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5G – Fifth Generation Mobile Network: Everything You Need to Know

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Brian is an aspiring writer that seeks to inform and educate the public through informative and educational pieces from various categories.

5g network tower

5g network tower

Mobile phones have been an essential part of our life allowing us to stay connected with one another regardless of the distance and space. On top of that, our mobile devices enable us to increase our productivity, and humankind has benefitted tremendously from the evolve of mobile technology. Each new generation of wireless network delivers faster speed and added functionality than its predecessor. 1G brought us the very first cell phones, 2G enabled us to send a text message for the first time, 3G brought us online, and 4G delivered the fast speeds that we enjoy today while browsing the internet on our mobile devices.

But as more users go online, the 4G network has just about reaching the limit of what it's capable of at a single point in time. This will cause delays in information transmission, resulting in a setback to the fast-paced way of life we have been accustomed to. Nowadays, users want even more data for their smartphones and devices, which is why we are now headed towards 5G - the next generation of the wireless network that will be able to handle 1,000 times more traffic than today's network. Besides, 5G-enabled devices will be able to operate up to 10 times faster than 4G LTE.

Just ponder over the idea of downloading a full-length, high-definition movie in a matter of seconds. How does that sound to you? Being able to do so will improve user experience and provide a seamless connection for better interconnectivity. Furthermore, 5G will likewise be the foundation for virtual reality autonomously driving the Internet in ways we cannot even begin to imagine.

Having briefly introduced the splendid functions of 5G and what it can accomplish, let us get into the technical details of this brilliant technology. What exactly is a 5G network?

5G is a new cellular wireless standard that promises to bring faster Internet speeds to mobile devices and offer more diverse services to the market. The term 5G stands for the 5th generation standard in the mobile telecommunications lingo. Five brand new technologies have emerged as the foundation of 5G, aptly identified as millimeter waves, small cells, massive MIMO, beamforming, and full-duplex. The respective technologies have their intricate and unique functions which made the 5G mobile network possible. What does each technology constitute?

Millimeter waves

Millimeter waves

Millimeter waves

Your smartphone and other electronic devices in your home use very specific frequencies on the radio frequency spectrum, typically those under 6 GigaHertz. With more devices being used in a typical household nowadays, these frequencies start to get crowded and carriers can only squeeze so many bits of data on the same amount of radio frequency spectrum. As more devices come online, we are going to start seeing slower service and poor connections. The only logical solution is to open up some new real estate, which got researchers experimenting with broadcasting on shorter millimeter waves; those that fall between 30 and 300 GigaHertz. This section of the spectrum has never been used before for mobile devices and opening it up means more bandwidth for everyone. The only drawback is that millimeter waves cannot travel well through buildings or other obstacles and they tend to be absorbed by organic matter such as plants and water. However, there is a way around this shortcoming, that is by utilizing small cell networks.

Small cell

Small cell

Small cell

Today's wireless networks rely on large high-powered cell towers to broadcast their signals over long distances. However, high-frequency millimeter waves have a harder time traveling through obstacles, which is why sometimes you lose signals when you are inside certain parts of a building. Small cell networks would solve this problem using thousands of low-power mini base stations.

These base stations would be much closer together than traditional towers, forming a sort of relay team to transmit signals around obstacles. This would be especially useful in large cities, enabling a user’s mobile device to continue receiving those signals even as he goes about the city, albeit entering buildings that may poses obstacles. This is made possible as the mobile device automatically switches to the new base station in a better range of his device, allowing him to keep his connection.

Massive MIMO

Massive MIMO

Massive MIMO

MIMO stands for multiple input multiple outputs. In the current time, 4G base stations have about a dozen ports for antennas that handle all cellular traffic. However, a massive MIMO base station can support about 100 ports and this could increase the capacity of today's networks by a factor of 22 or more. On the downside, massive MIMO comes with its own set of complications. Today's cellular antennas broadcast information in every direction simultaneously, and the crossing of signals can cause serious interference. This brings us to the following technology, beamforming, which helps to compensate for the shortcoming of the massive MIMO.

Beamforming-min

Beamforming-min

Beamforming-min

Beamforming is like a traffic signaling system for cellular signals. Instead of broadcasting in every direction, beamforming will allow a base station to send a focused stream of data to a specific user. This precision prevents interference and is in a way more efficient than the conventional means of broadcasting signals. This ultimately allows stations to handle more incoming and outgoing data streams at once. Put simply, if you are in a cluster of buildings and you are trying to make a phone call, the mobile signal will be ricocheting off surrounding buildings and crisscrossing with other signals from users in the same area. A massive MIMO base station receives all of these signals and keeps track of the timing and the direction of their arrival. It then uses signal processing algorithms to triangulate exactly where each signal is coming from and plots the best transmission route back through the air to each phone. At times, it will even bounce individual packets of data in different directions off buildings or other objects to keep signals from interfering with each other. This will result in a coherent data stream sent only to you which brings us to the full-duplex technology, which makes all these possible.

Full duplex

Full duplex

Full duplex

If you have ever used a walkie-talkie you will know that in order to communicate you have to take turns to talk and listen, which is kind of a drag. Today’s cellular base stations have that exact same hold-up; a basic antenna can only do one job at a time, either transmit or receive and this is because of a principle called reciprocity. This principle refers to the tendency for radio waves to travel both forward and backward along with the same frequency. Think of it as a wave-like train loaded up with data and the frequency it is traveling on, similar to a train track. Should there be a second train trying to go in the opposite direction on the same track, you are going to get some interference.
The solution to this dilemma has always been making arrangements to have the trains take turns or to put all the trains on different tracks. As a matter of fact, we can make this more efficient in the case of signal transmission by working around reciprocity. To address this issue, researchers have used silicon transistors to create high-speed switches that halt the backward roll of these waves. It is kind of like having a signaling system that can momentarily re-route the train so that they can get past each other, even if they are traveling on the same track. This means that there is a lot more getting done on each track a whole lot faster, with the upgrade in the mechanism.

