Your treatment options could be expanded while doctors monitor your health stats and send digital imaging anywhere in the world for analysis. A wearable device could transmit vital statistics to your physicians, immediately alerting them to changes in your condition. If this seems too good to be true, scientists and engineers are on it.
Nicknamed “the backbone of the internet of things,” 5G is the fifth generation of wireless networks and an extension of today’s cellular infrastructure. It is expected to enable real-time responses and high-speed connectivity by bringing us improved efficiency when compared to current 3G and 4G networks. Manufacturers and wireless carriers have already started infrastructure trials to support the 5G network.
“Some people define 5G as a certain class of technology, but many cell phone operators say that 5G is a user experience,” says David Wortman, who leads 5G efforts at 3M. “You build up the capability so that people are always connected.
Looking back at the evolution of wireless networks, we see how far we have come.
“1G, or the first generation, used a lot of digital communication, while also including analog communication,” explains Jennifer Sokol, product development specialist at 3M. Then there was 2G. “2G was purely digital. It also added SMS texting, where you could not include photos in your texts,” says Jennifer.
Internet access, video calls and mobile TV all came alive with 3G.
4G, which is used by most smartphones today, added high-definition mobile TV and video conferencing. It uses a different internet-only protocol, or language, compared to its predecessors.
5G is the next evolution. While the industry is still coming to a consensus on 5G specifications, it is anticipated that this new network will expand user frequencies.
“5G has the potential to be transformational,” says Jennifer.
That’s because the 5G network will incorporate the 4G spectrum, while also including cellular, high band and millimeter wave frequencies – which are higher-frequency bands of the wireless spectrum.
These advancements will help provide increased bandwidth, allowing more data to be transferred faster.
“This can push us one step closer to experiencing seamless connectivity, as the amount of data, the speed of data and reliability are expected to increase significantly,” explains Tommie Kelley, advanced research specialist at 3M.
“5G will have three main performance attributes,” says Paul Leblanc, a technical expert in communications solutions at 3M.
The first is mobile broadband, where the system will work in speeds enabling you to transfer more data faster with more connected devices.
Second is low-latency communications, which means less of a delay in transferring data from point A to point B. Paul explains that the response time of the network is expected to be about 50 times faster than the latency of 4G devices. That is about 400 times faster than the blink of an eye.
Not having to wait on the network to respond will be particularly valuable during emergency response situations and remote-controlled operations, where there is a reliance on receiving rapid feedback.
“There are already some aspects of this where you have a doctor in one location and the surgery is being performed in a faraway location,” says Jennifer. “There are going to be more applications like that.”
David predicts that 5G will revolutionize how we live in additional ways – making us more interconnected than ever before as we move toward a future of smart cities.
Autonomous vehicles are among this revolution. “The autonomous vehicle does not exist without the 5G infrastructure,” says David. It is an infrastructure that is anticipated to enable driverless vehicles to communicate with each other, traffic signals and road signs.
“You are going to need to get data somewhere really fast, because that data will be needed to help the car make decisions,” adds Jennifer.
They’re decisions that require dependability. “You cannot afford a failure with autonomous vehicles,” says David. “5G is expected to provide the data rates and the reliability you need.”
This faster network could make your ride more convenient, too. David explains that with 5G, your car may be able to receive the cellular signal and then possibly become a hot spot for everyone in your car to communicate with Wi-Fi.
5G will support these massive machine-to-machine communications and internet of things applications.
Your devices, like wearables, fitness trackers and smart refrigerators, are expected to be able to talk to each other and could help predict your daily activities. Scientists are working to create a communication protocol adaptable enough to support these various devices.
“We will need to optimize network architecture and protocols to support a large number of devices that have very low data connection requirements, but also need to perform their functions for a long period of time,” says Paul. This same system needs to be able to support high data rate and low latency applications.
“To do all of that with one communication system takes a lot of planning and standardization. That is what the 5G community is doing today,” says Paul.
When you strap on your next virtual or augmented reality headset, your experience will feel more real with 5G. “Augmented reality with low latency makes learning on the fly much more natural,” says Tommie. “Devices could provide real-time instruction to accompany hands-on training, so the level of expertise required to accomplish many tasks could be reduced.”
All the data from these internet of things devices flows through data centers – many of which are located in big data center farms.
As these data centers continue to grow, they’ll need to adjust to be suitable for 5G. We will see a move toward co-located or edge servers, where the data centers will be moved out of a central location and moved closer to where you’re using data.
“The issue is that if you have to send your data hundreds of miles back to a data center, it takes too long,” says David.
Nobody wants to wait. The edge data centers may be the anticipated solution. They could create the 5G network. “Edge servers will help reduce latency, because they’ll process information locally,” says David.
While research shows that about one billion people worldwide will be 5G-enabled within five years, 5G may be tangible before then.
5G trials have already debuted at this year’s Winter Olympics, where some were able to take a ride on an autonomous shuttle, stream media and experience the full capacity of immersive technologies. Picture being able to see an athlete’s view from different angles while checking out details like their country and stats. Ultra-high definition cameras connected through 5G were expected to enable these experiences.
Some smartphone carriers say they will be ready to roll out 5G even before 2020, and the evolutionary parts of 5G are already being implemented as extensions of 4G – but there will be some challenges along the way.
“We can likely expect a long and complex roll out when 5G does arrive,” says Tommie. “The true promise of 5G is likely to be realized first in select dense, urban areas and much later across the entire network.”
But it will be worth the wait, as this roll out will move us a step closer toward allowing communication to truly connect us all.
“The development of this communication network has the chance to affect multiple industries. It could have a very lasting impact,” says Paul. “Being able to be a part of that and help build that is exciting for me.”