Hi, thanks for tuning into Singularity Prosperity. In this article, we’ll be discussing 5G – more specifically, what it is and its ability to change our world. Before we delve deep into our discussions of 5G, let’s first take a quick look at how mobile networks have evolved over the years to present day.
From 0G to 2G: The Early Days of Mobile Communication
We begin as early as the mid-40s ranging to the late-70s with 0G, also referred to as the mobile radio telephone. This technology was essentially communication via analog radio with switchboard operators required to connect calls. For most of the lifespan of 0G, its commercial use was primarily limited to being installed in vehicles as it was very large. Progressing to the early 70s, OG became truly mobile as the technology was miniaturized enough to be carried by a person and switchboard operators were no longer required.
The Rise of 3G: Mobile Phones Go Online
A few years later, in 1981, the first generation of mobile networks was established with 1G. Radio technology was miniaturized enough to fit in a single device when no wires protruding, allowing communication devices to take on a more mobile phone-esque shape. 1G like 0G still used analog signals so was limited to transmitting just voice – with speeds up to 2 kilobits per second.
Progressing towards the early 90s, in 1992 2G was introduced. At this point mobile phones were small and affordable enough to garner massive attention from the general public, which kick-started the mobile phone revolution. 2G introduced digital standards which allowed for short text messages to be sent and had speeds ranging from 14 to 64 kilobits per second. As the network matured with releases of 2.5 and 2.75G speeds saw increases up to 144 kilobits per second.
Moving forward roughly another 10 years, in 2001 3G made its debut. 3G was the first mobile broadband solution and integrated high quality video, data and voice – essentially bringing the mobile phone online, with speeds initially ranging from 144 kilobits per second up to 2 megabits per second. With 3G, adoption of mobile phones spread like wildfire, initially only a product for older generations began to be purchased and given to children as well. As 3.5 and 3.75G standards were rolled out, speeds saw upgrades ranging from 2 megabits per second to 10 megabits per second.
Enter the Era of 4G: A True Mobile Broadband Solution
Once again progressing 10 years to 2011, we arrived at our current generation of mobile networks, 4G, a true mobile broadband solution. Whereas other generations of mobile networks have added new functionality to our devices, 4Gs primary purpose has been to bring faster speeds. This generation has created a world that truly revolves and connects around the mobile experience.
Long term evolution shortened to LTE is the first phase of 4G with minimum speeds of 10 megabits per second ranging up to a theoretical 100 megabits per second. Now those theoretical speeds in the majority of covered areas haven’t been achieved as of yet. We’ll continue our discussion about 4G, its future, how it will improve to reach faster speeds and more after the next section as the evolution of 4G is highly correlated with 5G technologies.
The Impact of 5G on Mobile Networks
5G is on pace to improve many aspects of current generation mobile networks. Some of these major factors include speed, latency, bandwidth energy consumption and more. However, in order to do this requires many technologies and communication techniques working together in unison.
The first of these technologies and possibly the most important of all is millimetre waves. From the inception of mobile networks, all devices have been in the frequency spectrum between 3 kilohertz to 6 gigahertz. Now this wasn’t an issue in the past when devices were limited to primarily mobile phones, however with the emergence of the internet of things, self-driving cars, smart watches, VR, AR and countless other technologies requiring constant fast connections – these frequency bands are becoming increasingly congested.
This rate of growth of connected devices is only set to exponentially increase with some conservative estimates calling for over 50 billion by 2020. If all these new devices were to remain within the currently established frequency spectrum, no device would be able to get an appropriate amount of bandwidth to operate as designed, which equates to slower operation, dropped connections and all those other things we just love *sarcasm*. Millimetre waves open up the frequency spectrum from 6 all the way up to 300 gigahertz allowing for much more bandwidth the real estate. It’s important to keep in mind that we won’t immediately use all that frequency spectrum.
For the average consumer, it will be more like centimetre waves with licensed spectrums ranging from 24 up to 40 gigahertz initially. There will also be a shared spectrum ranging from 60 to 70 gigahertz+ for mission-critical services. Mission-critical services includes smart city infrastructure, self-driving cars, health care and more. These services require constant high speed and low latency connections, therefore a shared spectrum is key and ensuring these devices are always connected.
For example, you wouldn’t want a self-driving car to drop connection because someone next to you got on a phone call.
The shared spectrum is also designed with consumer use in mind, if in your location, the shared spectrum space isn’t being accessed and there is a high density of consumer devices, some spectrum space can be allocated for temporary use. Now you may be wondering why millimetre waves haven’t been used as of yet, this is because:
- we didn’t require them, as there weren’t as many mobile and connected devices requiring bandwidth.
- Higher frequencies are more easily absorbed by the atmosphere and can also be scattered and absorbed by weather events and buildings, thus they require nearly line of sight communication. As such, the technologies required the millimetre waves to become widely adopted weren’t previously available.
The second primary technology for 5G networks is massive MIMO. It is needed to provide connection for the high-density of devices in particular areas. MIMO stands for multiple input multiple output, and will be applied to our cellular base stations. Currently MIMO technology is used in a much smaller form with base stations having between 8 to 12 antennas to handle all the traffic they transmit and receive. Massive MIMO takes this idea and expands on it with the ability to add hundreds of antennas per base station.
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