The 5G mobile network is proof that the world of technological advancement can have such a great impact on humankind. Having said so, any existing technology can always be further improved and manipulated to boost its efficiency to serve us. As the pace of life in the modern world increases, technology must keep up and advance along as well. The discovery of the 5G mobile network technology may truly be the way forward. As excited as we are to explore and utilize this new technology, there are bound to be two sides to a coin.
When the first mobile phone with 1G connectivity was introduced in the 1980s, we never would have predicted that it will kick start an evolution that will revolutionize the way we stay connected. We are now on the brink of an era whereby the possibility of having lightning speed connectivity is just a wavelength away. Nevertheless, there are bound to be pros and cons that we must adapt and get accustomed to being able to utilize the technology effectively, just as we did over these years.

Pros of 5G

One of the key benefits of this new wireless standard is that 5G speeds will be up to 100 times faster than 4G and it will help create new services and technologies that wouldn't be possible without it. For instance, the Internet of Things (IT) industry will need faster and more reliable networks to bring about driverless cars, industrial automation, and connected smart cities which are all in their infant stages right now. Rough estimates put the total amount of worldwide IT devices at 75 billion by 2025, but before we get there, wireless carriers need to build out massive 5G networks. As time is of the essence and companies that can foresee its potential has already made their first moves. Several telecommunication providers have already started taking steps to get there.

For instance, Verizon has the goal of launching 5G in 30 cities by the end of this year and has already flipped the 5G switch in several large metro areas. The company has a lot of incentive to get 5G up and running as fast as possible, considering the new wireless standard's massive potential. CEO of Verizon's consumer division has said that by 2035, 5G will enable 12.3 trillion dollars of global economic output and support 22,000,000 jobs worldwide. Nevertheless, Verizon is not the only US carrier that is investing in the 5G technology, AT&T has already launched 5G services in a handful of cities and its plans to bring 5G to 21 markets by the end of 2019 has already kick-started. China is also making moves towards the direction of equipping itself with 5G technology as well.

The US and China view 5G as a potential technology battleground, whereby both countries are working to become the undisputed leader for the new wireless standard. By the end of 2019, China has about 150,000 5G cellular sites up and running while the US has just a fraction of that. The bottom line is that 5G is here and its presence will only be further reinforced. It will definitely be a giant step forward for Internet-connected devices and consumers will reap the benefits of 5G by having lightning-fast mobile Internet and companies will benefit by offering more connected services than ever before.

Cons of 5G

At the rate that mega-corporations are racing to pioneer the 5G technology, it may in fact be available all over the world by the year 2020. As significant as the impact of 5G, there have been inklings that the technology may also pose significant shortcomings. A leading scientist has warned about the grave dangers of 5G and his statements are pretty alarming. For 5G to be possible, one of the requirements would be large bandwidth, which would require many cell towers placed close together in places all over the world.

According to experts, this could be a very dangerous situation for the public. The primary cause for concern is that each of those cell towers would let off low levels of radiofrequency radiation. Since 5G requires so many more towers, the potential for such issues increases exponentially. In 2011, a report released by an international agency for research on cancer was quoted as saying that they consider the network cell towers to be a potential carcinogen to humans. As companies build more towers to accommodate the 5G transmission, that is where the danger increases.

A United Nations meeting back in May 2018 revealed an alarming finding; fellow UN staff member and whistle-blower, Ms. Claire Edwards raised the subject of the dangers of 5G, in which she cited studies that claimed that the dangers of 5G would outweigh the dangers of tobacco and asbestos. Edwards, who resides in the Austrian capital of Vienna claims that the 5G infrastructure is already proving to be hazardous to the people in the city. According to her, friends and acquaintances are reporting the classic symptoms of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) poisoning, which encloud nosebleeds, cheek pain, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and flu-like symptoms.

Another source –the New Zealand Medical Journal seems to support the idea that 5G poses dangers to the community, actually mentioned that even 4G cellular technology has already been causing health defects such as cancer and dementia. The scientist who wrote the article says that this phenomenon may need to be substantiated with research to back up the hypothesis, as it is not seen as a mainstream ideology. Unfortunately, it is difficult to illustrate the effects of radiation from cellular technologies on human beings, because there is a likelihood or probability that everybody may have been subjected to radiation at least once in their lives by some other non-related causes.

It appears the radiation issue is already serious even prior to the full-scale launch of 5G. Imagine the situation once 5G rolls out in cities around the world; things are only going to get much worse according to these experts. The radiation emitted from these network towers may not be enough to actually cook a person, but, the frequency can damage biological organisms and affect cells, which may lead to infertility and various types of cancer. Scientists and other experts wonder if 5G is really necessary; does the speed of information processing warrant the risks that we are taking? Are there things that we currently cannot accomplish with the existing 4G LTE connection? As there is no scientific evidence yet that 5G can be hazardous to our health, there is really no way of stopping it from rolling out in cities all over the world. Most experts agreed a slightly faster connection is not worth the consequences that we will suffer in the future.

Do you think that 5G technology is worth the consequences we might face? Tell us in the comments below.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 28, 2020:

Your informative article explains a lot. In the UK there are arguments about who should be trusted with the setting up of 5G. Many are concerned about the security implications of allowing a Chinese company to have a major role.

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