5G is just around the corner!! And it promises to bring with it a host of exciting services and capabilities. We have a lot to write about the new 5G technology. But before that, let’s take a quick look at how the mobile communications has evolved over the past few decades.
Interval between each technology platform is roughly around 10 years. However, there is continuous innovation within each platform which leads us to the next one. For e.g. many of the 5G features like support for massive IoT were already realized in 4G.
The 1G mobile communications was voice-centric based on analog and cellular technologies. It was commercially available in the 1980s. They had very limited capacity and served only the niche market like the military, government agencies and celebrities. There was no universal mobile communication standard at that time and most countries developed their own models of 1G communication. Which means, the mobile device would stop working when you roam from one country to another.
Evolution to 2G, during the early 1990s, gave us 2 big advantages – Firstly the market expansion – from catering to just niche customer to mobile availability to mass customers. Secondly, there was a technology advancement to digital from analog. GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) was formed primarily to standardize the 2G mobile communications technology for Europe. GSM was widely accepted in Europe and the rest of the world very soon, surpassing the other 2G technologies like the CDMA and PDC.
By the late 1990s, 2G market became more matured and saturated. Fierce competition resulted in a loss of revenue for the mobile service providers. Service providers believed that the future of mobile growth lied in providing
multimedia services through the internet. Japan’s NTT Docomo ( world’s largest operator at that time ), took the lead in realising 3G through a new WCDMA technology. It was a disruptive innovation for service providers, most of who were using GSM’s TDMA based technology. GSM operators introduced initially the GPRS and later the EDGE technologies as a migration path to 3G. This came to be known as the 2.5G. The 2.5G technologies enabled the GSM operators to provide simple data services at low bitrates which would eventually be enhanced in 3G.
Service providers started adopting 3G in early 2000. WCDMA and CDMA2000 were the initial technologies driving 3G. 3G provided marked improvements in voice and data capacities. WCDMA later evolved to HSPA to match up to the speed offered by CDMA2000. 3gpp Release 4 brought in a major change when we moved away from E1/T1 lines and carried traffic inside IP packets. This enabled what can be called as the first version of control/user plane separation where the CS core was split into MSS (MSC server) which served as the control plane and MGW (Media Gateway) which served as the user plane.
The mobile market was separate from the computer industry even in the 3G period. People used computers to access internet and mobile for voice and simple data services like SMS. As internet expanded and online content became more and more popular, many services could be offered to mobile devices with the right technology in place. 4G technology was thus born with a focus on increasing data and voice capacity and improve the overall quality of experience. WiMAX and LTE are two systems providing 4G technology. Both are based on similar technologies but operators worldwide prefer LTE to WiMAX. 4G introduced an all-ip system and completely did away with circuit switch technologies. It uses the OFDMA to increase spectral efficiency. New 4G components like MIMO and Carrier Aggregation have further improved the overall network capacity. With a quantum increase in bandwidth and reduction in latency, 4G could provide many additional services like the Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Voice of Wifi (VoWiFi).
5G is being developed to enhance the experience of not just the mobile but the entire communications technology ecosystem, which includes Internet of Things (IoT), mobile vehicles (V2X), and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) experience. It marks the convergence of many industry verticals like healthcare, agriculture, automotive etc. The network architecture has been modified to make it simpler and efficient. Another critical addition to 5G is support for Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) devices which are used in tele-surgery applications and for critical industry automations. The network latency in 5G is expected to be less than 1 ms to support the URLLC devices.
5G architecture is designed to be “cloud-native’ and there is a push for SDN and Virtualization technologies to create an operationally agile and programmable network. It attempts to minimize the dependencies between access and core networks and the hardware and software components of the network functions. Control plane user plane separation (CUPS) provides the much needed architecture enhancements to separate the user’s signalling and data traffic.
5G also introduced the Network Slicing feature. With network slicing, a physical network infrastructure can be partitioned into multiple virtual networks, allowing the operator to provide a specific kind of support to a specific customer segment. For e.g. a vehicle to vehicle communication requires high mobility but low bandwidth while a mobile broadband to a fixed location requires high bandwidth but low mobility. Network slicing can help operators allocate different resources for different requirements. Another important aspect is “Multi-Connectivity” which enables different access types including 5G, LTE, Wifi and even fixed access to be served by the same network from radio to the core. Network Slicing and Multi-Connectivity ensures 5G becomes the single network infrastructure that can meet diversified service requirements.
There are many things to discuss in 5G and we’ll be discussing that in great detail in the coming weeks. Keep watching this space!!!