5G has a place in traditional network technology

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As technology continues to advance, the nature of data has changed in many ways, and these changes have brought new possibilities and unique challenges. The first networks—those built before the Internet—were primarily used to share information over long distances, and as such, they focused on text-based documents. With the advent of the Internet, the rise of personal computers introduced web browsers that could be used to view a variety of media, including images and videos. This change in the nature of data has sparked the need to increase download speeds to enhance the user experience, so telcos have switched from copper to fiber optic cables.

Before 2010, most Internet-connected devices were desktop computers running local applications and using Internet services for web hosting and file sharing. However, the introduction of smartphones and mobile computing created the need to run applications and access data remotely, which brought cloud computing.

Fast forward to 2022, and the nature of data continues to change, with real-time data streaming being the current trend. Connected devices do not need high download speeds, but rather reliable data streaming with low latency. In addition, edge computing is becoming more popular, with cloud-based, time-sensitive applications physically located closer to endpoint devices than to data centers.

The struggles of traditional web technologies

While numerous wireless networking technologies exist today (3G, 4G, LoRaWAN, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LiDAR, Satellite, Zigbee/Z-Wave, and NB-IoT), no single solution can meet the needs of next-generation connectivity, High of these require speed, low latency, and higher device support.

For example, Wi-Fi dominates home networking due to its low price, broad ecosystem, and ease of implementation. While Wi-Fi has high download speeds, it struggles to serve devices at greater distances and becomes overwhelmed when too many devices try to connect.

Cellular networks such as 4G are designed to handle large numbers of simultaneously connected mobile devices, making them prime candidates for large-scale IoT networks. However, 4G was designed with consumer mobile devices in mind, not IoT devices, resulting in high latency, high energy consumption, high network costs and other challenges.

Fundamentally, most web technologies are designed to provide access to data, not real-time access. Additionally, these networking technologies focus on connectivity and service delivery rather than optimizing the underlying infrastructure for next-generation computing tasks.

5G physics help

Compared to other network technologies, 5G is designed with modern applications such as IoT, Industry 4.0 and smart cities in mind.

To cater for all these diverse applications, 5G fundamentally changes physical and software networks, allowing them to be modified, adapted to changing needs, and improved over time.

Regarding the physics of 5G, using multiple higher frequencies can increase bandwidth (providing higher download and upload speeds). At the same time, 5G also introduces the use of beamforming, which helps direct radio energy to specific clients while allowing more devices to use the same channel without interference.

The use of higher frequencies does reduce 5G’s effective range (and its ability to penetrate), so 5G also utilizes mid-band spectrum, which helps combine speed, coverage, and penetration. Densification will also be key, as smaller units are introduced, allowing fewer devices to be handled in shorter reach. So instead of relying on one large base station covering several kilometers, build multiple smaller base stations to improve 5G coverage.

Finally, 5G also allows devices to transmit data when needed (rather than waiting for fixed time slots allocated by base stations). While this doesn’t affect download speeds, it significantly improves latency, which is critical for real-time applications.

5G goes beyond physical specifications

When talking about 5G, it’s easy to focus only on the physical characteristics of the network, such as higher bandwidth, higher carrier frequencies, and lower latency. In reality, however, 5G is more than its physical layer. Unlike previous network technologies, 5G also addresses connectivity challenges through software mechanisms, including virtual networks, network slicing, and localized edge devices.

The 3GPP standard at the heart of 5G introduces a service-based architecture designed for cloud-native deployments, disaggregated RAN, open RAN, and edge computing.

First, 5G networks allow edge computing devices to operate on local cellular networks, rather than requiring all traffic to be routed back to a central core site; this feature is called user plane forwarding. This allows analyzing user plane traffic and processing actionable intelligence locally; only control plan data is sent back to the central core.

For example, cloud-based applications can be moved out of the data center and executed on a 5G edge device (think computing on a factory floor switch), or close to it, so that nearby connected devices can experience extremely low latency.

Second, virtual networks allow 5G to run a private network using its own domain and credentials. Virtual networks can also improve security and functionality, while also being able to provide carrier network signals or use a neutral hosting provider, allowing consumers to cover in-building separate from secure private networks.

Finally, network slicing in 5G allows specific services to run on their own private virtual networks that run on the same underlying infrastructure. For example, emergency services could use a unique network that operates independently of any other traffic on the network, which could allow for the transmission of additional metadata, including real-time location data and smartphone battery levels.

5G empowers sports and retail

When it comes to practical applications of 5G, many people will quickly think of the Internet of Things and smart cities, but 5G is suitable for many applications, including sports and retail.

One of the biggest advantages 5G can bring to sports so far is the ability to provide real-time sensor data from players, especially biological data. People who play sports often need to be physically fit and minimize injuries to ensure a long, successful career. (Also, take into account that many sporting events handle large investments through wagering and spectators.)

Deploying 5G networks in sports settings could help provide low-latency connections between medical staff and wearable sensors, which could provide valuable insights into athletes’ conditions. With the addition of edge computing (decoding data from sensors through machine learning algorithms), medical staff can make informed decisions about when to remove potentially injured players.

This real-time data also introduces a potential revenue stream for gaming and gaming establishments, as the ability for viewers to view the data may be of greater interest. For example, viewers will be able to track players’ long-term performance and better understand their professional development.

Additionally, the use of 5G networks at sporting events could help power augmented and virtual reality technologies. Thousands of spectators in stadiums can stress most modern networks, but using smaller, more access points in 5G may help overcome these challenges.

The combination of low latency and high bandwidth with 5G enables viewers to stream real-time data to smart glasses, creating a new type of experience.

Finally, large stadiums could deploy subscription models for private 5G networks, offering better connectivity or premium sharding for paying users. This private network can also be incorporated into other stadium infrastructure, including security systems and crowd control mechanisms.

While many applications of 5G try to take advantage of its low latency and high bandwidth, the retail industry can take advantage of 5G’s ability to support edge computing devices.

For example, individual stores in a shopping mall could be connected to a 5G service that provides detailed information on the shopping habits of customers entering the store. Visitors to the mall can subscribe to a local 5G network for improved connectivity, and using edge computing on the 5G network can anonymize data collected, including stores visited and paths taken. Stores that pay for the service can then observe this anonymized data to understand where shoppers go after visiting their store and better understand their habits.

Additionally, virtual reality and augmented reality can provide shoppers with an enhanced experience due to higher bandwidth and lower latency. For example, shoppers at home can use a 5G network to browse stores and view in-stock items in virtual real-time without resorting to online inventory management systems.

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