5G’s 5 breakthroughs

International Events

26 Jun 2019


Unlike previous evolutions, 5G represents an exponential leap in terms of speed, device connection capacity or lower latency. Knowing its characteristics is essential to understand how it will impact and revolutionize both the economy and business. 

Article by Carles Gómara, Innovation department manager and ACCIÓ’s Mobile International Program manager.

When, in the spring of 1973, the first phone call using a mobile device was made in New York, hardly anyone could have imagined how this type of connection would evolve. From that initial phase, we have now reached its fifth generation (5G), something which is getting a lot of attention today, even though we don’t always understand the effects it will have on the economy and business. In practice, 5G will allow us to multiply opportunities in all areas of an already fully connected world. These are the 5 main breakthroughs of 5G:

1. Faster speeds

The change that 5G means in terms of connection speeds will be especially relevant in fields such as entertainment. It will allow you to send and receive a vast number images in an instant, such as receiving a high definition movie in a few seconds. Furthermore, technology such as virtual reality or augmented reality will benefit from the advantage of being able to offer far greater image quality and detail.

To be able to do so, 5G technology will use up to three different types of frequencies. This fact is significant because it completely affects its performance and the amount of data that can be sent. Higher frequencies may send more data, but at a lesser distance; and lowest frequencies will be able to send data farther, but in lesser quantity.

This is why we need to add many more antennas. Current 4G ones have a range of about 100 square miles, while 5G antennas only cover one square mile. We’ll need to locate new ones in a wide range of infrastructures, such as traffic lights, for example.

2. Connecting more devices 

We have all seen it happen at major events or demonstrations: when there is a large number of devices connected to the network, 4G overloads and stops working. It's like a funnel where we have (and want to have) more and more things going through it; something impossible to satisfy without 5G.

A very clear and real example is the fact that there are 290 million vehicles in Europe. Starting just a year ago, all new cars have had to be connected by law, at a rate of 15 million annually. Today, therefore, there are already more than 15 million connected vehicles in Europe collecting and sending data daily.

And it's not just cars, in a world where we want everything to be connected, 4G becomes a funnel that allows a maximum number of 100,000 connections per square kilometre. Not nearly enough at the rate the use of connected devices is growing. Therefore, 5G multiplies this capacity by 10.

3. Less latency

Latency is the delay between an order being given and when it is finally performed. 4G officially has a latency of 10 milliseconds (probably between 20 and 40 in practice), and has already made us forget about delays in sound (calls) which may seem imperceptible to us. 5G reduces this latency to a millisecond which is crucial in "conversations" between machines.

The MWC 2019 saw talk about the first tele-mentored medical operation, where 5G allows you to perform operations remotely in real-time with the utmost precision. This is just an example of the importance of this feature, but it can also be extended to any industrial facility that requires high-precision processes.

5G represents therefore a real turning point in industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. For the first time, machines can interact in real time. Therefore, with the need to keep latency so low and with more and more connected devices, it will be necessary to establish new telephone exchanges working as small clouds. In other words, as intermediaries processing data near to where things are happening (something known as edge computing).

4. Customised services

Currently, each 4G antenna serves a lot of phones at the same time. This will change with 5G. Its operation will be based on more antennas, smaller and much closer together. Each one will serve a few devices; unlike 4G, where one single antenna must divide its service capacity between all the devices using it. Consequently, 5G guarantees minimum latency and data capacity, with a channel reserved for each device (this is known as slicing).

This paradigm shift means customized services can be offered. Thus, each small 5G antenna will adapt to the needs of the devices connected to it. For example, emergency services will require a minimum latency, while for surveillance purposes it will be essential to receive large amounts of data to obtain images with higher quality and detail. On the other hand, a factory will require many devices to be connected at the same time. Slicing, then, can offer everyone what they need most.

5. Socialising Artificial Intelligence

If 5G increases the amount of connected devices, they will then collect more data from around them. This collected data is the vital and essential fuel enabling us to power improved artificial intelligence systems. Hence, the combination of 5G and all the data it will be able to collect will allow us to enjoy an even more intelligent artificial intelligence (if you'll forgive the repetition).

The main advantage of all this is that this artificial intelligence will be available to us all. You will no longer have to own expensively huge computer centres to enjoy artificial intelligence useful for our companies and cities. Thanks to 5G it will become a far more common service, something we can just buy from suppliers. And what’s more, given 5G’s low latency, we’ll be able to use it just as if it were being generated from our own company computer.

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