The main difference between 5G and the existing 3G and 4G networks is that it combines massive data bandwidth and speed with incredibly fast response times. To achieve this, the 5G network distributes its nodes closer to the customer, building a distributed network architecture rather than a centralised one. This processing power, enabled by edge computing, will give businesses the opportunity to innovate with real-time applications and automation.
5G has five key properties that can open up this new world of possibilities.
Today we live in a world of Ultra-fast Broadband Fibre (UFB) networks, with speeds up to 1 Gbps. With 5G, using high frequencies of large bandwidths, we can expect speeds of up to 3 Gbps – and in some instances 10 Gbps or more. These super-fast speeds, combined with greater bandwidth capacity, will offer businesses a far more robust and reliable way to process large amounts of data in real-time. As a result we’ll see an extensive transformation of manufacturing and customer experiences.
5G has the potential to dramatically improve latency, from today’s typical 20–40 ms down to less than 10.5 ms – and potentially even down to 1 ms. Latency is the delay that occurs when transmitting digital data between the device and the network. Low latency is key to enabling mass uptake of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies and overcome the motion sickness users might experience. It also increases opportunities for mission-critical industrial applications that need immediate response times to situations.
Another term you'll see frequently used is edge computing. This advancement is made possible by reconfiguring networks. Functions requiring vast amounts of processing power can happen closer to cell sites. With the increased bandwidth and lower latency that comes with 5G, there’s no need for data to be moved across the entire country. Instead, it takes place at the "edges" of the network, which means it can happen locally.
Network slicing is a key feature of 5G – a form of built-in prioritisation. It’s a solution that can allow hundreds or even thousands of devices with differing performance requirements to be connected within close proximity. For instance, an autonomous vehicle has more real-time needs than a smart parking sensor. Network slicing accommodates these different needs by tailoring the networks according to the service’s performance requirements and moving the functions closer to the customer. Think of it like assigning the data to various highways, roads, and service lanes, so they can all get to their destination independent of each other.
In the realm of the IoT, more “things” are connecting to digital networks every day – from fridges and e-scooters to farm gates and streetlights. While today’s networks have limits on the number of simultaneous connections, 5G technology has been designed to support connected device densities of up to 1 million devices per square kilometre on a continual basis. Such a huge leap in scale is bound to have an enormous impact on how we connect and interact with everyone and everything.