Friday, June 21, 2019

Five of the biggest challenges facing 5G

Ted Kritsonis·

It’s expected that 5G, the much-discussed upcoming broadband cellular mobile communications standard, will have a big impact once the network rollout is here.

The speed and bandwidth of 5G would be such that it could effectively replace home internet connections currently using Wi-Fi. The Consumer Technology Association has reported that 5G will reach speeds of 10 Gbps, making it 100 times faster than 4G. This means that a two-hour that would take six minutes to download on 4G, would take less than four seconds to download on 5G.

Making it a reality comes with some challenges along the way. Here are five that will figure prominently throughout the process. 
Frequency bands 

Though 4G LTE already operates on established frequency bands below 6GHz, 5G requires frequencies — all the way up to 300GHz. Some are better known as mmWave. Those bands can carry far more capacity and deliver ultra-fast speeds that deliver a 20-fold increase over LTE’s fastest theoretical throughput.

Wireless carriers still need to bid for the higher spectrum bands as they build and roll out their respective 5G networks. In the US, bidding in the 28 GHz spectrum alone reached $690 million by December 2018.
Deployment and coverage

Despite 5G offering a significant increase in speed and bandwidth, its more limited range will require further infrastructure. Higher frequencies enable highly directional radio waves, meaning they can be targeted or aimed — a practice called beamforming. The challenge is that 5G antennas, while being able to handle more users and data, beam out over shorter distances.

Spreading out access to rural areas will be as much of a challenge as it was with LTE.

Even with antennas and base stations getting smaller in this scenario, more of them would likely have to be installed on buildings or homes. Cities will probably need to install extra repeaters to spread out the waves for extended range, while also maintaining consistent speeds in denser population areas. It’s likely carriers will continue to use lower-frequency bands to cover wider areas until the 5G network matures.

In the future, it may mean that modems and Wi-Fi routers are replaced with 5G small cells or other hardware to bring 5G connections into homes and businesses, thus doing away with wired internet connections as we know them today. Spreading out access to rural areas will be as much of a challenge as it was with LTE.
 Cost to build, cost to buy

Building a network is expensive, and carriers will raise the money to do it by increasing customer revenue. Much like LTE plans incurred a higher initial cost, 5G will probably follow a similar path. And it’s not just building a layer on top of an existing network — it’s laying the groundwork for something new altogether.

According to Heavy Reading’s  
total global spending on 5G is set to reach $88 billion by 2023. Once it becomes truly viable, certain device segments will be connected in entirely new ways, particularly vehicles, appliances, robots and city infrastructure.

it’s not just building a layer on top of an existing network — it’s laying the groundwork for something new altogether. 

 Device support

There’s plenty of talk about 5G-enabled smartphones and other devices, but their availability will hinge on how expensive they are for manufacturers to make, as well as how quickly ubiquitous the network becomes.

Some carriers in the US, South Korea and Japan, among other countries, have already launched 5G pilots in select cities, while manufacturers have confirmed compatible mobile devices are coming in 2019. Autonomous vehicle technology is already in the market in limited forms, but fully autonomous vehicles are years away, and would otherwise drive blind without a super fast network like 5G to communicate.

The concept behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is predicated on a fast network that can tie devices and services together. That is one of the promises analysts have forecasted for 5G’s potential, but people will first want to see how much the additional speed will enrich their lives. 

 Security and privacy

This would be a challenge with any data-driven technology, but the 5G rollout will have to contend with both standard and sophisticated cybersecurity threats. Though 5G falls under the Authentication and Key Agreement (AKA), a system designed to establish trust between networks, it would currently be possible to track people nearby using their phones. They could even eavesdrop on live phone calls.

Much like it is now, the onus will be on the carriers and network consortiums to provide a digital safety net for customers, except user complacency could be equally problematic

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