Fifth generation cellular network technology or 5G is a new standard developed and deployed for wireless broadband digital communication. The general technological principle is considerably straightforward: wider spectrum allocation and use of higher frequencies for higher bandwidth, faster data transmission speed, and reduced network latency.
The Pros: Advantages and Applications of 5G Technology
Succeeding 4G LTE, LTE Advanced, and true 4G technologies, 5G promises to support modern and future wireless communication applications by providing more reliable mobile connectivity and faster broadband Internet speed.
The following are the advantages or benefits and applications of this cellular network technology:
1. Better Wireless Connectivity than 4G LTE and 4G
There are considerable differences between 5G and the previous 4G technologies in terms of performance. For starters, the fifth-generation standard has a wider spectrum allocation and uses higher frequencies of electromagnetic radiation within the upper limits of radio waves and the range of microwaves.
In wireless digital communication, data transmission speed is dependent on frequency levels and wavelengths, along with other factors. Higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths translate to better data transmission speeds. To explain further, high frequency is associated with a faster movement of signal-bearing electromagnetic waves.
A key advantage of 5G over the previous generations is that it runs on the upper limits of the sub-6 GHz specification and within the range of the mmWave specification. More specifically, depending on the area and jurisdiction, a particular fifth-generation network can use frequencies between 3.3 GHz and 4.2 GHz, and further within the frequencies above 24 GHz or the UHF and EHF areas of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Theoretical performance includes the following values: 1 Gbps bandwidth compared to the 200 Mbps bandwidth of 4G, network latency of fewer than 10 milliseconds compared to the 20 to 30 milliseconds latency of its predecessor, and data transmission speed of between 50 Mbps and 200 Mbps to 1 Gbps compared to the 25 Mbps average speed of 4G.
2. Faster and Reliable Connectivity Means Better Streaming
Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data transmitted over a network in a given amount of time. Throughput specifically pertains to how much data was transferred from a source at any given time. On the other hand, network latency represents the time it takes for data to be transferred between its source and its destination.
The three aforementioned principles determine the speed and reliability of network connectivity. In general, wired communication has better values than wireless digital communication. However, because 5G promises improvements in these three areas, it could rival fiber-based Internet services, thus ushering in an era of novel wireless communication applications.
The fifth-generation cellular network technology can theoretically support a range of streaming applications. These include consumption of contents from video streaming platforms and services such as Netflix, online-enabled video gaming, on-demand and cloud gaming services such as Google Stadia and Xbox Cloud Gaming, and videotelephony platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.
3. Support for Modern and Future Applications
Another benefit of 5G centers on advancing wireless digital communication applications. Consider wireless residential broadband as an example. Beyond mobile services, network service providers have rolled out and positionined 5G-enabled wireless Internet services as a counterpart to fiber-based wired broadband plans.
Better mobile connectivity also supports the deployment and adoption of autonomous vehicles. These self-driving automotive vehicles run on artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, which on the other hand, depend on processing and communicating information obtained from the environment and other smart devices and objects. 5G essentially allows better vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-traffic communications.
Support for massive Internet of Things and the implementation of smart cities could also be made possible under a fifth-generation cellular network technology. Faster and reliable network connectivity would allow the integration of smart devices in public infrastructure to allow autonomous and wireless operation, data gathering and information processing, and seamless assimilation of public infrastructures with other wireless communication devices.
Note that smart cities would typically include automated energy management, water management, climate and weather monitoring and modeling, predictive disaster and risk reduction, smart lighting, and smart traffic monitoring. The unparalleled latency of 5G will also benefit applications dependent on network reliability. These include virtual reality and augmented reality applications, and remote diagnostic and remote surgery, among others.
The Cons: Disadvantages and Limitations of 5G Technology
Several fifth-generation networks have been deployed in key cities around the world since 2019. Major network carriers have invested heavily in building and expanding their 5G infrastructure and capabilities. Manufacturers of smartphones and other consumer electronic devices such as Apple and Samsung have also launched new products that support fifth-generation mobile connectivity. However, despite the advantages and promises of 5G, it has notable disadvantages and challenges.
