At a time when eight percent of global mobile connections use fourth generation (4G) networks, and 60 percent use second generation (2G) networks, you might wonder why you are hearing so much about fifth generation networks (5G).
Some of the reasons are practical. Mobile generations tend to last about a decade. The 4G era has been underway since 2008 and 2009, with full deployment by the leading providers in markets such as the United States reaching national or full coverage levels by about 2011 or 2012.
That might suggest the beginnings of a transition to 5G by about 2020 to 2022, under normal circumstances.
But the drivers go far beyond the practical reasons. On the supplier side of the industry, a transition to a new network platform always represents a chance for market share shifts.
So some of the effort on 5G intentionally represents an effort to capture market share leadership in the technologies that will define 5G, potentially allowing new suppliers to emerge as leaders.
That generally is true for suppliers who do not presently lead in 4G infrastructure share, for nations that supported firms leading in 3G, but which did not emerge to lead 4G, or for policymakers who see 5G technology as an economic development driver.
That is not to deny the reality that every generation of mobile platforms has been superseded at some point, or that such next-generation upgrades are in any way unnecessary.
It is also to point out that industrial policy, economic and business opportunities for national suppliers, also are driving the interest.
Still,5G features do correspond to anticipated business opportunities, and network requirements, to support Internet of Things devices.
“As impressive as 4G is, it can only support connections numbering in the tens of billions,” said Ken Hu, Huawei Technologies Deputy Chairman and Acting CEO, “In the era of IoT, the number of connections will reach more than 100 billion.”
Vaster better latency performance also will be a new requirement. A self-driving car travelling at 100 kilometers per hour will continue moving 1.4 meters from detecting a failure to applying the brakes. A latency of 50 milliseconds is too high for self-driving cars, Hu notes.
Huawei believes 5G will support a 100-fold increase in supported connections: millions at any single cell site.
Latency will just one millisecond, about 50 times better than LTE, with 10 Gbps user data rates.
As much as observers argue 5G will not be an extrapolation from 4G and present lines of development, it can be argued many of the building blocks already are visible, ranging from network functions virtualization and software defined networks to methods of offloading mobile data to fixed networks, bonding channels and using mobile protocols in unlicensed frequency bands.