By the end of this year (2018), the US will begin to see the fifth generation of cellular services. Oklahoma City is one of 19 cities chosen by AT&T to launch their network in December. In the case of 5G network technology, more effort is focused on support services from the beginning. We are seeing the dawn of a new digital era where sensors, devices, cars, and systems are integrated along with our phones like never before. Higher speed and bandwidth allow for more of us to be connected for longer periods of time. Of course, our phones will eventually better serve us, but 5G poses some unique challenges along with the benefits. We’ll look at both the positives and negatives that will shape the next decade.
Throughout the history of wireless networking technology, each decade has facilitated innovation. When the first generation service launched in the 1980s, the signals were still analog. The Push-To-Talk innovation came out of this and became what many called “walkie-talkie phones”.
The second generation, launched in the early 1990s, introduced true digital signals for voice, static image, and text messaging. The Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card made owning more than one phone number cheap and easy, and switching between cards became commonplace in developing countries after 1996. While still in its infancy, automotive uses of 2G networks were being established. General Motors first offered OnStar in their Cadillac brand of cars. The dynamics of a tech bubble were also in play during the late period of 2G service.
Source: Carmi Brandis, “The history of the SIM Card: Where It’s Going and Where It’s Been”, Neo, January 18, 2018, https://blog.aeris.com/neo/the-history-of-the-sim-card.
Perhaps the most significant change for modern society was the advancement made possible by 3G technology. After 1998, the term “smartphone” began to be used. Email, web browsing, music files, and video teleconferencing were introduced for mobile platforms. The very first use of the term Internet of Things was introduced by Procter and Gamble in 1999. In 2000, the Department of Defense ended the degradation of GPS accuracy that had been in place since Operation Desert Storm (1991). Vehicles could now use mobile phone service to better communicate and GPS to better navigate (for example, OnStar in General Motors). After 2003, a company named Skype began to offer phone calls over data connections using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). This had major ramifications for corporate customers. Mobile applications like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook grew out of the innovations made possible by 3G networks. The 3.5G service further enabled GPS integration, wireless connectivity in laptops, and fueled the proliferation of online gaming. The first business intelligence tool for handling “Big Data” was introduced in 2005 to handle mapping data. The global economy underwent one of the most significant recessions in modern history as the next generation of service was being launched.
Source: Keith D. Foote, “A Brief History of Big Data”, Dataversity, December 14, 2017, http://www.dataversity.net/brief-history-big-data/.
Networks built for 4G service were launched in 2008 and began to usher in the ability to interconnect laptops, tablets, and other devices with the services available on mobile phones. Apps got better. Quality improved. Speed increased. Costs per bit lowered dramatically. Streaming services were greatly expanded with 4G networks and this led to a shift in business models for traditional companies. High definition television service became accessible. We began using the term “Internet of things” to inclusively refer to devices that are always connected, always on, and able to better perform. The era of Big Data signaled a strategic corporate shift using 4G as tech giants like Amazon and Google built mammoth data centers around the world. Managed services became a growing need as individuals and businesses realized they were unable to keep up with the volume of data generated daily by multiple devices. The infrastructure for 4G was and continues to be, significant. Places like Eastern Europe are only now beginning to implement 4G service as the more developed world looks on to 5G technology. Interestingly, there is evidence that another tech bubble has been underway as the beginning of 5G service looms.
Source: Lopa J. Vora, “Evolution of Mobile Generation Technology: 1G to 5G and Review of Upcoming Wireless Technology 5G”, International Journal of Modern Trends in Engineering and Research, October, 2015, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4dfd/40cc3a386573ee861c5329ab4c6711210819.pdf.
Utility Work Ahead
The 5G network may be around the corner, but the mobile device market has a few more miles to go. Verizon has taken the approach to focus on home Internet, but their 5G service is currently on a proprietary standard. The Motorola Moto Z3 reportedly will work with a 5G modem as an add-on when the Verizon carrier launches its 5G network in 2019. Ironically, Apple’s major 2018 product launch, the iPhone XS series, did not include 5G capability. The Samsung Galaxy product line is likewise not 5G capable as of late 2018. The entire industry has been aware of the upcoming launch of 5G for some time. The major manufacturers seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach to product development and launch.
