Saturday, July 27, 2019

5G will not make your 4G LTE phone obsolete!



5G is one of the buzzwords trending in technology now. There are so many questions that are asked about this technology. The technology is touted as a game-changer in the tech industry. It has the ability to boost the speed and coverage of wireless networks which can run about 10 to 100 times faster than your typical 4G cellular connection. It's even quicker than what you get from a physical fibre-optic cable in your house.

Limitations of 5G

Like any technology, 5G has limitations. The signals travel only short distances. With little interference from things like trees and double pane glass blocks the wave signals. As a result, most carriers in Europe and Asia have opted to build their networks using the mid-band spectrum (lower frequency airwaves that are more stable). They are able to travel long distances but speeds can be similar to that of LTEs.

How 4G and 5G can coexist

5G isn't replacing 4G like how 4G overtook 3G. It is rather a build-up on 4G LTE just using update software and radio. Uploading a video to Google photos using an early 5G phone actually means you are using a 4G LTE for the uplink. It's speculated that by the end of 2025, 15% of mobile connection in the world will be on 5G according to a 2019 report by the GSMA Intelligence (the research arm of the mobile operator group that hosts Mobile World Congress). LTE usage, on the other hand, would be around 59% by that same year. Even if 5G becomes an even bigger part of the market of 2025 it only seeks to complement LTE.

One important to know is that you can't have a 5G connection without setting up a 4G network. 5G networks in the US are something called "non-standalone". The 4G network is needed as an anchor that commences the initial handshake between the phone and network before directing it to a 5G connection. This technology allows carriers to roll out 5G more quickly.

There is another flavour of the 5G network called "standalone", lets a phone go straight to 5G. This could take several years to roll out globally. Most of the 5G networks are going to rely on 4G for uploads and use only 5G connections for downloads. This would make it less complex for carriers to develop their networks. While you can download a video in record time, uploading, on the other hand, would take as long as it did before.

4G and 5G can share spectrum

Every wireless signal travel over invisible airwaves called a spectrum. The amount of spectrum is limited and two carriers can't use the same spectrum. 2G, 3G and 4G connections cannot share
the same spectrum since they need their own dedicated lanes to deliver service. There is a  concept called spectrum refarming that lets carriers shift older spectrum to new wireless networks like
3G to 4G which is essential to free up spectrum for new users. In 5G, the Dynamic Spectrum or DSS concept is used. The technology, likely available in 2020 lets carriers use the same spectrum band for both 4G and 5G. Instead of having different roads for buses and cars, DSS is like having one big highway with separate lanes for buses and cars. A simple software update can quickly turn the current 4G LTE networks into 5G. DSS today allows carriers to roll out their 5G networks quickly and deal with the spectrum shortages. As time goes on, DSS will make it easy for carriers to keep some 4G lanes open for 4G smart home products. Also, there is something called dual connectivity which is available today, lets phones run on both 4G and 5G networks to make sure you never drop a signal even if you move out of a 5G range.

5G is still at its infancy but it is a few months old in the US only. It'll need so much infrastructure for it to be deployed in so many regions. Until you are ready to buy your 5G device, enjoy your faster 4G LTE phone.

4G will remain great

For some, 4G will remain great even when 5G is widespread. Some phones will still need to access older wireless technologies. Other devices like smart locks and other smart home devices may still use 4G for a decade or longer. Until there is an upgrade, 4G is more than enough for IoTs. Even smart devices right now opt for Bluetooth connections instead of 4G. The reason is that these products require long battery life, and 5G's power consumption may be too high for battery-powered IoT devices. Again 5G chips are pricey.

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