Not all 5G networks and 5G-capable devices are the same. The fifth-generation network standard is based on two different network technologies. These are the Sub-6 GHz 5G technology and mmWave 5G technology. When compared, the former has specific characteristics that provide it with notable advantages over the latter. However, it also has drawbacks and limitations.
Pros and Applications: The Advantages of Sub-6 GHz 5G Technology
The Sub-6 GHz 5G technology represents the utilization of frequencies below 6 GHz. These frequencies are commonly within the 3.3 GHz and 4.2 GHz range of the electromagnetic spectrum. 4G LTE networks run within the lower limits of the sub-6 GHz range, while earlier 4G standards run on frequencies within the sub-5 GHz specification.
Faster than 4G and LTE Network Technologies
Remember that the Sub-6 GHz specification is part of the entire 5G network specification. Hence, one of its advantages is improved overall network performance, as characterized by faster data transmission speed, better latency values, and higher bandwidth capacity.
The theoretical data transmission speed of 5G networks based on the sub-6 specification is between 50 Mbps to 200 Mbps. Network latency is between 20 to 10 milliseconds, while network bandwidth is around 500 Mbps. The real-world performance of LTE networks averages around 50 Mbps with a latency of 20 to 30 milliseconds.
Note that latency is the time it takes for data to be transferred from one point to another, while network bandwidth pertains to the maximum amount of data that can be transferred wirelessly over a network in a given time.
Better Range and Coverage than mmWave 5G
When compared with mmWave 5G networks, another notable feature and benefit of networks based on Sub-6 GHz 5G technology center on wider network coverage and longer range. Note that the mmWave specification uses high frequencies that cannot travel at longer distances and are more prone to physical obstructions.
Because the frequencies used in the sub-6 specification are lower than the mmWave specification, they essentially travel further. Lower frequencies can also penetrate physical objects like wood and concrete walls better.
The benefits of this 5G technology are enhanced further with the application of specific wireless communication and network technologies such as massive MIMO, which expands simultaneous connection capacity, and beamforming, which improves signal quality.
Cost-Efficient Infrastructure Requirements
Another advantage of Sub-6 GHz 5G technology is that it can be deployed using the existing infrastructures of 3G and 4G or 4G LTE networks. Most 5G networks based on this technology use existing network towers that are modified to equip them with relevant equipment.
On the other hand, designing and deploying mmWave 5G networks require installing hundreds of smaller cells in a particular area to address range and coverage limitations.
5G networks based on the sub-6 specification are fundamentally easier to deploy and more inexpensive than mmWave 5G networks. They are also more suitable in rural areas or locations with dispersed structures and scattered populations.
The practicality of this specific 5G technology also makes it ideal to supplement an entire 5G network to ensure maximum network coverage and accessibility.
Cons and Limitations: The Disadvantages of Sub-6 GHz 5G Technology
It is important to highlight that 5G networks based on the sub-6 specification use frequencies lower than mmWave 5G networks. This fact is one of the primary reasons behind the notable disadvantages of sub-6 GHz 5G
An Inferior 5G Network than mmWave 5G
mmWave 5G networks are faster because they run on higher frequencies between 24 GHz and 300 GHz range. Remember that higher frequencies correspond to shorter wavelengths, which translates further to faster movements of data-bearing signals.
The theoretical data transmission speed of 5G networks based on the mmWave specification is between 200 Mbps to 1 Gbps. It also has a network latency of fewer than 10 milliseconds and a network bandwidth of up to 1 Gbps.
Fundamentally, the mmWave specification defines the advantages of 5G network connectivity. Of course, it is still important to note that the sub-6 specification remains faster than the specifications used in LTE and LTE Advance, 4G, and 3G networks.
Limitations of 5G Network Applications
The inferiority of 5G networks based on the sub-6 specification limits the applications of 5G technology. While it is true that these networks are faster than the previous generations, they would not be able to compete with fiber-based wired broadband connections.
What the aforesaid means is that users connected to a Sub-6 GHz 5G network would not be able to experience the full benefits of 5G connectivity. These include data-intensive use cases such as video streaming, high-end gaming, and video conferencing.
It is also impossible to fully utilize emerging and future wireless digital applications and technologies to include massive Internet of Things, smart and automated automotive vehicles, and smart cities, and advanced communication devices, among others.
Compatibility of 5G-Branded Devices
Some 5G-enabled devices will only run on Sub-6 GHz 5G networks. Note that this is true for entry-level to mid-level smartphones released in 2020 and 2021. Other smartphones are compatible to run in both 5G specifications.
Of course, devices that support only the sub-6 specification would not be able to take full advantage of the features and benefits of 5G network connectivity. Furthermore, users would not be able to access 5G networks in locations that use the mmWave specification.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- 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