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5G: taking connectivity to the next level

Technology is taking another step forward. 5G technology is expected to start operating in the year 2020. This technology is capable of transporting 1,000 times more data, changing our perception of the world.

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The 1980s. The first generation of technology, also known as 1G, had just arrived. Several years earlier, on April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper made the first phone call with a mobile phone in New York. In a call that would change the world, the so-called father of cellular phones called his arch-rival in the technological race, Joel Engel. He made the call from Sixth Avenue with a phone that spanned more than 30 centimeters and weighed nearly 800 grams. It looked more like a brick than today’s cell phones that fit easily in your pocket.

1G let users talk and 2G gave birth to data, 3G made high-speed Internet browsing possible, 4G took the leap to video calls, streaming, podcasts, watching movies… What does 5G have in store?

Xavier Vilajosana, Director of the Wireless Network Research Laboratory in the IN3 at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), indicates that 5G will increase capacity and access speed for users as well as for the Internet of Things: “5G will not just allow massive access to data from a cellular phone. It will also transform the core network.”

In his opinion, “We will go from technology based on hardware like routers, and switches that redirect Internet traffic to cloud based technology where we will install virtual machines to multiply network capacity.”

5G networks will transmit 1,000 more mobile data than 4G networks, working at a standard speed of 20 gigabits per second, which will enhance mobile video streaming, virtual reality and online games.

5G technology will multiply by 1,000 the number of objects to which we can connect. If 4G technology was characterized by connecting people to the Internet on smartphones, 5G will connect objects to the Internet.

Another characteristic is that it will reduce delays sending and receiving data. The latency period will be less than a quarter millisecond, compared to the current 20 milliseconds in the LTE network (long term evolution, standard for data communication in 4G). Reducing the time data takes to travel to its destination will make it possible to lower the number of car accidents, as cars will receive information in real time on what is happening around them, for instance. Other examples include substantially increasing the download speed for video services like Netflix or the massification of online games through mobile devices.

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The 5G reality in 2020?

Introducing 5G

Vilajosana notes that in order to introduce 5G technology antennas are needed that are less powerful but with higher frequency.  “We’ll have better reception as there will be more antennas that will ‘radiate’ with much less power,” explains the professor, who adds: “It’s fairly easy for the operators, who will only have to update their base their stations and install more. In a city it’s pretty simple since they can put stations on every building if they want and the city is interested in having more connectivity.” And will it cost users more? “It should cost less. Increasing capacity tenfold does not cost operators ten times more,” responds the expert.

5G technology was one of the most popular topics at the 2017 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Although optimists say “it will be massive and connect the entire world,” as reported in Le Monde, others point to its cost, which could be around €56 billion in Europe alone, people’s resistance to installing thousands of antennas, reported in Financial Times, and energy use needed could be constraints.

2020 is when optimists say this technology will become a reality. South Korea and Japan, who are leading in its development, and the International Telecommunications Unions (ITU) have created a draft definition of 5G, which stresses three requirements:

  • Download capacity of 20 gigabits. The LTE remains 1 gigabit.
  • It should support one million connected people per square kilometer.
  • Every user will have a download speed of 100 megabytes per second.