Can 5G Save Us?

Over the years, technology forecasters have issued a lot of gloomy warnings – the world is going to run out of RAM, we’re going to run out of network storage space, we’re going to run out of IP numbers, Y2K and so on. Somehow though, through ingenuity, determination or simply throwing money at the issue, we’ve managed to find our way through the digital darkness. This might explain the unusual lack of panic over the traffic tsunami that’s currently barreling towards our data and communications infrastructure.

It seems that all the pie-in-the-sky tech ideas of the last 10 years are finally becoming a reality at about same time. Just think about the Matrix-like amount of data transfer that’s beginning to swirl around us every day. In addition to the vast amounts of streaming audio and video traffic across TVs, computers, phones, tablets, game consoles, etc., networks are now getting hammered with an almost incomprehensible number of simultaneous connections both big and small. Data-intensive technologies like VR (Virtual Reality) are starting to rear their heads, but equally (if not more concerning) are the collective IoT (Internet of Things) data needs of millions of simple call and response wireless technologies. On the consumer side, always-on apps, wearables (fitness, medical, and so on), mapping applications, personal banking, home automation, HVAC, door locks, remote video monitors, and even appliances, are requiring faster speeds and wider bandwidth. On the commercial, municipal and industrial side of things, technology needs like remote sensors and wireless interconnects are now becoming the norm for continuous data collection and analysis. And, add to all of this, the unique wireless demands of driverless vehicles that are on the near horizon.

It seems everything in our modern-day lives is becoming more dependent on fast, reliable, always-on network connectivity and this is presenting unprecedented challenges to infrastructure providers and carriers. The bad news is that the network demands appear to be outpacing the current supply. According to a recent study by Bell Labs, wireless and mobile technologies will only meet about 80% of demand by 2020. The good news is data carriers are working on several ways to bring things back into balance. One of the better-known technologies that’s currently in active development is the next generation mobile network, 5G.

5G is slated to replace the current 4G LTE network. Although the standards haven’t been fully defined, the stated goals of 5G are impressive. 5G is shooting for a 10Gb data rate (probably unlikely), latency of less than a millisecond, higher data rates leveraging carrier aggregation (which allows for more efficient use of available spectrum), and increased link reliability and interference reduction using massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO).

While 5G looks like good news for carriers and consumers alike, there are a few sobering hurdles to clear before it becomes a reality. As for standards, AT&T pushed hard to have them set before the end of 2016; however, most believe the standards won’t be finalized until 2019-2020. Also, the infrastructure of 5G is a major departure from that of 4G LTE. Specifically, 5G plans to leverage smaller, short-range cells which can be mounted almost anywhere (lamp posts, street lights, building walls, etc.). As such, the carriers are looking at a massive infrastructure rebuild while at the same time engaging in cutting-edge R&D and supporting the legacy 4G LTE network. Short answer, the carriers really need to keep their foot on the gas of 5G, if we’re going to be able to keep up with growing user demand.

At UAF, we’re focused on meeting the current and growing demands of our existing carrier infrastructure. We’re clear on the role we play in keeping systems operating at peak performance and we’re looking forward to meeting the filtration demands of new, cutting edge networks and hardware that are on the horizon. Working with our partners, we can help ensure that these new fears about running out of data capacity don’t become a reality.