Research areas in 5G Technology
We are currently on the cusp of 5G rollout. As industry experts predict, 5G deployments will gain momentum, and the accessibility of 5G devices will grow in 2020 and beyond. But as the general public waits for mass-market 5G devices, our understanding of this new technology is continuing to develop. Public and private organizations are exploring several research areas in 5G technology, helping to create more awareness of breakthroughs in this technology, its potential applications and implications, and the challenges surrounding it.
What is especially clear at this point is that 5G technology offers a transformative experience for mobile communications around the globe. Its benefits, which include higher data rates, faster connectivity, and potentially lower power consumption, promise to benefit industry, professional users, casual consumers, and everyone in between. As this article highlights, researchers have not yet solved or surmounted all of the challenges and obstacles surrounding the wide scale deployment of 5G technology. But the potential impact that it will have on the entire matrix of how we communicate is limited only by the imagination of the experts currently at its frontier.
New developments and applications in 5G technologies
Much of the transformative impact of 5G stems from the higher data transmission speeds and lower latency that this fifth generation of cellular technology enables. Currently, when you click on a link or start streaming a video, the lag time between your request to the network and its delivery to your device is about twenty milliseconds.
That may not seem like a long time. But for the expert mobile robotics surgeon, that lag might be the difference between a successful or failed procedure. With 5G, latency can be as low as one millisecond.
5G will greatly increase bandwidth capacity and transmission speeds. Wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T have recorded speeds of one gigabyte per second. That’s anywhere from ten to one hundred times faster than an average cellular connection and even faster than a fiber-optic cable connection. Such speeds offer exciting possibilities for new developments and applications in numerous industries and economic sectors.
For example, 5G speeds allow telemedicine services to enhance their doctor-patient relationships by decreasing troublesome lag times in calls. This helps patients return to the experience of intimacy they are used to from in-person meetings with health-care professionals.
As 5G technology continues to advance its deployment, telemedicine specialists find that they can live anywhere in the world, be licensed in numerous states, and have faster access to cloud data storage and retrieval. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is spurring new developments in telemedicine as a delivery platform for medical services.
In addition to transforming e-health services, the speed and reliability of 5G network connectivity can improve the infrastructure of America’s energy sector with smart power grids. Such grids bring automation to the legacy power arrangement, optimizing the storage and delivery of energy. With smart power grids, the energy sector can more effectively manage power consumption and distribution based on need and integrate off-grid energy sources such as windmills and solar panels.
Another specific area to see increased advancement due to 5G technology is artificial intelligence (AI). One of the main barriers to successful integration of AI is processing speeds. With 5G, data transfer speeds are ten times faster than those possible with 4G. This makes it possible to receive and analyze information much more efficiently. And it puts AI on a faster track in numerous industries in both urban and rural settings.
In rural settings, for example, 5G is helping improve cattle farming efficiency. By placing sensors on cows, farmers capture data that AI and machine learning can process to predict when cows are likely to give birth. This helps both farmers and veterinarians better predict and prepare for cow pregnancies.
However, it’s heavily populated cities across the country that are likely to witness the most change as mobile networks create access to heretofore unexperienced connectivity.
Increased connectivity is key to the emergence of smart cities. These cities conceive of improving the living standards of residents by increasing the connectivity infrastructure of the city. This affects numerous aspects of city life, from traffic management and safety and security to governance, education, and more.
Smart cities become “smarter” when services and applications become remotely accessible. Hence, innovative smartphone applications are key to smart city infrastructure. But the potential of these applications is seriously limited in cities with spotty connectivity and wide variations in data transmission speed. This is why 5G technology is crucial to continued developments in smart cities.
Many other industries and economic sectors will benefit from 5G. Additional examples include automotive communication, smart retail and manufacturing.
Wave spectrum challenges with 5G
While the potential applications of 5G technology are exciting, realizing the technology’s potential is not without its challenges. Notably, 5G global upgrades and changes are producing wave spectrum challenges.