What is available, or will be soon, are devices that will provide service to existing 4G mobile phones. Verizon has a cryptic description of their vision, describing their 4G network as the foundation for bringing 5G to market. Verizon seems to be betting heavily in the beginning on what is called “fixed, home Internet and cable TV service”. AT&T will offer a “puck” that functions much like what we experience with mobile hot-spots now.
Source: Aaron pressman, “Verizon and Motorola Unveil the First US 5G Smartphone – Sort Of”, Fortune Magazine, August 2, 2018, http://fortune.com/2018/08/02/first-5g-phone-moto-z3-verizon/.
Entering Congested Area
What does 5G service stand to offer us? More in the way of integrated services. Most of the technology that 4G helped improve involved people using systems. The 5G networks will enable systems to use systems, thus significantly improving efficiency. Artificial intelligence is expected to benefit greatly by the interconnectivity and increased speed of data transfer made possible over 5G networks. In short, this generation of wireless networking technology is designed for congestion. Three different classes of service will be available: enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC), and Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC).
Enhanced Mobile Broadband is aimed at population dense centers by offering high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum ranges to facilitate capacity much greater than individual service sites can provide under the 4G system. Urban areas will likely saturate the population base with hundreds or thousands of directional antennae designed to interconnect and relay signals from sender to receiver. The key advancement is what is called “spectral efficiency”: optimizing more frequencies for higher bandwidth over a greater range. This is not new, by the way, each generation of service has attempted to improve spectral efficiency.
Massive Machine Type Communications will be the domain of machine-to-machine and Industrial IoT applications. The key advancement with this class is energy efficiency. As devices talk to devices, optimal patterns for power consumption, heat management, and process automation can be automatically determined and adjusted. The objective is dynamic production. Cloud-sourced software as a service combined with sensors and robotics will form an Industrial IoT. All these together comprise the elements of “smart factories”.
Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications focus on speed over other attributes. Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles are an obvious use case. Services that influence human life will have to be ultra reliable. Interestingly, as defense capabilities of rival nations threaten the reliability of services like GPS, the 5G network could offer a redundant backup. In some cases, 5G could replace satellite connections for positioning services.
Finally, it should be noted that there are privacy concerns with the proliferation of sensors and data collecting devices. People who are averse to always being monitored may find the next decade particularly worrisome. Online security practices will become ever more important as safeguarding personally identifiable information becomes increasingly important. Undoubtedly, fraudulent actors will become more efficient with the advances that 5G technology will bring. Caution will always be important with every system in use. Public safety will need to be factored in with each new advance and innovative idea brought to market. The era of data breaches needs to become a thing of the past.
Source: Scott Fulton, “What is 5G? Everything You Need to Know About the New Wireless Revolution” ZD Net, April 30, 2018, https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-5g-everything-you-need-to-know/.
The improvements in bandwidth, coverage, latency, and reliability have caused us to rethink our world. Interestingly, public infrastructure like bridges, light poles, and mass transit have taken on a new value as we look to place sensors, cameras, antennae, repeaters, and relay stations on previously single-use items. Perhaps more so than ever before, engineers and scientists are looking ahead to how this 5G network with the proliferating sensors and communication systems will set the stage for the next generation that is expected to come around 2030. That future will incorporate almost everything around us to collect and display information. From the cars we ride in, to the clothes we wear, there will always be something collecting, displaying, or relaying data. For an interesting look at the possibilities, see what the folks at Finland’s University of Oulu envision for the world of 6G communications. It will remind you of Isaac Asimov.
Source: Sasha Sagan, “With 5G in the Works, 6G Is Already Taking Shape”, PC Magazine, April 19, 2018, https://www.pcmag.com/article/360533/what-is-6g.
End Work Zone Speed Limit
The next generation of wireless networking technology is upon us. Each major generation of service lasts about a decade. We have seen significant changes to our lifestyle with 3G and 4G networks over the last two decades. The next ten years promises to offer even more significant advances in logistics, healthcare, commercial business, and the defense industry. Our homes, our appliances, our cars, and of course our phones will offer more value to us as systems that are part of a holistic environment. Security and privacy will continue to be elements of concern, and our progress with the technology will need to be balanced against the requirements for public safety. Three different classes of service under the 5G umbrella will enable further specialization and innovation: eMBB, mMTC, and URLLC. Cloud services will combine with artificial intelligence to provide more efficient analytical services. Innovation will continue as the devices we use evolve into the devices we need for tomorrow. All of this will set the stage for what the world expects to use long into the future.