Every new generation of wireless networks delivers faster speed and improved functionalities to our smartphones. 1G helped us to do phone calls and transfer data at a speed of 0.01 MB per second. 2G helped us to text for the first time and transfer data at a speed of 3.1 MB per second. 3G offers a higher speed (14.4 MB per second). And 4G delivers the speed we enjoy today.
However, as more users are coming online, 4G networks are just about to reach the limit of what they’re capable of, as users are wanting even more data for their smartphones and devices. To accomplish this need, we’re headed toward 5G, the next generation of wireless. It will be able to handle 1000 times more traffic than today’s networks and will be 10 times faster than 4G LTE. Isn’t that incredible!
Imagine downloading an HD movie in less than a second; surely 5G lets your imagination run wild. 5G will be the foundation for virtual reality, autonomous driving, the Internet of Things (IoT), and more stuff you can’t even yet imagine.
But, do you really know what exactly a 5G network is?
The truth is that even experts can’t tell what 5G network actually is because even they don’t know yet. Right now, five brand new technologies are emerging as the foundation of 5G:
Your smartphone and other electronic devices use specific frequencies on the radio frequency spectrum, typically those under 6GHZ. But these frequencies are starting to get more crowded now. Carriers can only squeeze some bits of data on the same amount of radio frequency spectrum. As more devices will be coming online, we’re going to see slower service and more dropped connections. To settle these, there is a need for a solution. So, researchers are experimenting with broadcasting on shorter millimeter waves that fall between 30-300GHZ. You’ll be amazed to know that this section of the spectrum has never been used before for mobile devices. And opening it up would mean more bandwidth for everyone.
Millimeter waves can’t travel well through buildings or other obstacles and they tend to be absorbed by plants and rain. To get around this problem, researchers established small cell networks. Today’s wireless networks rely on giant high powered cell towers to broadcast their signals over long distances. But remember higher frequency millimeter waves have a harder time traveling through the obstacles. But a small cell network is very useful in cities. As a user moves behind an obstacle, his/her smartphone would automatically switch to a new base station with a better range of devices, allowing him/her to keep the connection.
Massive MIMO stands for “Multiple Input Multiple Output”. Today’s 4G base stations have about a dozen ports for antennas that handle all cellular traffic. Massive MIMO base stations can support about 100 ports. This means an increase in the capacity of today’s networks by a factor of 22 or more.
However, the problem with Massive MIMO is that it has to focus on broadcasting in all directions which may cause interference. This problem was solved by the fourth technology.
Beamforming is like a traffic signaling system for cellular signals. Instead of broadcasting in every direction, it allows a base station to send a focused stream of data to a specific user. This precision prevents interference and it’s way more efficient. That means stations can handle more incoming and outgoing data streams at once.
If you’ve ever used a walkie talkie, you would know that in order to communicate, you have to take turns talking and listening. That’s kind of a drag. Today cellular base stations have the same hold-up. A basic antenna can only do one job at a time, either transmit or receive. This is because of a principle called reciprocity, the tendency for radio waves to travel both forward and backward along with the same frequency.
To understand this, let’s take an example of a train loaded up with data. The frequency it’s traveling on is like the train track. And, if there’s a second train trying to go in the opposite direction on the same track, surely they are going to get some interference. Now the solution is either to turn back the trains or to put all the trains on different tracks (frequencies). Of course, the second option will make things a lot more efficient by working around reciprocity. Researchers have used silicon transistors to create high-speed switches that hold the backward roll of these waves. It’s kind of like a signaling system that can momentarily reroute the train so that they can get past each other. That means there’s a lot more getting done on each track a whole lot faster.
Researchers are still working out on 5G technology along with Millimeter Waves, Small Cell Networks, Massive MIMO, Beamforming, and Full Duplex. In fact, it is likely to include other new technologies to 5G. Though making all of these systems work together will be a whole new challenge, and is yet to be implemented, ultra-fast 5G technology can change your life and work beyond imagination.