The 5G Evolution: Exploring The Journey From 2G to 5G

The 5G evolution is hotly anticipated. The fifth-generation wireless network technology standard is one of the fastest and most robust technologies the world has ever seen. It’s capable of faster speeds, lower latency and massive capacity.

But to truly understand the myriad benefits that businesses can derive from 5G, it’s helpful to understand how the technology evolved.

The road to 5G

Before diving into the technical aspects of frequencies and network speeds, it helps to have a benchmark to put everything against. Think about a time you wanted to download something to watch for a long plane ride. For a 3 GB movie, it would take over an hour if you were still on a 3G network. With 5G, that gets cut down to less than a minute. But how did we get there?

Wireless technology’s first generation, retroactively named 1G, launched in 1979 before arriving in the US in 1983. It used frequencies in the 800 MHz spectrum, and it helped usher in the first analogue cell phones. 2G came in 1991, and with it came expansion into the 1.9 GHz spectrum and such features as SMS (simple text messages), MMS (multimedia messages) and voicemail. This bandwidth expansion marked a significant shift in the capabilities of cell phones—the wider the frequency range, the more data that’s able to transfer—and is a hallmark of delineating the different generations.

3G was introduced in Japan in 2001 and in the US in 2002 , expanded the frequency range into the 2.1 GHz spectrum, providing the network speeds that smartphones need. The core technology of this generation was MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output), which expanded the network’s bandwidth and upped its device capacity. 3G could theoretically reach speeds of 40 Mbps, and its higher data-transfer rates enabled now-standard functionalities like mobile web browsing, image sharing and GPS location-tracking.

4G was introduced commercially in 2009 and added frequencies in the 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 1.7 GHz, 2.1 GHz and 2.5 GHz spectrums. 4G network speeds could reach up to 400 Mbps, which has facilitated high-definition video gaming, video streaming and video conferencing. 4G LTE, which most networks currently use, further reduced latency and increased efficiency. (LTE, by the way, is not a technology—it stands for Long Term Evolution, denoting the road to 4G.)

Millimeter wave-based 5G is anticipated to provide very high levels of peak downlink throughput performance–ranging approximately from 4 Gbps on the lower end to 20 Gbps on the higher end, all under ideal channel conditions. These speeds represent a massive opportunity for practically every industry and vertical. Expect real-time monitoring, low-latency communication in remote areas, the development of “smart cities” and so much more in the very near future.

Across the spectrum

5G operates across three bands (the invisible radio frequency channels that carry data between the tower and your mobile device): millimeter wave (mmWave) high-band, mid-band and low-band.

The current 5G network is deployed on the mmWave band, which covers dense urban areas and operates between 24 GHz and 100 GHz. Speeds on mmWave networks are anticipated to be around 10 times faster than on 4G LTE networks and high-band 5G also benefits from extremely low latency.

Mid-band 5G operates on the 3.5 GHz spectrum, and while it isn’t as fast as mmWave 5G, it can approach speeds that are about six times faster than 4G LTE.

Later this year, Telcos will expand its 5G deployment into the low-band as a part of its nationwide expansion of 5G. Low band is supported with frequencies in the sub-1 GHz range and is expected to be critically important in providing 5G services that touch subscribers spread across wide geographical coverage areas. Moreover, with the later introduction of the 5G core, enterprises in these areas should be able to take advantage of mission-critical IoT services that will benefit from optimizations provided by 5G NR.

Latency and slicing: 5G’s secret weapons

Perhaps the most critical—and often unappreciated—benefit of 5G is its extremely low latency. Latency is all about the delay—how long it takes for information to get from one point to another The lower a network’s latency, the better. 5G’s low network latency, even more than its speed, is what sets it apart from its predecessors. Early users  have reported latency of fewer than 30 milliseconds (compared to the average of less than 100 milliseconds for 4G LTE). But, that’s only the beginning. Over time with the continued expansion of 5G UWB coupled with the deployments of Edge Compute, latency should continue to improve.

Another of 5G’s crucial differentiators is its network slicing capabilities, which allows for unique network traffic to be partitioned—or sliced—to match the requirements of various applications. In other words, 5G allows data to be sliced like a pie: one slice for low-latency applications like transportation infrastructure, another for normal consumer internet use, and another for machine-to-machine IoT services.

The future is here

With its incredibly fast speeds, low latency and unprecedented capability to manage traffic, 5G could have a profound impact on how consumers and businesses interact with technology—across industries. As 5G rolls out, you could see augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in clothing stores and operating rooms, various businesses and residential homes adopting remote monitoring and data-gathering tools that use the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and buffering screens on videos and streaming services become a thing of the past. Anyone with experience working around older network speeds will soon understand what it’s like to have a network that amplifies connectivity and efficiency to unprecedented levels.

The 5G network evolution is well on the way to revolutionizing the way business is done.