We’re already living in an alwaysconnected world, neck deep in the rabbit hole that is the Internet, but if the latest developments in cellular and wireless technologies presented at CES 2019 were anything to go by, we’ve only been scratching at the surface. With cellular 5G and Wi-Fi 6 rolling out soon, it feels like we’re finally entering the age of the Internet of Things in earnest, and the secret sauce holding everything together will be the Smart Assistant.
THE NEED FOR SPEED
5G is almost here, but after years of hype, will it be worth the wait?
At CES last month, Qualcomm declared 2019 as “The year of 5G” and promised that more than 30 devices, mostly smartphones, will be released this year equipped with 5G capabilities. Closer to home, Singtel and Ericsson are on the verge of rolling out Singapore’s first 5G pilot network. But what can we really expect from 5G?
WHAT IS 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of mobile broadband that will eventually replace your existing 4G LTE connection. With 5G, you’ll see greatly enhanced speed, coverage and responsiveness of your mobile network, with some estimates putting 5G at around ten times faster than current 4G speeds. It’s not just about speed though; latency, the amount of time it takes a device to communicate with other wireless networks, will also drastically decrease. Right now, latency on current 4G networks is about 20 to 30ms, but with 5G, that lag time is reduced to as little as 1ms, faster than the amount of time it takes for your average camera flash to go oﬀ.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Mobile networks work by sending encoded data through radio waves. What makes 5G diﬀerent from 4G is the frequency bands it can operate on. Existing cellular and Wi-Fi bands currently use low-frequency networks from 600MHz to 6GHz and, at least initially, 5G will also operate on these bands. Low frequency 5G networks will take advantage of more flexible encoding and bigger channel sizes to achieve speeds 25 to 50 percent better than 4G LTE. Low frequency networks have great coverage and minimal issues with interference so telcos will be able to use their existing 4G cell sites when they switch to 5G.
The real 5G innovation is happening at higher frequencies known as millimeter wave or mmWave. The existing low frequency bands are limited due to how heavily congested the network is, but these higher frequency networks, which operate at 26GHz to 86GHz, have more spectrum available for much faster speeds. These frequencies have never been used for consumer devices because antennas that can access them weren’t small enough to fit into smartphones, but Qualcomm and Intel have solved that problem with their latest X50 and XMM 8060 modems respectively. The only drawback to mmWave signals is that they’re fairly short range and suﬀer from interference issues from buildings and trees. As such, telcos will have to install more base stations to provide stable high frequency coverage. Right now, this is the biggest delay preventing widespread 5G rollout.
A REVOLUTION WORTH WAITING FOR
5G isn’t just about faster internet on your phone. Its biggest impact could be its ability to unlock the potential of the Internet of Things. With faster speeds and virtually no lag, 5G will make new experiences possible in augmented and virtual reality, in your smart car, home and other smart devices.
Augmented reality glasses and virtual-reality headsets have been around for a few years now, but they’ve never really taken oﬀ. But 5G could change that. A 5G connection would let the bulky headsets be lighter and smaller, because instead of being weighed down by components, the headset could rely on 5G cloud computing for processing power. The reduced latency would also allow for more realistic, real-time experiences.
Autonomous vehicles will also see a huge jump in performance with 5G. Right now, self-driving cars are limited by the amount of data the car receives, as well as how up to date that data is. With reduced latency and faster data transfer speeds, autonomous vehicles with 5G connections will be able to continuously communicate with other 5G-connected vehicles on the road (both autonomous and human-driven) to provide a virtually instantaneous response to any hazard or situation.
The ultra-reliable low latency of 5G could also allow for remote connection operations from across the world. A specialist on one side of the world could operate machinery via a 5G connection from thousands of miles away. Or a doctor could use a robot to perform surgery on a patient in a completely diﬀerent country.
"5G isn’t just about faster internet on your phone. Its biggest impact could be its ability to unlock the potential of the Internet of Things."
Art Direction and digital imaging by Ashruddin Sani
By James Lu