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5G and Beyond Mobile Wireless Technology

(United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland - Alvin Wei-Cheng Wong)


5G for The Fourth Industrial Revolution and The Future of Connectivity



- 5G: Vision For The Next Generation of Connectivity

"AI, machine learning, deep learning, autonomous systems and neural networks are not just buzzwords and phrases. Increased computing power, more efficient hardware and robust software, as well as an explosion in sensor data from the Internet of Things (IoT) - are fueling machine learning, and moving actionable data and intelligence towards edge devices. As AI makes devices, including smartphones and automobiles, more intelligent, mobile is becoming the key platform for enhancing all aspects of our lives, having an impact now and in the future." -- (MIT)

The mobile market has experienced unprecedented growth over the last few decades. Consumer trends have shifted towards mobile Internet services supported by 3G and 4G networks worldwide. Inherent to existing networks are problems such as lack of spectrum, high energy consumption, and inter-cell interference. These limitations have led to the emergence of 5G technology. And while next-generation 5G wireless is only in the early stages of commercial implementation, it was nearly a decade in the making.

The primary goal of previous generations (3G and 4G) of mobile networks has been to simply offer fast, reliable mobile data services to network users. 5G has broadened this scope to offer a broad range of wireless services delivered to the end user across multiple access platforms and multi-layer networks. 

5G is effectively a dynamic, coherent and flexible framework of multiple advanced technologies supporting a variety of applications. 5G utilizes a more intelligent architecture, with Radio Access Networks (RANs) no longer constrained by base station proximity or complex infrastructure. 5G leads the way towards disaggregated, flexible and virtual RAN with new interfaces creating additional data access points.


- 5G: A Multi-modal Environment

5G is a new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. 5G is the next phase in the evolution of global communication networks. It is not a single technology, but a multi-modal environment built on advances in radio frequency (RF) design, photonics, free space optics, high-throughput satellites and cognitive radios, just to name a few.

5G will be a multi-modal environment composed of several high-bandwidth, low-latency technologies. This environment will use millimeter wave wireless connectivity in urban areas, where the density of population and data makes the high-bandwidth, short-range solution optimal. Millimeter waves (radio frequency waves above 28 GHz) have the advantage of traveling very quickly and being able to carry up to 1000 times more data than the spectrum ranges currently used for 4G/LTE. The downside is that the waves don’t travel nearly as far, or through obstacles like buildings nearly as well. To compensate and relay signals around obstacles, small cell antenna arrays will need to be distributed much more densely than current cell phone towers. These small arrays will need to be compact and unobtrusive, such as installations on top of street lights. 


- Base Stations, MIMO, Beamforming, Full-Duplex, and Satellite Broadband

Base stations that move data between the fiber optic backhaul and wireless “last mile” will use Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology to greatly increase the bandwidth by a factor of five or more over current base stations. To avoid signal interference from all of these additional signals, beamforming technology will reduce interference by allowing base stations to send a focused stream of data to a specific user rather than sending the signal in every direction. Full-duplex technology will allow send and receive signals to be sent simultaneously rather than one after the other, a major driver behind latency reductions expected with 5G. Underpinning all of this wireless technology will be a next-generation fiber optic backhaul that utilizes full duplex technology to transport large quantities of data over distance.

In rural or less dense suburban areas, satellite broadband will provide part of the solution.  Moving between these signals will require cognitive radios that can evaluate signal availability and move seamlessly from one connection to another. This will be made possible by advances in free space optics, high-speed electronics, as well as size, weight, and power (SWaP) reductions.


- The Advent of the Intelligent Era

5G networks are part of national critical infrastructure, and are designed to be very flexible, so that they can be adopted to cater to a wide range of use case scenarios. To achieve this flexibility, network intelligence and security have to be managed across the network. This further increases the complexity of the network.

Wireless 5G utilizes a more intelligent architecture that is no longer constrained by base station proximity or complex infrastructures. 5G is the next generation cellular networks which is expected to quench the ever-ending thirst of data rates and interconnect billions of smart devices to support not only human centric traffic, but also machine centric traffic. Driven by the rapidly growing demand for fast and responsive connectivity, the industry is pushing hard to define and introduce the next generation of mobile standards. These efforts are already shaping architectures and technologies that will transform networks and services, encouraging a shift in the way we think about connectivity. 


- A New Generation of Optical Networks for 5G and Beyond

Regardless of the wireless technology employed, fiber will be the supporting infrastructure for 5G networks and beyond. A new generation of optical networks is needed to unleash the full potential of 5G communications and to prepare the network infrastructure for beyond-5G communications. In 5G, the requirements of a new class of advanced high capacity, ultra-reliable and low-latency services (as autonomous driving, or augmented reality) are shaping the evolution not only of the wireless/radio segment, but also of the higher-tier optical wired segments, spanning from access to core.  

On a longer-term horizon, pointing towards beyond-5G (or 6G), new challenging technical directions are arising that promise to revolutionize users’ network experience (to name a few, multi-sensorial and holographic communication, pervasive machine learning, coordination of heterogeneous access technologies, quantum communication). While this is a vision and the exact definitions of the new services have yet to be clearly identified, future service requirements will be further exacerbated in terms of capacity, latency, reconfigurability, reliability and security, and simply scaling up the present mode of operation in optical networks is not an option.  

A redesign that feature in-built physical security, sub-linear bandwidth scaling costs, extreme low-latency, and reconfigurability will be needed. New, possibly disruptive, solutions must be investigated, both at data and control plane. 


