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5G: Just a Faster 4G, or What?

8 minute read

Guest blog by Paul Eberling, Director of Carrier Service Delivery at KORE

With 2020 in our rear-view mirror, we look ahead to 2021 in hopes that the new normal is a road far less uncharted than our last 12 months. In fact, our hopes are that the unknowns ahead will be positive in nature both for our families and work life. For most of us, advancements in cell phones, the internet, and technology remained positive and in general, continued to surge. Thus, the new “buzz word” for 2020 in the cellular and Internet of Things (IoT) world was 5G. This evolution from 4G LTE shouldn’t be a surprise given that we have been in the world of cellular evolution since the first-generation analog cell phone technology arrived in the mid-’80s. About every 10 years another generation or “G” of cellular technology emerges. People have come to expect it. What isn’t known or expected is what that new technology brings and what it means to both the industry and the population at large.

Of course, many of the benefits of new technology can only be realized once it is paired with new applications and use cases. Thus, you may look at 5G connectivity and say, “it’s faster, so what?” But it’s much more than that; in fact, consumer handset data speed is only the tip of the iceberg. What lies below is an amazing array of complex network elements designed to produce connectivity as no one has ever seen before.

Two additional groundbreaking technology advancements have emerged from 5G connectivity that will complement the speed and provide the ability to launch applications and use cases that were not previously possible. These are Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC). In fact, going back to May 2019 Forbes magazine published a 5G article titled, “Why 5G isn’t just faster 4G.” In it, Simon Rockman, former contributor of Forbes Consumer Tech, discusses in detail these three primary factors that will push 5G beyond anything we have seen. In order to fully grasp these concepts, there needs to be a basic understanding of what’s going on in the background. It gets technical; however, the real-world examples are not.

Yes, 5G connectivity is faster. It’s much faster. It is called eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband or extreme Mobile Broadband). This is the result of very advanced engineering revolving around three intertwined components: antennas, base station radios, and software.

By incorporating a vast number of grouped antennas within a device (and the corresponding base station), one can create multiple data stream paths that are then combined to form super-highways of information. This is referred to as massive MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) and sets the stage for very high throughput. Prior to the MIMO technology, if a device received more than one signal from a tower it was considered interference, would have the opposite effect (referred to as multipath propagation), and would severely decrease data throughput. By incorporating advanced antenna technology along with highly computational signal processing, what was once considered “radio noise” is now used as an accelerator to give us 5G speeds. These massive MIMO antenna groups are coupled with advanced radio technologies such as spectrum sharing, unlicensed Wi-Fi assist, and specialized channel coding software to give eMBB what users need to satisfy the demands of streaming HD/4K video, mobile Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, and high volume IoT data streams for industry verticals such as telemedicine. Interestingly enough, the components that contribute to the potential 50-100X speeds of 4G LTE also have a heavy effect on something else: latency.

To visualize what latency is, we need to understand how it relates to speed. If we think of speed as how fast a car travels, latency is the “0-60”. It represents how long it takes for bits and bytes to arrive, or the delay. Reducing the delay (lowering latency) is what allows new applications and technologies to emerge that were never before possible. For instance, an autonomous car is one that can sense its environment and operate without human involvement. For that car to safely travel on a street alongside other vehicles, pedestrians, and traffic lights there exists the need to interact with the environment around it. This requires them to be connected in some way, such as with a cellular network. Until 5G connectivity came along with its extremely low latency, there was just too much delay in the cellular networks for those vehicles to react fast enough to create a safe environment. Any delay in this interaction can cause devastating effects. With 5G, low latency plays a major role in the ability for vehicles to quickly communicate to anything around it and safely provide the appropriate response. This is referred to as “Vehicle to Everything” (V2X) communications and will play a huge part in not only self-driving cars but transport trucks, rail/ship/air transport, or any machine that operates within the environment of others.

A great demonstration of the low latency properties of 5G was organized by the University of Bristol. Titled “Orchestrating the Orchestra,” Violinist Anneka Sutcliffe plays in Bristol, Professor Mischa Dohler at a piano in The Guildhall, London, and vocalist Noa Dohler and Violinist Rita Fernandes at Digital Catapult in Euston London performed from their remote locations over a 5G network. Being able to synchronize musicians over a mobile cellular link is exceptionally demanding, as the human ear is very good at picking up even the slightest delay. And yet when they rehearsed the piece the two violins sounded as one. The audience's experience was exactly the same as if the musicians were performing in the same venue. 

The last, but certainly not least, of the three groundbreaking 5G advancements is the focus on the massive scale at which machines are being connected to the Internet. The capability for a 5G network to connect to millions of IoT devices within a small, focused area is called massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC). The 5G specification calls out an mMTC requirement of 1 million connections per square km. This capability far exceeds the capacity of 4G and will allow the operation, monitoring, and control of many types of small sensor devices in large quantities.

A great example is the auto industry connecting their assembly robots and the many sensors they contain to a central “Condition Monitoring” software within the plant. Condition monitoring refers to the supervision of those robots and the condition of their inner workings (the state of the factory) in order to prevent unplanned defects. Recording condition characteristics along the production process enable continuous quality control of the products. Hundreds of wireless sensor nodes (e. g. cameras, sound detection, proximity sensors, temperature sensors) embedded in these machines are connected wirelessly through a 5G network. Without this wireless network, these machines would be subject to a wired network connection and restricted in terms of where they can be placed on the factory floor. This means the production setup can easily be changed and units moved around on a day-to-day basis to maximize factory efficiency.

In summary, the obvious win for 5G connectivity, and easiest to showcase is the incredible download speeds. But as we delve deeper, we see that there is so much more to this evolution. In fact, industry players that leverage the 5G wireless networks are just now realizing the vast, wide (and some yet undiscovered) opportunities that abound when you combine speed, reliability, and scale to a degree never seen before.

Paul Eberling is based in Winnipeg, Canada, and is the Director of Carrier Service Delivery with KORE Wireless, the largest independent provider of managed network and layered applications enablement services within the Internet of Things (“IoT”) market with offices in 8 countries of the world. Paul currently manages all Tier 1 Carrier connectivity to KORE across 24 Carriers and is responsible for the data transport of millions of devices through the KORE Wireless global network. With 30 years of wireless experience, his career spans tower engineering, microwave and mmWave wireless networks, cellular data networks as well as 7 years of representation on the PTCRB Certification Board and now a current member of the CBRS Alliance representing KORE. Paul completed the Cisco CCNA program (2015), has taken courseware at the University of Missouri-Rolla, and is a graduate of Electronic Engineering Technology at Red River College (1994).

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Topic(s): Connectivity , Featured

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