5G technology doesn’t just promise increased bandwidth to users of mobile networks. It can be a revolution that will disrupt the world of IoT and generate an endless stream of new use cases, making all common objects interactive and controllable. In 2019, the first 5G phones were launched, but these benefits are not very visible for now and some are starting to wonder why. In this article we deal with the main technological innovations brought about by 5G and their implications, while in the next article we will see which services may be enabled by the new technology and what changes and challenges the market will face.
If you have bought a high-end mobile phone in recent months, you will surely have noticed the support of 5G technology among its features and, if you live in a big city, when you have turned it on you will have noticed the 5G symbol on the top end of the display. As everyone declares, it announces the entry into could be the new era of telecommunication services. If you have had this experience with some expectation, perhaps, today you are a bit disappointed or at least doubtful. What you are experiencing it’s indeed not so different from the one you had with the old phone and on the old network. Where is virtual reality? Where are the features that will enable self-driving cars? Is 5G a marketing trick by operators who struggle to sustain their revenues?
We can say that, in 2019, a new chapter was actually added to the history of mobile communications, with the launch of the first 5th Generation services. But, as 2G technology was marked by the introduction of SMS messaging; the 3G, at the end of the 20th century, by mobile internet connectivity and the 4G by the spread of apps based on Cloud services, the history of 5G technology is still to be written.
Behind the innovative services that the market (both consumer and enterprise) will be able to take advantage of, lies a complex patchwork composed of technologies and related standards, expensive assets such as frequencies and a complex ecosystem of technological and commercial players. So, although at the end of 2020 there have been 106 commercial launches of 5G services worldwide and it is expected that by 2025 20% of mobile connections will be 5G (with peaks of 40-50% in the most advanced regions) is still difficult to identify which of the many technological and commercial opportunities will assert on the market.
For this reason is important to notice that the 5G services, currently launched, use the so-called non-stand-alone mode in which the 5G radio component (NG-RAN) works with existing 4G cores and therefore still does not take advantage of all the technological innovations presented in this article. In this way, the market begins to “taste” the first advantages of 5G while allowing operators to distribute investments. The 5G core network, which will incorporate innovative technologies and will be able to offer the most innovative related services, will be progressively introduced by operators in the second half of 2021. The availability of the related value-added services will closely follow, based the demand that will be collected or estimated from now on.
This is why it is important to start talking about 5G today, even if the related technologies are not yet fully deployed: it is from the demand that we will be able to produce and that our customers will be able to produce that the planning of the operators will arise. They will bring the technologies we need where we asked for them.
And, above all, in an industry that will leverage on a significant part of the funds for the COVID recovery in Europe, the famous Next Generation EU, having correct investment planning, led by conscious demand, is a key to avoiding unwanted delays and unacceptable waste.
But let’s start with an overview of the innovative technologies that make up 5G.
The target improvement of 5G, compared to latest release of LTE (4G) is particularly ambitious, with improvements of 1 or 2 orders of magnitude of the most significant parameters of a mobile network.
Picture 1: Comparison between 4G (IMT Advanced) and 5G technology (IMT 2020) (Source: ITU)
What are the innovative solutions of 5G, gradually introduced from 2019 with many progressive releases that will be published for many years to come?
First, 5G introduces the usage scenarios, that is the ability to support totally different classes of services on the same network:
- eMBB(enhanced Mobile Broadband): broadband services with radically improved available throughput, an evolution of the traditional mobile broadband services but with bandwidth per user that can reach 20 Gb/s.
- mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications): ability to reach huge number of devices at low speed, for widespread, truly pervasive mobile IoT
- urLLC (ultra-reliable Low Latency Comms): very reliable and very low latency communications for industrial applications, mission critical or security networks, critical applications such as telesurgery.
Many innovative technologies and architectures are being introduced to enable these scenarios and support their services.
Network slicing: the basic idea is to virtualize portions of the network that share the same physical infrastructure to support different application scenarios, as seen before, or different customers or virtual operators (MVNO) adapting the characteristics of the network, from the user perspective. The flexibility and security offered by the concept of slicing could make Private Mobile Networks a real alternative to fixed business networks.
Mobile Edge Computing: distributing computing resources over the mobile network (e.g. by co locating it at antennas facilities) bringing it closer to the terminals in order to enable very low latency applications and optimize the service architecture when pre-processing of data, for example in dense IoT scenarios, is needed. MEC can be implemented with leading Cloud Providers, bringing their platforms closer to terminals in order to enable innovative IoT scenarios.
Beamforming and massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output): are the further development of the adaptive antennas technology, already massively used in the latest Wi-Fi releases and will allow, together with the use of frequencies > 6Ghz to achieve high bandwidth performance.
Network virtualization: 5G massively introduces network virtualization technologies, standardized, at the level of both core networks and radio access (O-RAN), also allowing its implementation in the cloud. These technologies will completely change the way mobile networks are built, fostering the growth of new players, dramatically speeding up the introduction of new services and optimizing management costs thanks to the extensive usage of automation and AI techniques.
New frequency bands: different scenarios seen before (eMBB; mMTC; uRLC) will be optimized leveraging on different frequency bands, some still unavailable:
- mMTC-type services will mainly adopt frequencies below 1 GHz, not yet available in various countries, because they are often still in use by television services (in Europe, including Italy, they will be released by 2023).
- Ultra-broadband services (eMBB) will benefit from the use of frequencies above 6Ghz (in Italy the 26 GHz band has been assigned) which, however, having a limited propagation radius and being blocked by obstacles such as walls, will need the construction of an expensive capillary network of antennas. These frequencies will also be used for fixed access services (FWA), as an alternative to home or enterprise fiber connections. Example of usage of these frequencies is Verizon 5G Ultrawideband, operating on 28 Ghz and 39 GHz, in some US Cities areas with claimed 2Gb/s peak throughput.
- In Europe, 5G services are currently launched using 5 Ghz frequencies, with comparable performance compared to existing 4G services.
Picture 2: Use of frequency and assignment bands in Europe (BIP processing on EU data)
In the next article we will see what services the new technology will enable and what changes and challenges the market will face.
Bip xTech and 5G
xTech is a Centre of Excellence within Bip Group with a long history in defining strategies, service analysis, design and governance of TLC solutions.
The new use cases that 5G will enable at the level of private networks, OT and IoT solutions, end-customer services will have to be analyzed taking into account business objectives, the rapidly changing market and technology landscapes, and keeping an eye out for the opportunity to valorize corporate assets.
We are, as always, alongside our customers to help them leverage the opportunities offered by 5G, also thanks to our strong skills in Artificial Intelligence and Cloud, which will increasingly merge with transmission technologies to revolutionize the range of services and companies’ organization.
If you are interested in learning more about our offer or would like to have a conversation with one of our experts, please send an email to [email protected] with “5G technology” as subject, and you will be contacted promptly.
 GSMA data, October 2020
 Technique by which electromagnetic energy is concentrated in a specific direction, without using a specific antenna, but combinations of fixed micro antennas, called arrays. The direction of the resulting beam can be dynamically changed, modifying the signal arriving at the antennas, without mechanical movements required.
 The use of multiple transmitting and receiving antennas, together with particular coding techniques, enable establishing multiple spatial paths in which to transmit different information, multiplying the channel capacity (Throughput, MB / s).