This article was originally posted on the Access Engineering Blog.
Today’s mobile users have great expectations of the data bandwidth speeds the reliability of their mobile service provider. Wireless mobile networks, which have evolved from analog systems to present digital systems through GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) and 3G have reached the milestone of achieving a data rate of 100 Mbps to the subscriber through LTE (Long-term Evolution) technology which is termed as 4th Generation (4G). The evolution of technology has not stagnated at the above said milestone, but goes beyond it through the creation of the next generation, 5G. 5G promises to deliver ultra-high data rates superseding 4G with highly improved service parameters including, most importantly, network reliability to meet the expectations of customers. With 5G networks, users will be able to download a high definition movie in a couple of seconds (a task that could take about 10 minutes on 4G LTE network). Further it is believed that these networks will boost the room for development of other new technologies namely, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality and the Internet of Things(IoT), amongst others.
At this point, it would be interesting to discuss the history and evolution of various telecommunication technologies, as well as look at novel solutions that new technologies are capable of delivering to uplift the quality of living.
Technology is developing so fast that mobile phones from a decade ago seem ancient and outdated. (P2)
History of Mobile Networks
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call laying the foundation stone for a powerful communication mechanism. The first wireless communication system was built in 1894 using radio waves by an Italian inventor named Guglielmo Marconi.
Wireless communications have existed for over a century, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s that they became a commercially viable consumer service. In the 1980’s, the cellular networks were established marking the first generation (1G) of mobile communications. 1G was purely analog & designed to carry voice alone. There were no value-added services (VAS) namely SMS, MMS, or Internet services bundled with voice in the first generation.
In the early 90’s, with a transition from analog to digital, where networks transported data via digital signals, second generation (2G) systems were established in the market. 2G was capable of bundling SMS and MMS services realizing the beauty of digital systems to the public. 2G systems offered up to 64 Kbps of data rate for each subscriber.
2.5G was a technology between 2G and 3G using 2G system frameworks, and introduced packet switching for data communication along with the traditional circuit switching for voice services. 2.5G could deliver a data rate up to 144 kbps for each subscriber. The main services enabled with this stage of evolution were General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), Enhanced Data Rate for GSM Evolution (EDGE), and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA).
By early 2000’s, using the features developed on the handsets at that time, several facilities were introduced using the third generation (3G) of mobile network evolution. Access to e-mails and surfing the internet on the mobile phone were major facilities introduced to people’s lifestyles and were powered by the comparatively high data rates enabled through 3G. 3G offered significantly improved uplink and downlink speeds ranging between 200 Kbps up to 3 Mbps.
The next evolution in mobile communication technology was 4G which consisted of a complete and reliable solution based on Internet Protocol (IP). Services like voice, data and multimedia are easily accessible to subscribers with a seamless experience because of the inherent ability of 4G technology to deliver very high data rates in the scale of multiple Mbps per subscriber.
There has been an exponential increase in data speeds over the last 3 decades, enabling a futuristic lifestyle in the present (P3)
The Next Evolution
As the Internet of Things and cloud-based solutions become more popular, it is expected that mobile and wireless traffic volume will increase a thousand times over during the next decade. Current 4G networks will not be sufficient to cater to the massive number of connected devices which demand low latency values maintaining a significant spectral efficiency in the subscriber access network.
These situations urge the need to shift towards a new technology, addressing the challenges that are not effectively addressed by the existing mobile networks. Here’s where 5G becomes significant as it addresses the requirements of higher data rate, lower end-to-end latency, higher capacity to handle massive number of device connectivity with uncompromised reliability and a consistent “Quality of Experience” at a reduced cost.
5G technology brings many benefits to mobile communications (P4)
Features of 5G
High Capacity - Future networks demand “Everything on Mobile”. Considering connectivity of embedded devices, the numbers of devices on a network generating traffic could rise exponentially. A 5G network is expected to provide up to a million connections per square kilometer.
Low Latency - Latency is the round-trip delay experienced by the user while using the mobile device. Compared to 3G technology, the latency reduced tremendously in 4G. Even then, the delay is still too high for many real time applications. The aim with 5G is to reduce latency to less than 1 millisecond (mS).
Fast Data Throughput - The throughput of a 4G network is 10 times higher than that of a 3G network. Upcoming networks are designed to provide advanced services such as virtual and Augmented Reality, Ultra High Definition video conferencing and fast access cloud-based services over mobile. This demands a system with high throughput.
Efficiency - As future networks include sensors and meters requiring a battery life of up to 10 years, 5G network infrastructure and devices will also need to be immensely energy efficient.
Device Connectivity - 5G will need to be flexible enough to efficiently handle a wide range of devices ranging from very simple ones that send only small, rare bursts of data to advanced ones that send large amounts of data at a rapid rate.
Optical fiber will necessarily be the backbone of the networks that support 5G. The majority of the data consumption may take place on a wireless device, but wireline broadband access supports up to 90% of all internet traffic. Access Engineering has contributed to the fiber network development of Dialog Axiata Group by constructing over 2,000 km of optical fiber routes in the country over last decade, connecting more than 500 base station locations which is nearly 50% of the total fiber connected locations of Dialog Axiata Group. In the last year Dialog Axiata PLC announced the commissioning of South Asia’s first 5G pilot transmission project using commercial grade base stations and end user devices.
Most of the telecommunications operators around the world plan to commission their commercial 5G networks in early 2020. Right now, leading telecommunication operators in Sri Lanka have done their initial trials & demonstrations so that we can expect 5G networks, mainly in city areas, covering a considerable footprint in the very near future.