5G is the fifth-generation wireless broadband technology based on the IEEE 802.11ac standard.
In every 10 years we see a new ‘G’ pop out. 2G gave us SMS, 3G gave us fast internet, and 4G brought in a revolution. A revolution that saw masses experience faster internet at affordable prices.
The number of people using the internet is increasing each day. This is leading to relatively slower network speeds and loss of connections as network providers can only accommodate a certain amount of data in a particular radio frequency spectrum. Additionally, our hunger for more data at faster speeds just doesn’t seem to die.
This is where 5G comes in.
5G is the fifth-generation wireless broadband technology based on the IEEE 802.11ac standard. 5G operates under a frequency spectrum that is much higher than that of the current 4G and has never been used for mobiles before. While 4G operates on frequencies below 6GHz, 5G operates between 30 to 300GHz. This helps in providing more bandwidth and coverage, with speeds up to 10X higher than 4G LTE. It will also be able to handle much more traffic than current broadband networks and at the same time be more power efficient.
As frequency is inversely proportional to wavelength, using such high frequency radio waves means the waves operating in this region are millimeter waves.
Millimeter waves generally vary between 1mm and 10mm. Now, the problem with millimeter waves is that, they are unable to cross solid objects. They tend to be blocked by walls or buildings and may also be absorbed by rain or humidity in the air. Thus mini base stations have to be set up near big network towers to transmit signals, avoiding the obstacles. These low powered base stations catch the signals from the big towers and reuse the frequency to transfer the signals to our devices.
Another aspect of 5G network is massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output). The concept is to use large antenna arrays at base stations to simultaneously serve many autonomous terminals. It reduces error and increases efficiency of a network.
The higher speeds of 5G will be of more utility for activities such as VR, 4K streams, autonomous driving, internet of things, broadcast like services and online gaming, with latency being less than 1ms. It will also aid lifeline communication in times of natural disaster.
Some manufacturers are already incorporating elements of the coming standard's specifications into their products. Qualcomm has already announced its first 5G modem, the X50. It is claiming that the speeds can be up to a massive 5Gb/s. Qualcomm will be testing this network in the Winter Olympics being held in South Korea this year. While AT&T is expected to launch mobile 5G this year, it will take a long time before we actually use 5G in India (possibly 2022). The United States is being touted to be the first country to adopt 5G.
Aruna Sundararajan, Telecom Secretary, at the Assocham Summit on Connected Devices-Connected World conference said, “By June this year, I hope we will be able to unveil India’s 5G roadmap”. The telecom ministry is pushing hard to bring 5G to India as soon as it is available for commercial roll-out globally.
Huawei India CEO, Jay Chen, said,” Indian telecom operators will start adopting 5G technology, which in present form can deliver up to 1000Mbps download speed, from this year”.
"I can tell you massive MIMO technology will go to India this year. We have had discussions with leading telecom operators who are interested and right now it is only available with Huawei for commercial deployment," Chen told PTI in an interview.
"We even discussed 5G solution for business to business, business to consumer and business to home services with Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal. He was very impressed with it," Chen said. Mittal in an interaction with PTI had said the massive MIMO technology available with Huawei and ZTE can increase current capability of spectrum by up to 8 times at just additional cost of about 20 percent.
Chen said that 5G standards are expected to be firmed up next year when wide scale commercial deployment of 5G will begin. Reliance Jio is working with Samsung to improve its 4G network indoors and outdoors. "We have already deployed 4.5G network in 13 circles across India which with minor upgrades can be transformed to 5G. With 4G subscriber base in India increasing, the download speed will reduce for which operators will need to begin start 4.5G services," Chen said. He said that 5G will bring advanced technology which will change the way network coverage is provided to subscribers.
"At present, subscribers run to connect with the network. We are ready with pilots for multi MIMO technology that will follow subscribers. Dedicated spectrum frequency (beam forming) will connect with device of the subscribers and follow them wherever they go," Chen said. He said the Indian industry is improving significantly with consolidation in the sector and end of spectrum shortage which provides good opportunity for telecom equipment companies.
Chen also added that, “Indian telecom operators are now moving in the direction where they can catch up with rest of the world”.
Currently, we are going through a phase of 4G LTE adoption all over the country, thanks to some aggressive pricing by the likes of Reliance Jio and Airtel. Even with the introduction of 5G, older technologies like 4G, 3G and even 2G are expected to carry on in India. Many people in rural areas are still using 2G networks. High speed internet is something still unknown to them.
As and when 5G arrives, it will be interesting to see how things unfold.
—by Deepayan Deb