5G Networks: expectation vs reality

What Mobile
February 12, 2019

The promise of 5G networks has long been heralded, but now they are finally becoming a reality. For those not in the know, 5G is set to usher in a new era of faster and more reliable connectivity – some are even considering this transition as the beginning of a fourth industrial revolution.

But the wild and wonderful promises of 5G will not be immediately available to everyone. How can operators temper consumers’ expectations without downplaying its significance?

What’s the buzz all about?

Understandably, consumers already have huge expectations for the services and use cases that will be supported by 5G networks.

So how fast will 5G be, exactly? Analysts predict significantly faster speeds and lower latency – with minimum data transfer speeds of around 1 GBps up to an incredibly speedy 800 GBps. To put that into perspective, this means users could download a HD feature-length film in a matter of seconds, rather than in minutes.

But Esteban Ribero at The Drum states that 5G is more than just faster uploads and downloads: “The buzz is that 5G will usher in a new era of faster connectivity, one that brings to life the future we’ve been promised where artificial intelligence (AI) runs quickly through our homes, cars, and mobile devices.”

In order to meet the hype, several telecommunications carriers, wireless equipment manufacturers, and smartphone makers have already announced plans to deploy 5G networks and 5G compatible devices in the coming year. The rush to be market leaders is not without reason – a recent survey by Matrixx Software found that 87% of consumers plan to upgrade their phones to a 5G-compatible device.

When is the change coming?

It’s difficult to pin down when 5G will actually be in full swing – sources offered estimates from anywhere between 18 months and 3 years. However, the general consensus is that consumers will see some significant progress by 2020. EE is currently trialling 5G in Canary Wharf and parts of East London, with plans to introduce 5G to other major cities such as Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham, and Manchester.

5G will work alongside existing 3G and 4G connections, but the way it will accelerate everything from data marketing to the Internet of Things (IoT) will create seismic shifts in the industry. For example, the change from 3G to 4G paved the way for the rise in mobile video and mobile gaming. Gosha Khuchua, Fetch US’ managing partner and head of media said: “It made the phone feel more indispensable – it made the smartphone feel smart and a part of your everyday life. Are we going to experience that change across 5G? €¦ It remains to be seen.”

Bumps in the road

Consumers and operators alike are looking forward to the applications and benefits 5G will bring. But implementing 5G networks is more complicated than simply upgrading the existing 4G network. 5G infrastructure is vastly different, encompassing larger carrier bandwidths and new frequency bands – the 4G networks simply wouldn’t be able to handle the vast amounts of data 5G requires.

Arun Mulpur, industry marketing manager for communications, electronics, and semiconductors at MathWorks, said: “The change from 3G to 4G was more of an evolutionary change. €¦ The transition from 4G to 5G, however, will be a fundamental, revolutionary change.”

A recent report commissioned by the Broadband Stakeholders Group looks at the barriers to 5G deployment in the UK. Some of the key issues identified stem from a lack of articulation in conveying the value of 5G. There seems to be a disparity between the marketing messages and the infrastructure changes required to make 5G a reality. It can be hard to separate fact from fiction, confusing consumers and holding telecommunications carriers to unreasonably high expectations.

What is the industry doing about it?

As the process of commercial deployment gets underway, most operators are actively involved in employing new technologies and exploring innovative, future-oriented solutions. One of the key challenges is how well algorithms can be translated into viable hardware and software designs, and how soon and how reliably a test case can be deployed in a testbed.

Likewise, test equipment must advance rapidly to compensate for this new level of intricacy. If network operators are to ensure delivery of consistent performance, innovative and rigorous testing is essential at every phase of 5G implementation. Wider change is also occurring across the board – leading companies are adopting improved workflows to create a more seamless process from simulation to implementation.

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