The history of mobile messaging can be broken down into distinct “generations” of technological advancement. As a whole, it’s quite fascinating, beginning with the retroactively applied “0G” label used to characterize analog systems that predated the cellular approach.
Things started rolling with the advent of analog/digital technology in the late 1970s and early 1980s; “1G” was founded on cellular mobile coms that relied on analog radio for calls but digital systems for backhaul. In the early 1990s, a completely digital technology known as “2G” became available. Before the turn of the century, “3G” (which built on improvements introduced by 2.5G and 2.75G) brought higher throughput to support the emergence of the smartphone. As technology progressed, 3G’s speeds increased to the point where it could support mobile internet and live video broadcasting.
The Long Term Evolution (LTE) specification underpinning 4G networks first appeared in 2009 in the Nordic countries. As a result of its widespread adoption, it has become the standard smartphone technology with which most people are now acquainted. High-definition video, internet gaming, and video conferences are all possible thanks to its 100Mbps maximum throughput (compared to around 15Mbps for 3G).
In its place will come 5G. As of 2016, 5G networks are already in development. It boasts an incredible highest speed of 32Gbps (downlink) and 13.6Gbps (uplink) (uplink). Once 5G is completely implemented, it will compete head-on with fiber cable solutions for internet support. In comparison to 4G, the technology reduces delay, improves coverage, and maximizes spectral efficiency.
In that case, 5G is similar to 4G, but with expanded capabilities. Far from it, in fact; 5G also ushers in a lot of new technology that will prove crucial to the expansion of the IoT but will be of little advantage to users of Zoom, Netflix, and TikTok.
Welcome to New Radio
The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an alliance of seven telecoms standards bodies, has put in a lot of effort to make sure that 5G is designed to meet the needs of not only today’s demanding consumers but also tomorrow’s enterprise groups and the Internet of Things. Engineers have been working behind the scenes to compile the official paper outlining the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)-2020 standards. The International Mobile Telecommunications 2020 (IMT-2020) standard is the canonical reference for all things 5G. Data rates of 20Gbps at peak, 100Mbps for typical users, 1ms latency, 10Mbps per square meter of “area traffic capability,” and 1 million devices per square kilometer are all part of the requirements.
These standards illustrate how the 5G network is being constructed to support a large number of devices while still providing high speeds (for consumer and commercial uses) (for the IoT). As a consumer-focused device, 4G (although suitably modified networks can support cellular IoT technology such as NB-IoT and LTE-M). Taking into account factors like current device density helps put the magnitude of the task that 5G faces into perspective. Over 6,000 individuals live in each square kilometer of Tokyo, and most of them have at least one mobile phone. The local area network could still handle all of them connecting to the internet at once. That’s amazing, but it’s a million times less dense than 5G is supposed to be.
In the fine print of IMT- 2020, we may find a hint as to how 5G will handle the conflicting needs of consumers and the Internet of Things. This paper details two components: 5G LTE technology for more conventional users and new radio (NR) for a wider variety of use cases, such as the specific requirements of the Internet of Things. These parts are collectively known as “radio interface devices” among engineers (RITs).
The combined technical performance criteria of the five expected use cases are met by the LTE and NR RITs.
- indoor hotspot (using enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB))
- dense urban (eMBB)
- rural (eMBB)
- urban macro (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC)
- urban macro (massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC))
Last but not least, URLLC and mMTC (related) are use cases that mainly support the Internet of Things.
Both LTE and NR use the IMT-designated bands below 7.125GHz, but NR can also use the IMT channels above 24.25GHz. As the primary 5G resource, the so-called upper mid-bands (3.3 to 7.125GHz) provide adequate throughput and range for customers and businesses. When operating at frequencies above 24 GHz, or in the “high bands,” users can take advantage of increased device density and lightning-fast data rates.
5G, But Not As We Know It
Turns out, cellphone networks aren’t required for 5G to work. A mention of DECT-2020 NR, the “first non-cellular 5G standard,” can be found buried in the IMT-2020 paper. Although it is not a cellular system per se, it uses many of the same principles as such and thus meets the requirements.
A fascinating technology, DECT 2020 NR exemplifies IMT-2020’s ability to define the breadth of 5G. The technology utilizes the worldwide license-free 1.9 MHz frequency, which is a rarity for 5G operations and will allow for mMTC on wireless mesh networks and others. These networks usually support Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications that require very high deployment densities of devices, high reliability, and low latency, such as the use of thousands of compact sensors/actuators in industrial automation.
When compared to other wireless IoT technologies used for mMTC, DECT-2020 NR holds its own. For instance, at full node density support, the technology can achieve throughputs of 100kbps with delay of less than 10ms. That is perfect for standard Internet of Things uses.
Fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks are the first to be built from the ground up to handle not only current mobile telecoms but also emerging wireless technologies like the Internet of Things. Not unexpectedly, 6G is already in development and is expected to be much faster than 5G. The goal is to use frequencies from 100 GHz to 3 THz, with adoption spanning from regular customers and the Internet of Things (IoT) to cutting-edge industries like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR). Expect 6G-capable smartphones to hit the shelves in 2030, given the decade-long pace at which new versions of mobile wireless technology have been introduced.