A game-changing fifth-generation of wireless technology is almost here. There is so much promised with this coming shift. Compared to existing mobile technology, 5G will deliver connection speeds up to ten times faster, with lower latency and the ability to connect a massive number of devices simultaneously. But what does that actually mean? How will it change our lives and the way we use technology?
Bernard Bureau, TELUS VP of Network & Architecture Strategy, explained how the technology will have a profound impact on our citizens, our businesses and the economy. “It will pave the way for a range of exciting new uses,” he said.
According to Bureau, whereas previous mobile technologies were developed with a technical mindset, 5G was explicitly established to solve issues that cannot be supported in our current mobile network.
Let’s take a look at how we expect to use 5G to create a better future and how we are working to roll-out the new technology across Canada.
5G use cases
The International Telecommunication Union has characterized 5G in three families of use cases:
eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband)
mMTC (Massive Machine Type Communications)
uRLCC (Ultra-reliable and Low Latency Communications)
The first, eMBB, represents a significant connectivity upgrade for today’s smartphone. It promises faster connection speeds, more connected devices with enhanced capabilities, and introduces tremendous potential for AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) experiences.
eMMB: Transformative VR
With speeds up to 20 Gbps and lower latency, the use cases for VR can expand on a grand scale. Due to the higher speeds and reduced latency inherent with 5G, the costs normally associated with VR can be offloaded into the cloud. Even better, 5G’s impact on VR will transcend gaming and entertainment — bringing about positive transformations for applications such as public safety.
“Imagine a firefighter enters a building that’s on fire,” Bureau said. “What if he had a 360-degree camera on his vest, with somebody sitting a kilometre away giving advice to that firefighter?”
mMTC: Sensor optimization
The next use case, Massive machine type communication (mMTC), allows for one million devices per square kilometre to be connected, truly ushering in the era of the Internet of Things (IOT). According to Bureau, the strategy for mMTC is to capitalize on the low cost of the modems (approximately $10 CDN) and collect information from all these connections to leverage analytics through machine learning/AI and optimize everything around us. For industries relying on sensors for monitoring, such as eHealth, environment, transportation, energy, agriculture and retail, this use case can be very practical.
uRLCC: The future of transportation
The last use case, uRLLC, represents perhaps the most significant addition to the next generation mobile network. 5G’s most significant impact, according to Bureau, could happen when mission-critical devices, such as autonomous vehicles and drones, are connected. With uRLLC, the error rate is reduced by a factor of one thousand.
Fast forwarding to the not-so-distant future, Bureau foresees more autonomous cars on our highways. “When the network is sending instructions to a car to avoid an accident, every thousandth of a second is critical, and at the same time the reliability is equally important,” he said.
The concept for uRLLC is you can coordinate all these vehicles to control speed and improve traffic flow.
Ted Ross, CIO for the City of Los Angeles, recognizes 5G’s relevance in the autonomous vehicle conversation. As Ross looks to the future for North America’s most traffic-congested city, traffic signals may no longer be necessary when everything is autonomous. “It changes the way cities are organized,” he said. “You can imagine with ultra-low latency we’ll have the ability to send a communication that in a fraction of a second gets to the autonomous vehicle to tell it pedestrians are now in the street. It means you can have real-time decision making.”
Using the 5G network, your vehicle could even see things hidden from view.
The concept of “Network Slicing” and why it’s important
In order to improve the experience for both consumers and enterprises, a technique called slicing has been introduced. Slicing uses a set of attributes for specific types of traffic unique to 5G. Unlike 4G, Bureau explained, which treats all data the same way. Slicing allows portions of the network to be carved out to support the intended use, whether it is in the best effort or ultra-reliable category.
With 5G network slicing, Bureau put forward three prominent examples.
Consumer best effort
In the consumer slice, data such as video streaming, web browsing, and non-realtime data will use enhanced mobile broadband in a best effort scenario.
For public safety, packet-switched voice, data, and video traffic with high priority falls under this slice. “High-quality VR, for example, will require specific throughput and latency and you need the data to be secure,” Bureau said.
The machine-to-machine (M2M) IoT slice is reserved for communication between machine and machine, IoT services or apps that require high latency, extended coverage, and low bandwidth. Access to the Internet needs to be managed differently here.
It’s important to note, Bureau added, that our smartphones will be able to access different slices depending upon the application. “A police worker on break watching a YouTube video wouldn’t be using the public safety slice, but when he or she is using an application pertaining to public safety that slice would be utilized.”
A case of three spectrums
Another crucial aspect of wireless network operators is the spectrum. These frequency channels are resources that are used to carry data between the antennae and your smartphone.
Three distinct spectrums are part of the strategy to serve Canada’s diverse topography.
The 3.5 GHz spectrum covers urban and suburban areas and runs on speeds of about 2 Gbps.
mmWave covers dense urban areas (think downtown in a large city) and can accommodate dense speeds and capacities with speeds of about 8 Gbps.
The 600 MHz spectrum covers rural areas and runs at 200 Mbps.
Despite the faster speeds of the higher bands, information cannot be carried very far, so many more cells must be set up in the future, said Bureau, noting that he is optimistic that it will get done. “Canada is now the second fastest country in the world in mobile networks,” he said. “I expect this excellence to carry over.”
5G adoption in the US and Canada
Currently, the US is leading 5G adoption, with Verizon and AT&T already launching initiatives such as WTTx and mobile hotspots. In 2019, there are early devices, but Bureau estimates the global adoption to occur in 2020 with the mass availability of 5G smartphones. At that time, network availability, device capability, and global adoption will converge to support a live ecosystem.
“In Canada, we need spectrum to launch 5G, so it’s quite possible we will have a few launches in 2020, and I expect in 2021 we will have a very large deployment of 5G,” Bureau said.
Technology has already changed our lives in profound ways in just the last ten years. 5G wireless infrastructure promises a world more connected than ever before.
So the question is, are you ready?
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