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  • Yobie Benjamin

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Is Here. Hello 5G!

Updated: Nov 22, 2018


5G will have a major impact on every aspect of our digital lives and is set to reinvent the world of business. It will enable people, industries and things to connect on an unprecedented scale. Are you ready for the 5G revolution?



Voice and SMS are so 2008. Today and for the foreseeable future, it is multimedia communications. Real-time streaming, real-time voice, video, and other media types are concurrently used to connect and communicate. By 2019, mobile phones and telecommunication networks will undergo another shape-shifting era with smartphones that have not even been designed. We will see communication we have never imagined. IoT in everything, games and entertainment merging, and augmented reality and light field communications become the new normal computer interface. Software has always outpaced hardware. Our ability to write cutting-edge software has always pushed the boundaries of processors and networks. In the dawn of 5G, it is no different. Our communication patterns and the apps (that did not exist ten years ago) have pushed the need for faster and more reliable networks. The cost of hardwire infrastructure overhead poles and lines of copper or fiber have just come more prohibitive and also far more vulnerable to natural disasters. So enter 5G, nirvana for the optimists. 5G will bring magic to future wireless connectivity: ten times decrease in latency. Latency will be as low as 1ms. Ten times increase in connection density. This will enable more efficient signaling for IoT connectivity. Three times spectrum efficiency. More bits per Hz will be achieved with advanced antenna techniques. One hundred times more traffic capacity resulting in network hyper-densification with more small cells everywhere. Ten times bigger throughput resulting in better user experience. Multi-Gbps peak rates will be far more uniform. One hundred times better network efficiency with much lower network energy consumption. OK, enough tech talk. Simply put, 5G will enable fast mobile and surpass wired communications. The switch to 5G will mean longer battery life for devices, lower costs, enhanced cellular footprints, higher throughput, enhanced capacity, low latency, and virtually no packets dropped. At least that’s the hope. But 5G technology is far from perfect. While it is inevitable that it will move forward, it has some competition specifically from space-borne technologies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Google, Amazon, Facebook and even Microsoft are all experimenting with alternatives to 5G. First of all, 5G equipment and deployment is expensive. Deployment and maintenance during the initial phases will be insanely expensive. An iPhone with 5G capabilities will be in the $1,500 entry level price point. The negative effect will be a re-enactment of the digital divide between rich and poor. Less affluent populations will be stuck with 4G and lagging apps and communications while those with fat wallets will enjoy communications and applications beyond current imagination. 5G generally fails in penetration of walls and even thick clothing. A 5G-only enabled phone may not be able to receive signal while skiing because its tucked away in your ski jacket. Hybrid technologies that will pair with 5G to make up for penetration loss is still anyone’s game. 5G millimeter wave suffers from many such losses like penetration loss, attenuation due to rain and foliage loss that landscapes have to be altered to accommodate 5G density but there are solutions. If you have capital, you can solve almost anything. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers which I’m a member of has already put out reports that the promise of 5G works very well in controlled environments however it may be difficult to achieve the same results in a real-world environment affected by regulatory and CAPEX hurdles. Complicating matters further is the fact that the 5G network cells will offer lower coverage than those of 4G (in spite of the exponentially higher bandwidth). This would mean that more cell towers will be needed to make 5G technology mainstream over time. Think of the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) movement. The coverage of 5G can be up to 900 feet in the outdoor environment and a pathetic 6 feet indoors. As mentioned before, there are ways to solve this problem but it will cost huge investments eventually affecting the cost of mobile connectivity and access for consumers. With all probability 5G macro-optimized has to use the 6 GHz (maybe, slightly lower) frequency. The problem is this radio frequency band is already being used by satellite links and many other different signal types. Hence government intervention will happen and we all know what happens when governments decide to enter in the technology fracas. The 6GHz frequency range is already overcrowded and it is very much possible that there will be some lingering problems with data transmissions (i.e., in sending/receiving signals) in this radio frequency. Sure, 5G can span across all spectrum bands designed for 3GPP technology today. Other than regulatory hurdles (FCC, competing interests for bandwidth allocation, etc.) and cost per se, there is no limit to mmWave or 6GHz, anything like that. T-Mobile who is already rolling out radios at 600Mhz (and other low-mid bands) with 5G-ready hardware. Once handsets are ready - think iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 - carriers will simply turn on the 5G capability and bingo! 