The 5G is not ready yet, but it is making good progress. It is therefore interesting to ask the question of what it will bring us, when and how.
File updated in July 2018
Why do we change generation? After all, if you compare operator coverage charts, 4G is not yet a generality, and probably never will be anyway. But 5G, on paper, goes beyond simply replacing our current mobile network. In fact, it could well blow the distinction between fixed and nomadic internet completely. So of course, we must qualify: if we immerse ourselves in the marketing discourse of operators at the time of the arrival of the 4G, it was already the promise we were made.
Where the 5G might well achieve it, it is in its focus on aspects of the connection that go beyond the simple increase in speed – including the reduction of latency – and open new uses. Especially since on its side, the very high speed fixed is struggling to arrive. Fiber is struggling to overtake major cities, and SFR's failed deployment initiatives do not inspire optimism. The 4G, if it does not cover the whole territory, has frankly developed well in 5 years, so it is relatively serene to consider that the 5G will be much more effective to bring the "THD" in open country.
What is 5G?
Talking about 5G without explaining it in detail is quite deceptive, as it is not so much a disruptive technology that will change everything overnight, but as ARCEP says in its report, a set of technologies that will happen gradually, and coexist with an evolution of 4G, knowing that the latter will not stop its development so far. The authority also recalls that some operators, including US, already qualified as "4G" their offer HSPA (3G +).
The millimeter waves: more power, less reach
The key technology of 5G lies in the use of higher spectrum frequencies, compared to those currently affected. 4G and its predecessors have used roughly frequency bands below 6 GHz. The 5G promises the use of a broad spectrum of 30 to 300 GHz, the so-called millimeter waves.
The millimeter waves are double-edged. On the one hand, they allow higher flows. On the other, hence their name, they have a shorter reach. As a reminder, this explains the battle for the "golden frequencies" of 4G. The lower the frequency, the better the range, and especially the penetration through obstacles such as walls. The 5G will therefore use these millimeter waves, but also use frequencies below 6 GHz to allow a wider deployment. ARCEP mentions the band 3,4 – 3,6 GHz which would offer a large quantity of the spectrum. The reallocation of frequencies already used by 3G and 4G are studied, but more complicated. The 700 MHz band could play a role here.
Bridging the smaller millimeter-wave range requires the use of smaller cells and using techniques such as Massive Multi In Multi Out (MIMO) to multiply capacity and beamforming to intelligently channel signals to devices.
5G modems and smartphones
With new technology, need new components. On this point, Qualcomm is already well advanced with its X50 modem announced a year and a half ago. The X50 supports beamforming and solid MIMO, handles up to 800 MHz of bandwidth through the aggregation of 8 100 MHz antennas and can reach 5 Gbit / second in downstream flow.
Currently, the modem can only operate on the 28 GHz millimeter wave band, but we must remember that it is, for the moment, only intended to perform connection tests. As mentioned by ARCEP, frequency issues are still unclear and subject to change. Orange, in France, is one of the operators working with Qualcomm, but discussions are also open with SFR and Bouygues.
OEMs that have already "signed" with the smelter, however, have absentees. Apple, in conflict with Qualcomm, would tend to turn to Intel to equip future iPhone 5G compatible. Huawei develops its own technologies. If Samsung is not one of the first announced, the brand has assured us that they were partners in this development.
Still, the manufacturers do not hesitate to announce their desire to be present on the 5G market. At the Mobile World Congress 2019 and early this year, many smartphones compatible 5G have already been announced as an example. 5G routers are also in the game.
What does 5G bring?
The 5G standard provides, in theory, substantial improvements in three areas: throughput, latency, and density. These three objectives are in competition, and the 5G technologies aim to try to provide the best possible answers, knowing that we can not satisfy them simultaneously. The idea is to use a software architecture to adapt to the different needs of a device, according to these three parameters (latency, speed and density), so-called network slicing.
Finally flows from the level of the fiber
The most obvious contribution claimed by 5G, and which stems directly from the improvements offered by previous generations, is the promise of even higher throughput. It's a natural evolution: the uses change, the 4K will not be long in generalizing, the 8K will follow, the streaming becomes the norm in terms of video, and will become popular on more and more domains like the cloud gaming or virtual reality. So many uses that demand more speed to eliminate the border, which is no longer necessary, between our fixed and nomadic devices.
The 5G promises speeds around at least 100 Mbit / s average perceived by the user, can climb much higher in the best case. We are talking about a maximum of 20 Gbit / s. Obviously, as for 4G, everything is in "the best case". One can argue that we do not necessarily need such flows for mobile use. As it is currently conceived, perhaps not, but by thinking broadly, with devices that erase the boundaries between smartphone, tablet and PC, the cards are rebated. And in the end, the 5G, it is also the way, as it is said above, to fight against the digital desert and bring the very high speed in the countryside where the fiber does not pass.
Significantly reduced latency
More than the constantly increasing bit rate, it is probably on the reduction of latency that the 5G could really make the difference. It would go from 10 to 1 ms ideally. The throughput obviously has importance for downlink data transmission. The latency, it opens perspectives on the interactivity which can completely upset the uses, in particular professionals.
Naturally, this is a boon for autonomous driving. The automobile is also an area in which Qualcomm is already working in collaboration with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team. We are still far from large-scale applications in the consumer car, but this is nevertheless part of the development of technology.
Ultra-low latency can also provide solutions for digitizing industry or medicine. Telesurgery is one of ITU's focus objectives. All of this is of course rather remote and may seem idealized. These are potential uses that can be made possible by an effective deployment of 5G, which does not mean that in two years we can all be operated remotely by robots!
To give a more concrete dimension to this technology, Bouygues Telecom has demonstrated some real-time uses that will become possible from a distance thanks to 5G. For example, it is a question of driving a car, carrying out maintenance operations or caring for someone, all tens of kilometers away.
Last major promise of the 5G, ultra connectivity allows a greater density of devices connected to the km². Here, the most obvious use that we see is the Internet of Things. Here, the objective is to be able to multiply the devices with low consumption, and requiring reduced flows, in very large numbers on the same zone. We think of all uses connected home type that could benefit from this gain without overloading the network.
When is 5G?
It will be understood that the 5G is still in the draft state, and in the course of tests. Concretely, we enter a phase of experimentation, which should continue until 2019. Test initiatives should multiply over this period. Orange is talking about tests until mid 2019 in France, and intends to cover at least one city on that date.
Currently, tests are conducted in Marseille, Lille and Douai by Orange, Bordeaux by Bouygues Telecom and Nantes and Toulouse by SFR. Free has not yet communicated on this subject and may well be a little behind on its competitors.
Qualcomm Design Reference 5G
It is also in 2019 that the first 5G compatible terminals should arrive, probably equipped in part with a Qualcomm X50 modem. We can therefore deduce that before 2020, there will be no massive deployment of 5G, although it is possible that the early adopters can already benefit. A Finnish operator even claims to have already started commercial use of 5G.
In the meantime, the deadline is approaching and the question of the replacement of the equipment arises. Frankly, if you have arrived in a period of renewal, waiting for the 5G early 2018 is not necessary: we are still too far from deployment and with too much uncertainty. If you plan to change mobile at the end of the year or early 2019, however, reflection will begin to prevail, depending on the availability of models and what they actually bring. So patience is needed, but the technology is more than promising. Strongly following!
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