinese
communications equipment company. However, as recently as
last month, the German government had not approved Huawei as their
future 5G equipment provider, and Australia and Japan have banned
Huawei. Under Chinese law, Huawei and other Chinese companies
are required to comply with the 2017 National Intelligence Law,
meaning companies could be forced to hand over network data whether
they want to or not.
The US government worries that Huawei, at the direction of the
Chinese government, could carry out surveillance or launch a
cyberattack using its 5G equipment, so US service providers are
prohibited from using Huawei equipment. The US government
recently announced that Dell, Microsoft, and AT&T are being
encouraged to develop a 5G solution that is more software-based and
would potentially eliminate the need to use Huawei’s
5G is also going to require the network service providers to
push more of their processing to the edge of the network.
Service providers are already preparing the core of their networks
to handle the anticipated growth by deploying software defined
networking and utilizing network function virtualization.
They are also developing the means to dynamically allocate required
bandwidth and processing resources and will allow them to offer low
latency and high availability service levels.
WHAT 5G MEANS FOR THE ENTERPRISE
If you want to take advantage of the faster speeds and improved
network functionality, you’re going to need a new device.
Since 5G is based on a new and different standard, current
smartphones, wireless interface cards, and IoT sensors won’t
connect to a 5G network. The new 5G devices will be backward
compatible and will work on legacy 4G networks. In fact,
given the massive undertaking to build out 5G networks, the devices
will likely spend more time connected to 4G networks than 5G,
particularly outside of cities.
The good news for enterprises is that 5G will do so much more
than just allow faster downloads on a smartphone. Because of
the higher speeds and promised lower latency and improved
availability, companies can replace fixed line access circuits used
in their data networks with 5G wireless connections. Standing
up a new site will become a lot quicker if 5G is available in an
area where a company needs it.
Many believe that 5G will allow for the mass deployment of the
Internet of Things (IoT). Service providers are expecting
that IoT could add as many as 80 billion new connections to their
networks by 2025. These IoT devices will include autonomous
vehicles, water meters, public lighting, environmental monitoring,
future railway communications, robots, drones, security cameras,
and pretty much anything else that can have an IP
There is much research and testing of 5G taking place by
standards bodies, telecom equipment manufacturers, universities,
and mobile carriers. In addition, the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the 3GPP have developed several
use cases for the application of 5G services that include:
- Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) – eMBB appears to be the
use case that is initially being marketed and deployed by mobile
carriers. Some examples of eMBB include smart phones, fixed
locations such as home and businesses, ubiquitous and high-speed
broadband in stadiums or other venues, support for UHD (4K and
above) broadcast and virtual/augmented reality services.
- Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) – Examples of
mMTC use cases include smart buildings, environmental monitoring,
public lighting control, fleet management and smart meters.
- Ultrareliable and Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) or
Critical Communications – URLLC use cases include autonomous
vehicle and railway control, traffic control, monitoring and
safety, e-health including remote surgery and warehouse/factory
robotic controls. Latencies at or below 5 milliseconds are
needed and would require edge servers co-located at the cell base
- Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) – V2X is defined as the
transfer of vehicle information from a vehicle to any entity that
may affect the vehicle. It is a vehicle communication system
that includes V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure), V2N
(vehicle-to-network), V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), V2P
(vehicle-to-pedestrian), V2D (vehicle-to-device) and V2G
(vehicle-to-grid). The primary benefits of V2X are road
safety, traffic efficiency and energy savings.
DEVICES, PLANS, AND PRICING
There are only a limited number of 5G smartphones available for
purchase today and most have a price tag exceeding $1,000.
Samsung and LG sell 5G smartphones, but Apple has opted to wait and
is expected to include the required 5G technology in its iPhone
12. Chinese equipment companies Huawei and ZTE offer 5G
compatible smartphones, but you’re not going to be able to buy
them if you live in the US because of the current privacy and
security concerns the US has with China.
You should also expect new rate plans and pricing structures to
be introduced by the service providers. As noted, 5G is about
data, lower latency (if needed), and the ability to connect more
devices and allocate the network functionality to support the user
or application requirement. We expect the rate plans and
other pricing to evolve as user demand and requirements evolve.
SKEPTICS AND CONTROVERSY
5G does have its sceptics and controversy. A recent Wall
Street Journal survey of CIOs revealed that most felt the
technology was over-hyped and many don’t believe there’s an
imminent advantage to using 5G. There is also a worry that
using equipment from foreign providers such as Huawei and ZTE could
open the enterprise to spying and other security
On the one hand CIOs want to know how quickly 5G will be rolled
out and how densely coverage will be once deployed. On the
other hand, some are concerned that 5G wireless service, with the
requirement to have 10 times more antennas, will be transmitting
radio wave signals and cause a health risk to users and the
WHAT TO DO IN 2020
One of your first 5G “to do” items is to ask your
wireless service provider to show you where they’ve already
deployed 5G, where they plan to deploy it over the next six to
twelve months, and to share their 5G service roadmap. Be
aware that some providers tout they have 5G deployed, but it is
actually 4G LTE Advanced and marketed as “5G E”.
Most service providers appear to be blanketing densely populated
urban areas first to get the most bang for their investment buck,
and then deploy to less populated areas later.
Second, ask about the devices they’re going to support, the
new machine-to-machine and IoT service offerings, and the rate
plans and pricing. Get your hands on a new 5G smartphone and
wireless interface card. Test out the new 5G service, compare
it to what you currently get with 4G, and evaluate the signal
strength and how it compares to your fixed line data service.
Determine if the new speed and service functions make a difference
to how you work today and how you could work in the future.
Finally, start planning for a move to 5G. Know that when
the service is available, your users are going to want it and the
devices they have today aren’t going to work. Also know
that your demand and requirements are going to change and
you’re likely going to want more data and to take advantage of
those promised latency and availability service levels. If
you haven’t competitively procured your wireless services in
some time, now would be a good time to be thinking about testing
the market for what will almost certainly be a game changing
technology in the years ahead.
Originally Published 06 February 2020
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.