A cellphone tower with 5G lit up in blue.
Image: James Thew/Adobe Stock

The evolution driving through the cellular technology industry since the early years of 1G has met several waves of iterations and generations. From the unsung days of 2G and 3G to the gloried standards of 4G, the world currently has on its palm a new standard for cellular networks in 5G.

While telecom providers are pushing gallantly to ensure the quick rollout of the network across the globe, some emerging technologies are already carving out use cases from the 5G era. Despite all the bustle and scramble around 5G, there needs to be clarity over the network’s capabilities, its pros and cons, and to what extent it will expand the gains of its predecessors.

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What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology. A direct improvement on its predecessor, 4G LTE, 5G is built to increase speed, improve the flexibility of wireless services and reduce latency to the barest minimum.

With 5G, the focus of telecommunication technology is no longer on standards that ensure connectivity. The bar has drifted toward meeting the demands of increasing data traffic, digitization and the Internet of Things. In addition, 5G aims to provide higher standards for measuring data network capacity, speed, reliability, response time and security.

5G offers wider bandwidths by maximizing the usage of spectrum resources. While 4G made use of sub-3 GHz to 100GHz, 5G is designed to operate in both low bands of about sub-6 GHz and mmWave, which will deliver faster broadband services and greater reliability.

Benefits of 5G

As network providers continue to gradually but steadily deploy 5G cellular networks, many discussions have centered on how consumers can benefit from the network. Below is a closer look at some of the benefits of 5G.

5G offers a significant reduction in latency

The previous generations of cellular networks were greatly marred by high latency, which affected consumer experience and slowed down digital transformation goals.

In a latency test organized by Ericsson in the U.S., data showed that 5G has lower latency than 4G and that the fifth-generation network offers a connection with ultra-low latency below 10-ms.

For computing needs and services such as gaming, IoT and remote environments requiring instant response time, 5G has the capacity to significantly reduce the time it takes to send and receive data.

It has the capacity for higher data transmission

Improved speed also comes with higher bandwidth usage. The combination of these two factors ensures mission-critical services are delivered in real time.

Network speed is crucial in today’s digitization goals, and 5G brings that to the table. With a data transmission speed of up to 10Gbps, 5G will deliver a data rate that is much faster than what 4G offers.

5G can withstand a high density of connected devices

The 5G network holds the capacity to offer more stable connectivity to a great number of devices. This means that higher connection density from multiple devices within the same physical area will have a negligible effect on the availability and reliability of the network.

This feature will greatly benefit the IoT market, which is currently growing at an unprecedented rate. With a report by Research and Markets suggesting that IoT will continue its gains, we expect to see more connected devices in homes and in industries relying on the powers of 5G to run efficiently.

Advances new technologies

5G will create better flexibility for the growth of many industries. Although the higher speed that comes with 5G is ideal for driving connections in mobile devices, it’s also a critical prerequisite for achieving robust machine-to-machine communication and the advancement of technologies like cloud computing, drones, sensors, AI and ML.

Drawbacks of 5G

Despite many gains of 5G, it still faces many challenges.

5G rollout has been slow

5G may have witnessed some level of success in terms of rollout in developed economies like the U.S. and China, but the same cannot be said for other countries where the network deployment has been slow.

Emerging data from Statista reveals that apart from China and the U.S., other countries have yet to make serious progress with its rollout.

5G has some security concerns

Although the third and fourth generations of cellular networks are limited in capacity and speed, they afforded organizations enough leverage to track and monitor the security of their systems.

However, with the expanded bandwidth of 5G, organizations will likely be exposed to more cybersecurity risks. In addition, the higher speed from the 5G network architecture may require that organizations change their security teams or devise new methods to contain new threats.

It requires new devices

Many mobile devices and industrial machines were not built with the capacity to accommodate 5G. This means some of these devices will be cut off from using the 5G network.

Given the current economic crunch forcing many organizations to lay off some of their staff, only a few organizations will have the wherewithal to invest in new 5G-compliant devices sooner than later.

Limited range of connectivity

The high-frequency radio waves that deliver 5G connections are unfortunately blocked by trees and large structures, reducing the network’s broadcast range. In the end, additional cellular towers may be required to attain the wide coverage we anticipate from 5G networks.

Key features of 5G

Speed and bandwidth

The speed of 5G is the most touted feature as it is the most differentiating factor between the fifth and fourth generations of cellular networks.

New developments such as the fourth industrial revolution, smart cities, advancement of VR and AR all need what 5G offers in speed and bandwidth to collect and transmit high volumes of data with agility and in real time.

Low latency

A significantly reduced latency is one of the key features of 5G. The fifth-generation network has the capacity to cut down on the time it takes for data to pass from one point on a network to another. For critical services that require immediate response time, the low latency guaranteed by 5G can drive these sectors.

Robust security

5G offers more robust security than 4G, 3G and 2G. It incorporates tight security controls such as improved subscriber identity protection, new mutual authentication capabilities and extra security measures. These security measures will help protect network endpoints and ensure that data carried over the 5G network is secure.

Energy efficiency

Energy optimization is a key consideration for any new technology as more organizations aim to cut down on carbon emissions and energy use.

From an infrastructure standpoint, 5G ensures better energy optimization than 4G. Due to low latency and high speed, IoT devices, smartphones and industrial devices connected to 5G can deliver tasks faster than when connected to 4G, 3G or 2G. This factor ensures an enhanced battery life cycle for these devices and lower energy consumption.

Discover more about this topic with these recent news features: Las Vegas and NTT deploy largest private 5G network in the US and a 5G accelerator coalition comprising General Dynamics, Amazon and others.

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Catch up on the latest tech innovations that are changing the world, including IoT, 5G, the latest about phones, security, smart cities, AI, robotics, and more. Delivered Tuesdays and Fridays