[By Electronics Infoline In-House Editorial Team]
The scale of technological innovation and progress witnessed by the 21st century has been unprecedented in human history. From households, offices and public areas to industries, oil rigs and space stations, no aspect of modern life have remained untouched by this technology revolution. The driving engine of this revolution has been the electronics and computing technologies.
One of the most important and crucial sub-domains of electronics technology is communications technology. Mobile networks, internet, radio communication, television networks, and radar systems, all fall under the umbrella of communications technology. Mobile communications and internet have gained the status of basic life commodities in modern societies.
Over the last decade or so, mobile phones have seen unparalleled innovation and inclusion of smart features. From the basic black and white phones to the touch-screen and camera-equipped smartphones of today, the transition has happened at a lightning pace.
With the latest advancements in the cellphone related technologies, the demand for faster cellular networks with higher data transfer rates has been growing very strong. Whether it is social media sharing, instant messaging, video streaming or file downloading, a fast internet connection is an absolute must. This demand for faster and cheaper internet has been forcing the telecom operator companies to constantly improve their network infrastructure in order to meet the needs of the users. To measure the pace of growth in the arena of network technologies, it is important to take a look at the history of these technologies.
The first generation of mobile communication network was implemented in Japan in the early 1980s. This generation of mobile communication technology utilized analog radio systems for making mobile calls. Due to its analog nature, this system was unable to send any text messages or other digital data. The cellular network was composed of large-sized radio towers across the nation. The major shortcomings of the 1G network included lack of network security and reliability. The signal coverage of these networks was quite limited and network reception was a persistent issue. The 1G network also didn’t have any kind of data encryption. Hence, it was quite easy to tamper with and to hack the system.
Due to the imperfections and shortcomings of the 1G network, there was a need for an improved mobile communication network. This need resulted in the creation of the 2G mobile network. The major difference between the 2G network and its predecessor was the implementation of digital technology. The digital technology significantly improved the security and capacity of the 2G networks. The digital technology also enabled the users to send and receive MMS and emails. However, due to low bandwidth and low data rates, the process of sending MMS and emails was quite problematic.
The slow data rates and less bandwidth were a big drawback of the 2G mobile networks. These issues led to the creation of 3G mobile networks. The 3G technology really revolutionized mobile connectivity and enhanced the capabilities of the cell phones. In fact, 3G technology is still very much in use and has not gone completely obsolete. The higher data rates and transmission speeds of 3G networks enabled the end-users to browse the internet, stream videos and play online games on their phones. With 3G technology, smartphone users, for the first time, started to realize the potential of their phone sets.
Although it was very much possible to stream videos and browse the internet with 3G mobile networks, the speed of 3G networks was still not up to the mark (well, sometimes it may go up to 10Mbps) and hence the users could not fully exploit the potential of their modern feature-loaded smartphones. The browsing, surfing, streaming, and downloading on the 3G network was quite slow and cumbersome. This drawback of the 3G networks led to the implementation of 4G networks. 4G is the latest mobile phone network technology available right now and is implemented successfully in most of the first world nations. The 4G network is approximately five times faster than the 3G network and can provide data rates of up to 100Mbps. All major smartphone models after 2013 support 4G network. Improved latency, better voice quality, easy social media access and fast video streaming are the hallmark features of 4G mobile network technology.
Figure 1: Comparison of mobile network technologies. Source: https://www.deloitte.co.uk/mobileuk/themes/the-race-to-5g/
Figure 2: Source: http://www.ittoday.info/Excerpts/5G-Overview-Key-Technologies.pdf
There is a continuous need for newer and faster mobile networks because the existing networks are being used to their maximum capacity and are unable to deliver the required performance levels. The currently available 4G technology is still in its growth phase and is being expanded in the countries world over. However, the network equipment manufacturers are not willing to wait for the 4G technology to mature and retire, rather they have already come up with the 5G technology when the 4G technology is still largely sufficient for the current data needs.
When compared with 4G technology, the 5G technology incorporates enhanced features such as QoS (Quality of Service), improved security and low cost per bit. The 5G technology is designed to provide higher data rates to a large number of users. The 5G technology is being designed with IOT (Internet of Things) and Industry 4.0 in mind. This means that the 5G network will be capable of simultaneous connectivity with a large number of sensors and systems. That feature will results into efficient implementation of CPS (Cyber Physical Systems), big data and IOT applications and will highly facilitate the transition in to the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). Another great feature of 5G networks is that they will be compatible with 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology and WiFi which will result into high-rate coverage and low latency.
Figure 3: Increase in data rate demand in peta bits. Source: www.ittoday.info/Excerpts/5G-Overview-Key-Technologies.pdf
It is expected that the 5G technology will deliver data rates up to 20Gbps once it gets fully implemented. The currently available 5G modems support 5Gbps peak data rate under ideal lab conditions. Although, this number will be smaller in real-world conditions, it will still be much faster than the 4G technology.
Right now, the 5G technology is still in the nascent phase and requires proper implementation in order to measure the accurate system performance and speed characteristics. However, some simulation-based estimations have been done for the 5G networks which provide us with a glimpse of the traits of this technology. According to a simulation performed in Frankfurt, Germany, a nine-fold increase in the median speed was observed. This performance is comparable to the performance of fixed FTTP (fiber to the premise) networks. Another simulation performed in San Francisco indicated a 20-fold increase in the median speed. With such high network speeds, the scale of the increase in mobile computing power can hardly be imagined. Mobile computing power at this level would open up the pathways for all types of IOT, AI, ML and smart connected applications.
The capacity of a mobile network means the number of devices that can be serviced by that particular network. The network capacity of 5G is 100 times greater than the capacity of 4G network which is a phenomenal increase in network capacity.
The time delay in data communication process is known as latency. User experience is directly affected by network latency. If a webpage takes long time to load then it degrades the user experience. Reduction of latency is one of the primary motives for the development and installation of new network infrastructure. Low latency rate means faster video streaming, webpage loading, download speed, and social media surfing. The 5G network technology promises latency rates as low as one millisecond. For comparison, the typical latency rate of 4G networks is around 50 milliseconds at present. Hence, 5G networks will offer significantly faster data rates and lower latency rates than 4G networks.
Figure 4: Characteristics of 5G technology. Source: https://www.gemalto.com/mobile/inspired/5G
As mentioned earlier, the higher data rates of the 5G technology will provide enough mobile computing power as to open up the doors for a number of cutting-edge enabling technologies which are the key for the fourth industrial revolution. Some of these technologies are listed as following:
Figure 5: Applications of 5G technology. Source: http://www.emfexplained.info/?ID=25916
There is no doubt that the 5G technology is a great leap in the area of communications technology which promises blazing fast speeds and outpouring of a plethora of advanced technologies. However, like everything else, this technology also has some cons attached to it. There are a number of critics on the internet which are highlighting their concerns regarding the potential health hazards of 5G technology.
There are concerns that the millimeter wave spectrum frequency used in 5G technology is dangerous to human health. In order to achieve higher data rates, the 5G technology uses ultra high frequency radio waves. According to the critics, these high frequency waves are harmful for the health. However, these concerns are not new and have been around since the beginning of wireless communication systems.
According to the experts, the radio waves used in 5G networks are basically low energy waves as opposed to the X-rays and gamma rays which are high energy radiation. Due to this reason, these waves are generally considered to be safe and pose no imminent threat to the health. However, proper research needs to be done on the high frequency waves used in 5G networks in order to verify their safety. 5G networks are not fully implemented yet and are largely in the testing phase. Hence, nothing can be conclusively said about the effect of these networks on human health.