What, Why & How: 5G?

We have come a long way from the analogy of cellular service that started in Japan in 1979. From having a phone the size and weight of a brick that would only let through voice traffic amid plenty of static, we have come to a point where we use our phones for everything; except maybe for actually calling people. 

It’s true though, whether it is a way we cannot find or the food we want to order, or even if we want to check emails or check on a friend, we use a smartphone. With evolving needs, our mobile phone networks have also evolved and now, once again we stand at the precipice of the birth of a new network that would enable us to access the world like never before, 5G! But how does it do that?

On the technical side of things, the 5G network will use a higher frequency band of radio waves than 4G networks, which use anywhere around two to eight gigahertz (GHz). The 5G network will be able to use up to 300 GHz of the frequency band. Interestingly, this is why many believe, albeit falsely, that the radiation from these cells will be much more harmful than normal mobile phone networks. Using shorter radio waves has its advantages and disadvantages since the higher frequency of radio waves also means the length of the wave will be short. This will enable them to move faster but across a shorter distance from the phone tower or cell as they are also called. 

Traditionally, a cell caters to an area that can range from one to 20 kilometers depending on the number of phones in an area. This means that more towers are needed for weaker frequencies in areas with lots of phones. 5G will eliminate this problem as shorter radio wavelengths will also enable more phones to be connected to the area. 

In addition, the network’s foundation will be the latest evolution in LTE technology (originally introduced in 2010), LTE Advanced Pro. This will enable download speeds of around 20Gbps and will offer less than two milliseconds of latency, which means that data will be transmitted and processed in the blink of an eye.  At the Mobile World Congress, Los Angeles in 2019, Ericsson demonstrated the speed and latency of 5G by using a Nerf gun, a disk that can block Nerf bullets, and two cameras to record the bullet’s trajectory. The gun was fired at the target and the cameras were able to send the information to data centers across the country and the disk was able to block the target in time.

Almost all industries will be positively impacted by the arrival of 5G as the Internet of Things (IoT) will get a huge boost but perhaps healthcare is a forerunner, with some predicting that surgeons, especially those with specialties, could perhaps extend their services globally without having to be there physically. China has already performed one brain surgery remotely over 5G. 

Since healthcare facilities use a lot of sensors for data reading and transmission, it is likely that 5G technology will also make the patient data transfer a breeze, which would allow doctors to make lifesaving decisions wherever they are, without wasting time.

Machine to machine communications or the IoT will be able to connect devices without the need for human interaction like never before. This will also benefit the education sector, as well as help, revolutionize modern industries including manufacturing, agriculture, and business communications that will be able to transmit and receive data in less than two milliseconds. This would help streamline group cost analysis, help with line visibility of onsite production as well as ease the process of distribution and sales, helping things more cost-efficient through scaling.

Since Covid-19, work from home has become the need of the hour. With 5G network technology, offices can move towards augmented and virtual reality solutions, entirely reimagining webinars and video conferences. Although augmented reality and virtual reality solutions already exist, without a 5G network, it is very difficult to reduce the lag to a point where the meetings would be successful. Once it becomes mainstream, transportation costs as well as the damage to the environment can be mitigated, while it may also enable enterprises to add a higher number of remote employees to the workforce.

Even though some are predicting a sci-fi nightmare (think Y2K) the higher frequencies of radio waves that 5G networks will use have actually been under testing for quite some time now and have been declared safe. To summarise, 5G data will truly revolutionize the way we think of the world especially when it comes to connected services in terms of broadband, communications that are critical as mentioned above in the case of hospitals, and a massive boost to the IoT.

– Nida Khan

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