- 5G Uses New Spectrum

The question of which spectrum 5G networks will use has been considerable, and the answer is slowly becoming clearer. When research on 5G began, many were excited about the possibility of using the mmWave spectrum for 5G. And it will be a big part of the solution. However, in the shorter term, the sub-6 GHz spectrum and mmWave bands are significant parts of the equation. 

Release 15 outlines several groups of new spectrum specifically for New Radio (NR) deployments ranging from 2.5 GHz to 44 GHz. Two bands being targeted for more immediate deployment for mobile use cases are the 3.3 GHz to 3.8 GHz and 4.4 GHz to 5.0 GHz bands, with early demonstrations at the Winter Olympics in February 2018. Regulatory bodies in the United States, Europe, and various Asian countries have already opened this spectrum for 5G usage. And the wide bandwidths available in this band are appealing for carriers. But spectrum below 50 GHz is only the beginning. Future 3GPP releases could allow for use of spectrum up to 86 GHz.


(Returning Human Spaceflight To The U.S. at 3:22PM, May, 30, 2020 - SPACEX)

- The 5G Breakthrough Technologies

5G requires an overhaul of existing architecture and may involve software-defined networking (SDN) setups, multi-access edge computing, and, of course, spectrum - in which auctions have become a battleground between competing vendors and each country will have its own version of 5G, rather than sticking to a global, accepted standard.

Breakthrough technologies that are integral to 5G, such as Massive MIMO, network slicing, beamforming and network function virtualization (NFV) necessitate phased approaches to new 5G network deployment, as well as significant investment, with telecom operators expected to spend upwards of US $300 billion on new 5G core network deployment over the next decade.


 - Low, Mid and mmWave Bands

There are multiple different types of 5G technology that will be deployed by the various carriers, but in short, the technology is all about much larger slices of available spectrum and massive scale in capacity. The FCC defines 5G spectrum in four primary bands, Low-band between 600–900MHz, Mid-band between 2.5–4.2GHz also known as Sub-6, frequencies above 24GHz, otherwise known as millimeter Wave or mmWave, and finally what it calls Unlicensed spectrum, that can be accessed for a variety of dedicated uses including 5G. 

In terms of licensed spectrum, Low, Mid and mmWave bands will be deployed by various carriers, with T-Mobile and Sprint grabbing a large chunk of Low and Mid-bands for longer reach, and AT&T and Verizon claiming higher frequencies for higher speeds. Ultimately, all of these technologies will coexist with and require 4G networks to operate initially in a 5G NSA (Non-Stand-Alone) implementation, with standalone deployments coming later down the line. There’s a lot to digest and unpack here but what’s really important about 5G are its massive advancements in capacity, lower latency and throughput.


- 4G LTE Will Coexist with 5G in Foreseeable Future

5G is not all that different from 4G. The real change was shifting from circuit tunnelling using PPP sessions to a native IP packet forwarding system, and that was the major change from 3G to 4G. 5G looks much the same as 4G, and the basic difference is the upward shift in radio frequencies for 5G. Initial 5G deployments use 3.8Ghz carriers, but the intention is to head into the millimetre wave band of 24Ghz to 84Ghz.

With the introduction of 5G, 2G networks have been deactivated and with the introduction of 5G, 3G networks are being shutdown. However, we can affirm that 4G and 5G networks will coexist for many years. Carrier aggregation technology is critical in this coexistence, as it allows Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to combine different 4G carriers with 4G carriers or 4G carriers with 5G carriers. 

4G networks will remain for many years and this technology will have many uses in which it makes no sense to deploy 5G. MNOs will continue to use 4G to provide primary connectivity to all their customers. Instead, MNOs will use 5G to offer a more powerful service at specific sites where there are higher traffic requirements. When we think of 5G, we are not only thinking about how we are going to use this technology but where it is worth having access to 5G. 4G is very useful for many things, but there are certain applications that need 5G to work better, such as streaming mobile games, or very high definition videos. 5G is also required for virtual reality or augmented reality equipment.


- 5G Use Cases and Industry Applications

Understanding the importance of 5G technology is only part of understanding 5G applications in all technologies and industries. Due to its speed-which can be much faster than today's 4G LTE networks-and its reliability and security, the application of 5G technology can spread widely.

Next-gen wireless 5G network capabilities offer the potential for revolutionary applications extending far beyond smartphones and other mobile devices. A new range of 5G use cases and applications that converge connectivity, intelligent edge, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies will benefit everyone, from gamers to governments.

The march toward 5G continues what has been a natural progression of cellular technology innovation dating back to the early 1980s. But the economic impact stuffed into the promise of 5G is making this evolution the most significant. 5G is different from all “G” predecessors in a lot of ways. 5G is not simply a network, but rather an ecosystem that supports vertical applications and industries, enabled by the three use cases: eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), URLLC/uMTC (Ultra-reliable Low-latency Communication/ultra-reliable Machine-Type Communication), and mMTC (massive Machine-Type Communication" (mMTC).

At present, 5G is not necessarily defined as a standalone system; rather, transitional technologies including LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro are being implemented to merge bandwidth across multiple frequencies and improve device speeds before a full shunt to 5G infrastructure. Deployments across the 450 MHz - 6 GHz and 4 GHz - 52 GHz range are in play. We can expect gradual rollouts as telecoms providers build, test, and release the architecture required to facilitate 5G and reliance on existing 4G infrastructure is peeled away.

5G speed is data transmission in real time. The high-frequency bands, known as millimeter wave, don't travel very far - only a few city blocks from cell sites, in many cases - but they can carry a huge amount of data. Downloads in the bands available can approach 2 gigabits-per second, fast enough to download an entire movie almost instantaneously. The 5G era will bring unprecedented and transformative opportunities across industries.



[More to come ...]

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