The following are the disadvantages or drawbacks and limitations of this cellular network technology:
1. Expensive Initial Rollout Costs
Developing and deploying 5G capabilities would be expensive because it would require network operators to both upgrade existing network infrastructures and build new ones to meet the requirements of the 3GPP standard. Upgrading and building infrastructures require purchasing new equipment, securing new licenses, integrating and improving complementary technologies such as multi-user MIMO and massive MIMO, as well as beamforming, and leasing public spaces and private properties.
It would take a while for developing and underdeveloped countries, as well as rural areas such as provinces, to build and expand their fifth-generation network capabilities because the barrier to entry for local network operators remains high due to cost, knowledge, and resource requirements.
2. Not Compatible with Older Devices
Similar to previous generations of cellular network technology, newer generations have different hardware requirements. Devices need to have the necessary hardware capabilities to connect to a 5G network. Most flagship smartphones from 2019 and earlier, and even mid-range to entry-level devices from 2020 and entry-level devices from 2021 will not run on fifth-generation networks. Consumers need to purchase capable devices to experience the advantages of 5G technology.
3. Difference Between Sub-6 and mmWave
Another problem with 5G is that the entire standard is based on two different specifications. Sub-6 uses different technologies and work on distinctive principles than mmWave. Furthermore, some devices only support the sub-6 specification while others only support the mmWave specification.
Consumers would need to read and understand the fine details of the devices they are planning to buy to know if these are compatible with both or either one of the specifications. Fundamentally, not all 5G networks and 5G devices are the same. It is better to purchase a device that supports both considering the differences between these two specifications.
4. Limitations of mmWave Specifications
mmWave 5G is superior to sub-6 5G in terms of bandwidth, latency, and data transmission speed. However, there is one drawback. Because the mmWave specification involves using higher frequencies, it has a limited range. Network operators would need to build and place hundreds to thousands of smaller cells to cover fully a particular area. Furthermore, to connect to a mmWave network, users need to be within a block of a mmWave cell site and along a line of sight. The limitation of this specification makes it ideal for dense urban areas or particular target spots like stadiums and airports.
5. Theory Versus Real-World Performance
Another disadvantage of 5G is that the theoretical data transmission speeds do not translate actual performance. Also, several reports have documented a mismatch between upload speeds and download speeds. Upstream data transmission is noticeably lower than downstream transmission.
Note that there are other factors affecting the speed and reliability of wireless communication. These include proximity to a cell site, traffic and level of congestion in a particular spectrum, capabilities of a particular device, and other electromagnetic interferences.
6. Better Battery Capacity Requirements
Devices equipped with capabilities to run on fifth-generation networks would need a large battery capacity. Connecting to these networks would consume a substantial amount of power. The runtime of a particular device would be shorter while connected to a 5G network when compared to connecting to 4G and 3G networks.
Battery technologies need to advance to take full advantage of newer generations of cellular network technology. Better heat management is also important to avoid overheating and internal damages due to the higher processing requirements of 5G connectivity.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Konsyse. 2021. “Electromagnetic Radiation: Characteristics and Properties.” Konsyse. Available online
- Kumar, A. and Gupta, M. 2018. “A Review on Activities of Fifth Generation Mobile Communication System.” Alexandria Engineering Journal. 57(2): 1125-1135. DOI: 1016/j.aej.2017.01.043
- Parkvall, S., Dahlman, E., Furuskar, A., and Frenne, M. 2017. NR: “The New 5G Radio Access Technology.” IEEE Communications Standards Magazine. 1(4): 24-30. DOI: 1109/mcomstd.2017.1700042
- Zada, M., Shah, I. A., & Yoo, H. (2021). “Integration of Sub-6-GHz and mm-Wave Bands With a Large Frequency Ratio for Future 5G MIMO Applications.” IEEE Access. 9: 11241-11251. DOI: 1109/access.2021.3051066