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5G and its applications for UC

Posted by Daniel Noworatzky on Oct 2, 2019 10:49:00 AM

cityscape showing 5G connectivity

5G is emerging onto the telecom landscape. What’s new and different about it? 5G does indeed promise phenomenal potential. In this article we examine 5G and its applications for unified communications.

History

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is a worldwide standards organization responsible for developing and maintaining protocols for mobile telephony. Some of the most well-known protocol suites it has spearheaded include:

  • 2G – This is primarily composed of GSM, the most widely used set of standards in mobile telephony, which includes GPRS and EDGE
  • 3G – Which includes UMTS and HSPA
  • 4G – Also known as Long-Term Evolution (LTE)

These represent the evolution of access technologies for mobile telephony over the past two decades. 5G was introduced in 2017 with the first specification release comprising a promising set of capabilities. This year (2019), 5G saw its first large-scale implementations and is expected to quickly become the standard for modern mobile networks worldwide.

Terminology

Strictly speaking, 5G is a term referring to any system incorporating 5th Generation New Radio (5G NR) software; that is, software and standards containing the 5G protocol algorithms and functionalities. However, the mobile telephony industry has been known to use terminology quite loosely, especially for marketing purposes. Some hybrid 4G/5G networks have also been referred to as 5G, while even some advanced 4G networks have been labelled 5G. So, before taking vendor or service provider claims at face value, do a bit of digging to ensure that the networks being advertised are indeed fully 5G compliant.

Performance

Compared with older technologies, 5G mobile networks offer a substantial improvement to the end user’s experience. Some of the most important enhancements compared with 4G include:

 

4G

5G

Theoretical Maximum Speed

1 Gbps

20 Gbps

Actual Average Speeds

15–50 Mbps

50–100 Mbps

Latency

50 ms

1–2 ms

Devices/square km

100,000

1,000,000

Keep in mind that some of these values describing the technology’s potential are theoretical. Depending on the configuration of the deployment, some 5G networks being employed today are slower than several advanced 4G networks, such as T-Mobile’s implementation in Manhattan that can achieve over 500 Mbps. In addition, latency on 5G networks, one of the main selling points of the technology, has only practically achieved 8–12 milliseconds and not the currently mythical 1–2 ms.

Even so, 4G is reaching its limits, and 5G does have the potential, as the technology matures, to vastly outperform its older counterpart. Not only will it outstrip other mobile technologies, but it will quickly become a competitor to commercial-grade landline WAN technologies due to its comparable – and often higher – attainable speeds.

Uses and innovation

Three major uses have been defined for 5G networks. These are Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) and Massive Machine-Type Communication (mMTC). eMBB is important for improving more traditional usage such as voice and data communication services for end users. URLLC and mMTC support newer and more innovative uses of cellular networks, which may be the primary source of the hype that the media places on 5G. URLLC refers to using the network for mission-critical applications that require a reliable and consistent data exchange, while mMTC is used to interconnect a vast number of low-power and low-cost devices within an internet of things (IoT) deployment.

What this means practically is that 5G technology is well suited not only for interconnecting mobile phones, but also for a plethora of innovative new applications, including:

Internet of things and smart technologies – These include implementing smart cities, smart power grids, and enabling smart agriculture, climate monitoring, and massively large-scale sensor networks.

Remotely controlled entities – 5G networks are well suited for remotely controlling robots and other machinery to enable automated work processes in industry and other sectors.

Autonomous vehicles – With their extremely low latency and robust reliability, 5G networks are ideal for providing network connectivity for the needs of autonomous (aka self-driving) vehicles. With this area of technology on the verge of becoming commercially available, 5G connects very well with this developmental stage.

WAN alternative – 5G is entering as a major competitor to xDSL, cable, fiber optics, and microwave links as a WAN connection for both residential and business applications. Cellular networks have long been used as backup WAN connections, but now with 5G, they can easily be leveraged as primary WAN connections. Its exceptionally low latency is useful for running commercial and residential IP telephony deployments, including SIP trunks.

Media hype

The media and marketing departments of both 5G equipment vendors as well as service providers will have you believe that 5G is the solution to all the world’s communications needs. When you hear about all the wonders that the technology promises, take it with a grain of salt.

Current deployment

At the time we wrote this article, Atlanta is the only city in the United States that has 5G technology available on all three of its mobile networks. Twenty-four other cities in the country have at least one 5G network in place. It’s important to note, however, that the areas covered by 5G, even in these cities, are in most cases limited to the city center, and will require several years of development to reach and exceed the coverage that 4G networks currently enjoy.

Conclusion

5G is a phenomenal set of technologies that is currently in its infancy. It is a standard that is expected to mature over the next decade, becoming an exceptionally versatile tool for many applications for voice, data and beyond. Even so, it still has limitations that have to be taken into account, and its implementation still has a long way to go.


You may also like:

The future of telecommunications: The next 25 years

What VoLTE means for the enterprise VoIP system

How to optimize your WAN connectivity for VoIP

 

Topics: Trends, Mobility, IoT, Unified Communications, WAN technology

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