The acronym used to refer to the fifth generation wireless connections (5G) for mobile devices will be the key to taking the next step in the evolution of the technology. The main question is… What is 5G for? To begin to understand its impact, we need to keep in mind its two main advantages in comparison with 4G: faster speed, up to 5 Gbps in several tests (indeed, in others it is even higher), and a much lower latency (the time delay in milliseconds that the information takes to reach us); the numbers vary somewhat, depending on whose claim it is, but they can be rounded up to about 5 milliseconds.
Some of the problems 5G will resolve are the ones currently affecting 4G, such as coverage while mobile: travelling by car or train currently means a constant signal transfer from one aerial to another. These effects will be reduced with 5G, which will provide a more consistent and regular signal. Some studies and projections put this capacity at around 10 Tbps per square kilometre, and a much higher density than the current one: about one million nodes per square kilometre.
And, according to the operators’ information, deployment will be easier and faster than with 3G or 4G, since they have learned from previous processes and now that aerials are able to cover a larger area and more devices.
Main areas that will benefit from 5G
V2V communication (vehicle to vehicle), backed by Ericsson among many others, is one of the protagonists, which allows cars to communicate with each other (for example, videos that let you see through other vehicles), or send important information (such as when a car is braking sharply at a high speed, when a breakdown occurs and problems may occur, etc.). This is where lowering latency is vital: a couple of milliseconds more or less in the communication between two vehicles at risk could mean the difference between avoiding an accident, and possibly saving lives. Or, to take a less dramatic example, it would allow a driver to stop well in advance of arriving at a busy intersection.
Internet of Things
5G cannot be understood without talking about the Internet of Things, which in turn cannot be understood without mentioning the eSIM, the virtual replacement for SIM cards. And with regard to this, Intel has already shown some insight in their direct approach to the future. For smartphones and tablets, it will allow you to dispense with physical components and moving parts, a fact which can be exploited by miniaturizing batteries further or increasing their capacity. But also for everyday objects, some of which are tiny, it provides the ability to connect them, make them smart and allow them to communicate with each other: vases, pillows, parking sensors, washing machines, toothbrushes, shoes, lamps, etc. As much progress is being made, we will soon have lots of connected devices sending small amounts of information on a regular basis, so it will be necessary to develop a new low bandwidth protocol. This would have been very complicated, with 4G alone, especially with the increasing number of devices. 5G opens the door to the era of the Internet of Things.
Truly Wireless Internet
“5G allows fully wireless Internet” were the words of Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of QUALCOMM. That phrase refers to a future where no cables are needed to ensure high-speed, almost instantaneous, stable connections. As a result, a new scenario for communication between smartphones and M2M (machine to machine) is also opened. Moreover, according to Intel, it is estimated that there will be about 50 billion connected devices by 2020 that could benefit from 5G.
Another area potentially benefiting from the arrival of 5G: online or cloud videogames. Nowadays, you need to download a game to play it, but some companies have already tried going for a completely online system. Given its very high speed and low latency, 5G will allow people to play console video games directly, without downloading them but rather by streaming them, and accessing them online directly from a mobile network. So it would be easier to think of video games with desktop power that could be played on a smartphone, since processing would not be on the device itself, but in the cloud. The image would reach the phone in almost game real-time.
Health is another important area. Again, latency is the key. The scope and speed of 5G will facilitate wireless and remote communication between advanced medical instruments and hospitals with inferior equipment. This scenario, combined with the development of the eHealth sector, or technologies focused on the medical sector with a special emphasis on Big Data, can be defined as one of the trends in the future of interconnected medicine.
The present challenge for 5G
For now, the main challenge is to reach a fixed standard; we must understand that this is an ongoing project, and that negotiations between government agencies, operators and companies have not yet reached an agreement. But if the deadlines are met, despite the intense work involved: by 2020, the date set by all, we will witness the first 5G commercial applications, deployments and developments.