5G Explained

By Sadira Sittampalam | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 3 2020
Tech Talk 5G Explained

By Sadira Sittampalam

5G is the 5th generation mobile network that enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything including machines, objects, and devices. This technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency which means that there is very little delay before the transfer of data, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and more uniform user experience to more users.

How does this work?

5G uses a 5G New Radio interface, which along with other technologies, utilises a much higher radio frequency to transfer exponentially more data over the air which results in this higher speed and reduced congestion. While 4G used a range of 700 MHz to 2500 MHz frequencies for its network, 5G uses a frequency of 28 GHz to transform bytes (data units) over the air.

This new interface uses a millimetre-wave spectrum and enables more devices to be used within the same geographic area. So while 4G could support about 4000 devices per square kilometre whereas 5G will support around one million. What does this mean? It means more Netflix streaming, video calls and whatever other internet needs you may have - all at the same time. These won’t be interrupted either, so say goodbye to buffering or lag because after 5G, it’ll be pretty much smooth sailing.

5G also uses a new digital technology called massive MIMO (multiple inputs multiple outputs). This uses multiple targeted beams to spotlight and follow users around a cell site which improves coverage, speed and capacity. This is better because current network technologies work as a big torch, illuminating a big area, but also having lots of wastage of the light/signal. So in the transition to 5G, they will be installing Massive MIMO and 5G New Radio to all mobile network base stations on top of the existing 4G infrastructure.

How different are 4G and 5G?

When 4G came out, it enabled previously impossible quality video streaming and calling on the go. This meant you could watch live TV on the go, even on your commute to work. However, as video streaming has got more and more popular and more people to use it, there have been increased congestion in the network. This has led to 4G reaching the technical limits of how much data it can quickly transfer. So with the 5G update, there will be less congestion.

However, the biggest difference between 5G and 4G is the gateway for the IoT-connected world (Internet of Things). This is the network of physical objects ‘things’ that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies to connecting and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet. So a Smart Home is an IoT. Thus, iterations of 5G networking are expected to be revolutionary for data-driven industries, smart cities and infrastructure management as it will be possible to have more devices working reliably, securely, and uninterrupted in the same area, while with 4g there would be an obvious limit.

How fast will 5G be?

5G promises device speed around 10 times faster than 4G. This means that there will be high-quality, ultra-high-resolution 4K video calls and downloads will be delivered even quicker to smartphones and tablets. Data transfer of fewer than 10 milliseconds will be the standard (with 1 millisecond being the best case), while now it is 20-30 milliseconds with 4G. While this may not affect us as consumers that much, for things like a long-distance, remotely controlled heavy machinery, it will be critical. It will also make other high data tasks a lot faster like live-streaming an 8k VR headset over a 5G network.

What industries will be affected?

There will be a host of new opportunities for a variety of fields once 5G is rolled out. Industries considered to most likely be transformed by 5G include media and entertainment, manufacturing, retail, health care, hospitality, finance, and shipping and transportation. However, it doesn’t stop there as other technologies will also be enabled or improved such as holograms, artificial intelligence and machine learning, industrial robots, drones, and so on.

There are already certain industries that are test-driving 5G for business purposes. For example, some companies are developing smart harbours which include automated ship to shore crane lifts and sensors with real-time traffic monitoring. Even a mobile company in South Korea is already at work building a 5G infrastructure for a smart traffic system in Seoul. 5G also stands to make things a lot easier for facilities with a lot of wired machinery. Wired factories are costly to upgrade and a lot of their mobility is limited due to the wires. Thus, with wireless sensors, these costs and issues will diminish.

Meanwhile, in entertainment, a lot more users could start to consume more media with virtual and augmented reality, especially games that are based on this technology. VR and AR could also be used to train lots of different professions like surgeons, truck drivers, and other employees in high-risk professions. In farms, 5G innovations could also include sensors that control a smart feeding system and open curtains depending on the weather.

Is 5G secure?

5G will boost security in certain ways with the capabilities of encrypted data, segmented networks, and user authentication, but it also has vulnerabilities including potential spying and attacks. The increase in connected devices also creates more targets and attacks on vital connected systems could become more chaotic and detrimental. However, these are issues that are being worked on currently and are issues that come with every new updated network system.

Is 5G safe?

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation that has come out about the nature of 5G and its effects on human health. The scientific consensus at this point is that 5G technology is safe. However, in 2019, 180 scientists from 36 countries wrote to the EU requesting a pause on 5G rollout because they were concerned about possible health risks. The Swiss Telecommunications Association then studied this case and noted that their studies have been unable to show that 5G frequencies have any health impact.

However, this did not stop people from spreading false rumours about its effects, with some people even going as far as to claim in causes brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumours, and Alzheimer’s disease. Then, with the COVID-19 pandemic, people started creating the conspiracy theory that linked 5G to COVID-19, and that the outbreak was simply a cover-up for 5G related illnesses. 

This even led to dozens of arson attacks being made on telecom masts in the Netherlands, and 61 suspected arson attacks against telephone masts in the UK. Rest assured, viruses cannot be transmitted by radiowaves, and COVID-19 has spread and continues to spread in many countries that do not even have 5G networks established yet.

 Overall, 5G is a really exciting new piece of technology that is set to revolutionise the world with more smart technologies, offering everyone the ability to be more connected to this digital world.

By Sadira Sittampalam | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 3 2020

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