5G will go through walls, clothing, and other “barriers” just like 4G. It won’t be 10x bandwidth gain of mmWave, but it is better with more capacity and higher speeds and higher costs. For everything to work, the ecosystem has to be in place. From handsets to towers and customers must be willing to pay the price. What Sprint can do now with their 2.5GHz mid-band will be really amazing with 5G. For cases like fixed wireless access using mmWave 28/39Ghz, there will be a lot of small radios transmitting using rooftop or indoor/outdoor antenna configs. That said, you will get fiber-like speeds with that setup. In the US, expect Verizon to barnstorm in. Expect to pay for special 5G/WiFi repeater-like antennas in your home. Industry leaders have promised 5G wireless networks will bring lightning-fast speeds to support futuristic new technologies. For the military, that could mean better communications and support for tactical operations around the world. With 5G, the Department of Defense will of course benefit from the larger range of spectrum available to 5G, the increased number of frequencies, said retired Rear Adm. David Simpson, former chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. If we want the promise of 5G, we may have to agree to have the formerly ubiquitous television antenna or satellite dish back as a 5G repeater antenna in every house. Hopefully product designers will not recreate more ugly dish antennas as advanced material such as graphene will allow for new form factors. Like all past evolutions, 5G will find its way from the most densely populated areas growing less populated areas over time. This is more a function of economics. The cost/GB delivered curve will be pretty dramatic, meaning for every dollar spent on CAPEX, exponential amount of data and speed will be delivered. Clearly, the 5G focus will be first on San Francisco, New York, Shanghai and not so much in rural or sparsely populated areas. Think about this - we have had 4K televisions for a long time but we still have a short supply of 4K television transmissions via cable, the Internet or the airwaves. Commercial television broadcasters have barely begun the transition to 1080p/HD-capable content creation and broadcasting. Apart from the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan are also poised to launch 5G networks within the next few quarters. By the end of 2025, four out of every ten 5G connections in the world will be from China. If the United States wants to beat China’s “Made in China 2025”, the US better have the telecommunications infrastructure to compete effectively. The US is in a race with China for dominance in 5G, except China is way ahead. As the US continues its trade wars with China, the Chinese will find other markets and will increases its wireless market share and penetration globally. More and more countries and companies rely on Chinese products to build out commercial and national wireless systems. Last January, Axios leaked document showing the National Security Council considered a proposal to pay for and build a national 5G network, citing threats from China. China has achieved a dominant position in the manufacture and operation of network infrastructure, the document said. It also warned that China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain. The document was largely ignored on Capitol Hill and at the FCC. There are no signs the US plans to move forward with a nationalized 5G network. But the paper underscored the United States’ view of 5G as a national security issue. The two main concerns about 5G and national security are who the suppliers are. Of the four main companies that supply equipment that will be necessary to build 5G infrastructure, two are Chinese: ZTE and Huawei. Another supplier is Ericsson, a Swedish company who dropped its consumer business in favor of 5G. The first concern is that having that equipment in the states could facilitate Chinese espionage. The second, is that China may be able to shut off American networks in the event of a conflict. All of which is possible. Manufacturers of electronics (think of your iPhone) all update equipment with firmware and software via the Internet. This makes it possible for a rogue manufacturer of deployed 5G equipment to shut the entire deployed 5G system in a country. China has been explicit about how it wants to dominate 5G. In March the US stopped Broadcom’s attempted hostile takeover of the San Diego-based chipmaker Qualcomm. Though Broadcom is Singaporean, the US argued it had Chinese investors and could allow China to overtake the United States in developing 5G technology. 5G Will Revolutionize the Internet of Things The Internet of Things (IoT) is a phenomenon that has proliferated during the last five years. Almost every electronic device created today is expected to be connected to the Internet. Certainly, your iPhone Xs and laptop will be connected but think for a moment on how many things all around you have become connected to the Internet: your fitness watch, cars, home alarm systems, workplace IDs, stoves, refrigerators, delivery trucks, televisions, rice cookers, tractors, combines, drones, literally everything that has electronics on it is or will be connected to the Internet. The sad part is the connectivity is chaotic. Security is non-existent and the entry point to the cyber disaster is the weakest link in the chain. It will take time for security and privacy issues to be resolved fully in 5G network. The entire network and databases of Target Stores were attacked and compromised by a weakness in their Internet-connected HVAC systems. Whatever the challenges may be, the promises of new and highly evolved IoT devices will become a reality in the forthcoming 5G world. The winners will be those who understand the full landscape and promise of 5G. 5G Will Unlock the True Power of AI The biggest leaps will be in Machine-to-Machine communications, enabling networks of Artificial Intelligence systems and the massive growth of software-defined networks. It is not inconceivable that 5G may be the final boundary of telecommunication networks. But if we innovate and solve the problems of 5G, we would make up for the physics-bound limitations of 5G with the unfettered and borderless world of software defined networks and new unimagined applications. Big data will be available to anyone. You won’t even need to google and look for data. It just happens. In a dark world, artificial intelligence computers would learn how to connect with each other and find, full and crunch data to make decisions for you. Today AI is slowly but surely progressing. With 5G, artificial intelligence will exponentially explode and begin to make decisions in all aspects of human lives and the economy. There won’t be one single AI machine in the world. It will be a connected system of super-computer or even quantum-computer AI nodes connected by a hyper-fast 5G communications network. Fast AI nodes plus fast 5G networks equals a brave new world. In the more optimistic view, new industries will be born as old jobs wither away. All of this needs innovation and invention today and the more open we are to innovating together as a civil society, the more we can assure ourselves that human intelligence will always rule artificial intelligence. History provides perspective to the winners. Innovation and creation belong to the brave. Profit goes to the pragmatic. #5G #5GRevolution #IoT #ArtificialIntelligence #FourthIndustrialRevolution

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