Jul 14, 2022
1010 words | 4 minutes
By: Tim Warland
There is a lot of hype about 5G networks. Some carriers claim to have the fastest 5G network or the largest 5G network or 5G built right. But you probably don’t hear your peers talking about all the great things 5G is doing for them. So, is 5G real or hype?
The answer is ‘yes’.
You’ve likely heard the expression, “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” and that’s the best way to explain the 5G rollout. Not in a geographical sense, as after all, one US carrier has 5G coverage for 250 million people, but rather, in a spectral and infrastructural sense.
A spectrum auction is a process governments use to sell the rights to broadcast over specific frequency bands. 5G spectrum auctions have raised billions for the government. Spectrum rights are valuable because this spectrum controls access to users. In July of 2021, the Canadian federal government raised $8.9 billion auctioning spectrum for carriers (Bell, Rogers, Telus etc.) to use the 3500MHz frequency spectrum. The recently concluded C-Band auction in the U.S. raked in over $81 billion. There’s a lot of money at stake for frequency spectrum.
5G antenna access is available in many cities and, from a user perspective, this translates to higher data rates. For example, one U.S. carrier is offering 5G ultra-wideband that significantly increases download speeds. So yes, 5G deployments are real. But there’s more to 5G than just the antenna and spectrum (and the phone for that matter).
Less well-known is the release of a lower frequency spectrum circa 2016. This frequency is reserved almost exclusively for sensors or other Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Initially as part of the 4G deployments (as LTE-M) and now as part of the 5G deployment (as NB-IoT). It offers IoT connectivity across most of continental North America – which is great if you want to track a shipment of tomatoes across the country. But beyond coverage, it also offers incredible density.
5G IoT can track up to one million devices in a square kilometre. That’s a lot of tomatoes! It is this LTE-M/ NB-IoT that allows some carriers to claim they have the largest network or the most coverage. They’re not wrong, it just doesn’t only apply to phones.
True 5G connectivity and indeed the real power of 5G occurs when carriers deploy edge computing – essentially moving the power of cloud computing right next to your device to provide ultra-fast response times. Very few networks globally have a full 5G core enabled currently, but that will change in 2022 and beyond as carriers continue to expand functionality – which includes standalone 5G antenna and edge computing.
Edge computing also brings efficiency to 5G networks by processing data close to the device instead of moving everything into the cloud. This reduces to end-to-end processing time and subsequently allows more responsive control over connected devices. For example, in an autonomous car, you need decisions made as quickly as possible and using local edge processing decreases the time required for data to travel from the vehicle to the decision-making server.
Secondly, edge computing brings efficiency by reducing the amount of data that needs to move to the cloud. Consider a drone performing surveillance. Most of the information can be processed close to the drone – on the edge. Some of the data will need to move to the cloud for complex decision-making. It would be prohibitively expensive to move all the data to the cloud, so the edge reduces overall cost of using intelligent algorithms with the drone.
5G phones will benefit from edge processing in gaming and virtual or augmented reality applications. Gamers, in particular, will be able to play with much higher interactivity because there is less delay interacting with the game and with other users.
If you’ve watched sports within the last year, particularly the 2022 Winter Olympics, we’ve seen camera angles as never before. The helmet camera worn by referees provides an on-ice, in-the-action perspective. Football (soccer) has introduced pilon-based cameras to provide a better angle to judge offside calls and goals. New features for basketball broadcasting are allowing viewers the ability to control the angle. These are just early examples of where 5G is closer than you think.
These applications use cameras with embedded SIM cards, just like a phone. They broadcast using the traditional C-Band just like phones. The advantage with 5G is that it’s more efficient. Not only does the battery last longer, but there’s also more bandwidth available. Consequently, these cameras can provide up to 1Gbps – that’s enough for several channels of 4K UHD (with compression). It’s another proof-point that 5G is coming and 5G is meant for enterprise applications.
In summary, 5G really is here – it’s just not completely deployed. NB-IoT connections for sensors are almost fully deployed. 5G networks provide a new perspective for sports broadcasters and we’re just now seeing the leading edge of what 5G can do with ultra-wideband downloads. Soon the full complement of functions will be available with the inclusion of edge computing.
A full 5G network brings an order of magnitude including more capability to connectivity. These networks will operate autonomous vehicles within smart-city environments. They can re-shape user experiences and create opportunities to monetize features to businesses and consumers in a way that is currently beyond imagination. You need only think of the business transformation offered by companies like Uber or Lyft that couldn’t exist on your sleek old flip phone that only had voice and text capability.
But carriers in North America didn’t pour almost $100 billion into spectrum just to increase phone data rates or improve performance for mobile gamers. This investment is aimed at the enterprise and for this reason, 5G is not all about phones. 5G means business.
Are you curious about the 5G program? Turn curiosity into action and test your 5G compatibility today. Connect with Invest Ottawa to find out more.