Introduction to 5G: What is it and what does it mean for our society?

Just as we’re all getting used to having the blazing data speeds of 4G on our mobile devices, we learn that this is nothing compared to what 5G has in store for us.

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This is part one of a three-part series covering the next generation 5G mobile network. How will increased speed, capacity and reliability change the world around us? We ask Patrick Waldemar, VP and head of technology at Telenor Research, to share his thoughts.

Part two: How will 5G affect the automotive industry and mobility?

Part three: How will 5G affect supply chain and logistics?

5G is the next generation mobile network that promises to be a game changer when it comes to how we live our lives – and also challenges how business will be conducted in just about every industry.

A big claim for sure, but if we look at the past 10 years, we’ve already seen some radical change in both consumer behaviour and business. Advances in mobile technology have been a significant driver of these changes.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen sat down with Patrick Waldemar, VP and head of technology at Telenor Research, and he gave us insight into what 5G is and how it will affect us going forward.

Extreme speeds and capacity

Patrick wasn’t really interested in talking too much about the speed of 5G, because, as he pointed out, most people are already happy with the maximum speeds of 4G. The real breakthrough with 5G is the capacity for up to 1,000 5G-connected devices per person – for all 7 billion people in the world (some of whom will be using technologies like WiFi and Bluetooth). This will enable the future of the Internet of Things (IoT) that we will come back to later on.

Another significant point is that 5G is targeting 1 millisecond perceived latency and a reduction of up to 90 % of power consumption from wireless units. This will make it much easier to design 5G-connected devices that will become part of our everyday lives. 5G is also designed to reach a maximum data rate of 10 Gb/s, which is 100 times faster than the maximum of 100 Mb/s that 4G reaches today. This will allow for new industrial and media and entertainment services.

The Internet of Things (and the planet) depends on 5G

One of the great expectations for the future is not only that every human is connected to the Internet, but that most of the items in our lives will be connected as well. This is called the Internet of Things (IoT). With all our smart devices connected to the Internet, we’ll enable smart homes that help us become more energy efficient, save time on housekeeping and shopping, and enjoy safer and more efficient public and private transportation.

While today’s mobile network technology isn’t quite ready to fully handle these devices, this process is an evolution and the first IoT solutions are being rolled-out on today’s mobile networks.

The IoT is totally dependent on network devices that are more energy efficient, more reliable and use a mobile network supporting a much higher device density. This is where 5G plays a crucial role. If society wants to reap all the benefits that the IoT can give us (such as reducing our carbon footprint, living longer, and increasing efficiency in production and transport) we need to welcome the new generation of mobile networks with open arms.

5G may be here sooner than you think

Patrick tells us that 5G is just around the corner. Major technological advances tend to be announced in relation to the world's biggest sporting events, such as the Olympics: Patrick says the first commercial 5G network will likely be available to most people by the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

Among the biggest forces driving the development of 5G are the manufacturers of 5G-enabled equipment such as car manufacturers, internet technology companies, the media, the medical industry and telecoms companies. Since the infrastructure and capability of 5G relies more on software than 4G and its predecessors, we see a much bigger interest from companies outside the traditional telecoms industry developing our next mobile networks.

It’s exciting – and unparalleled in history – that companies that plan to provide content and services through the 5G network are strongly involved in defining the specifications and capabilities of our new network infrastructure. This will push the technology faster, resulting in better services as well as more specialised services and capabilities in the end product.

Challenges that 5G must overcome

As with all new technology, the 5G network has a few challenges it must overcome before becoming a viable solution for the future of mobile networks. Some of the bigger obstacles the technology needs to overcome are:

  • Finding space for much more data in the already saturated wireless spectrum
  • Figuring out how to efficiently manage a large number of differently sized packages of information
  • Creating computer systems able to handle the vast amounts of data that will be created by IoT communications
  • Reducing both size and power consumption of network devices to meet the needs of the increasingly large number of applications using IoT.

According to Patrick Waldemar, there’s no question of if these challenges will be overcome – but rather when. Only then will we have the infrastructure needed to see changes in terms of how our society communicates, travels and experiences the wider world.

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