The history of mobile messaging can be broken down into distinct “generations” of technological advancement. An interesting timeline begins with the after-the-fact designation of “0G” to characterize pre-cellular analog systems.
‘1G’ was founded on cellular mobile coms that used analog radio for calls but digital systems for backhaul, and this was the technology that really got things moving in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The all-digital “2G” network first appeared in the early 1990s. In the years leading up to the turn of the millennium, “3G” (which built on the improvements of 2.5G and 2.75G) brought higher throughput to accommodate the burgeoning smartphone market. Thanks to upgrades, 3G is now fast enough to support mobile internet and live video broadcasting.
In 2009, the Nordic countries began offering 4G service based on the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard. Since then, it has been widely implemented around the world and has become the standard mobile technology with which most people are acquainted. It supports high-definition video, internet gaming, and video conferencing, and its maximum throughput is 100Mbps (compared to around 15Mbps for 3G).
The next step is 5G. The first 5G networks began operating in 2018, but the specification itself didn’t appear until 2016. Maximum downlink bandwidth of 32Gbps and uplink speed of 13.6Gbps are both claimed (uplink). 5G, once fully implemented, will compete head-on with fiber cable options for internet support. In comparison to 4G, this technology improves upon latency, range, and spectral efficiency.
This means that 5G is similar to 4G in many ways, but much faster and more capable. In reality, 5G introduces a plethora of new technology that will be crucial to the development of the IoT but will be of little use to consumers of Zoom, Netflix, and TikTok.
Welcome to New Radio
The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a grouping of seven telecoms standards development organizations, has worked hard to make sure that 5G is designed to meet the needs of not only today’s tech-savvy consumers but also those of enterprise businesses and the Internet of Things in the future. Engineers have been working diligently behind the scenes to compile the report that outlines the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)-2020 standards. The International Mobile Telecommunications 2020 (IMT-2020) specification serves as the blueprint for 5G, outlining how it will be developed to satisfy the needs of users and businesses alike. Initial peak data rate of 20Gbps, typical user data rate of 100Mbps, one-millisecond latency, “area traffic capacity” of 10Mbps per square meter, and connection density of one million devices per square kilometer are all part of the specification.
These standards illustrate how the 5G network is being constructed to support a large number of devices while still providing high speeds (for consumer and commercial applications) (for the IoT). The focus of 4G is squarely on the consumer (although suitably modified networks can support cellular IoT technology such as NB-IoT and LTE-M). By comparing 5G’s challenge to that of 4G, we can see how significant it is. Over 6,000 people live in each square kilometer of Tokyo, and most of them have at least one mobile phone. The local area network could still handle everyone’s internet access requests. That’s impressive, but it’s a million times less dense than 5G is supposed to be.
The devil is in the details of IMT- 2020, and they provide a hint as to how 5G will handle the competing needs of consumers and the Internet of Things. The document explains the two components, 5G LTE technology for regular users and new radio (NR) for other use cases, such as the specific requirements of the Internet of Things. As “radio interface technologies,” these components are the domain of engineers (RITs).
All the technical performance requirements for the five expected use cases are met by the combined LTE and NR RITs.
- indoor hotspot (using enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB))
- dense urban (eMBB)
- rural (eMBB)
- urban macro (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC)
- urban macro (massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC))
Two of the most recent use cases, URLLC and mMTC (which are related), are instrumental in bolstering the Internet of Things.
Both LTE and NR use the IMT-designated bands below 7.125GHz, while NR can also operate in the IMT bands above 24.25GHz. For consumers and businesses, the so-called upper mid-bands (3.3 to 7.125GHz) are the most important 5G resource due to their adequate throughput and range. The “high bands” above 24GHz accommodate a large number of devices and provide for very high data rates.
5G, But Not As We Know It
In fact, cellular networks aren’t required to implement 5G. An obscure mention of DECT-2020 NR, the “first non-cellular 5G standard,” can be found in the IMT-2020 document. While not technically a cellular system, it uses many of the same principles as such and thus meets the requirements.
An intriguing technology, DECT 2020 NR exemplifies IMT-2020’s ability to define the breadth of 5G. Supporting mMTC on wireless mesh networks and others, the technology makes use of the worldwide, license-free 1.9 MHz band—an anomaly in 5G operations. These networks typically support Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications requiring very high deployment densities, high reliability, and low latency, like those involving thousands of compact sensors/actuators in industrial automation.
When compared to other wireless IoT technologies used for mMTC, DECT-2020 NR holds its own. The technology’s top performance, for instance, is 100kbps throughput with sub-10ms latency when supporting node densities up to its maximum capability. That is perfect for standard Internet of Things uses.
The fifth generation of mobile technology, or 5G, is the first to be built from the ground up to support both established mobile telecoms and emerging wireless technologies like the Internet of Things. Unsurprisingly, 6G is already in development and is expected to be much quicker than 5G. Using frequencies from 100 GHz to 3 THz, the plan is to provide service to not only the general public and the Internet of Things, but also to emerging industries like artificial intelligence and complete virtual reality. Expect 6G-capable smartphones to hit the shelves in 2030, given the decade-long pace at which new generations of mobile wireless technology have been introduced.