A number of companies, such as Samsung, Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corporation, Nokia Networks, Qualcomm, Verizon, AT&T, and Cisco Systems are competing to make 5G technology available across the globe. But while in competition with each other, they all share the same goal and face the same dilemma.
The goal for 5G is to provide the requisite bandwidth to every user with a device capable of higher data rates. Networks can provide this bandwidth by using a frequency spectrum above six gigahertz.
Though the military has already been using frequencies above six gigahertz, commercial consumer-based networks are now doing so for the first time. All over the globe, researchers are exploring the new possibilities of spectrum and frequency channels for 5G communications. And they are focusing on the frequency range between twenty-five and eighty-six gigahertz.
While researchers see great potential with a high-frequency version of 5G, it comes with a key challenge. It is very short range. Objects such as trees and buildings cause significant signal obstruction, necessitating numerous cell towers to avoid signal path loss.
However, multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) technology is proving to be an effective technique for expanding the capacity of 5G connectivity and addressing signal path challenges. Researchers are keying into MIMO deployment due to its design simplicity and multiple offered features.
A massive MIMO network can provide service to an increased multiplicity of mobile devices in a condensed area at a single frequency simultaneously. And by facilitating a greater number of antennas, a massive MIMO network is more resistant to signal interference and jamming.
Even with MIMO technology, however, line of sight will still be important for high-frequency 5G. Base stations on top of most buildings are likely to remain a necessity. As such, a complete 5G rollout is potentially still years away.
Current solutions and the way forward
In the interim, telecommunication providers have come up with an alternative to high-frequency 5G— “midband spectrum.” This is what T-Mobile uses. But this compromise does not offer significant performance benefits in comparison to 4G and thus is unlikely to satisfy user expectations.
Despite the frequency challenges currently surrounding 5G, it is important to keep in mind that there is a common evolution with new technological developments. Initial efforts to develop new technology are often complex and proprietary at the outset. But over time, innovation and advancements provide a clear, unified pathway forward.
This is the path that 5G is bound to follow. Currently, however, MIMO technological advancements notwithstanding, 5G rollout is still in its early, complex phase.
Battery life and energy storage for 5G equipment
For users to enjoy the full potential of 5G technology, longer battery life and better energy storage is essential. So this is what the industry is aiming for.
Currently, researchers are looking to lithium battery technology to boost battery life and optimize 5G equipment for user expectations. However, the verdict is mixed when it comes to the utility of lithium batteries in a 5G world.
Questions about battery demands and performance
In theory, 5G smartphones will be less taxed than current smartphones. This is because a 5G network with local 5G base stations will dramatically increase computation speeds and enable the transfer of the bulk of computation from your smartphone to the cloud. This means less battery usage for daily tasks and longer life for your battery. Or does it?
A competing theory focuses on the 5G phones themselves. Unlike 4G chips, the chips that power 5G phones are incredibly draining to lithium batteries.
Early experiments indicate that the state-of-the-art radio frequency switches running in smartphones are continually jumping from 3G to 4G to Wi-Fi. As a smartphone stays connected to these different sources, its battery drains faster.
The present limited infrastructure of 5G exacerbates this problem. Current 5G smartphones need to maintain a connection to multiple networks in order to ensure consistent phone call, text message, and data delivery. And this multiplicity of connections contributes to battery drain.
Until the technology improves and becomes more widely available, consumers are left with a choice: the regular draining expectations that come with 4G devices or access to the speeds and convenience of 5G Internet.
Possibilities for improvement on the horizon
Fortunately, what can be expected with continuous 5G rollout is continuous improvements in battery performance. As 5G continues to expand across the globe, increasing the energy density and extending the lifetime of batteries will be vital. So market competition for problem-solving battery solutions promises to be fierce and drive innovation to meet user expectations.
Additional research areas in 5G technology
While research in battery technology remains important, researchers are also focusing their attention on a number of other areas of concern. This research is likewise aimed at meeting user expectations and realizing the full potential of 5G technology as it gains more footing in public and private sectors.
Small cell research
For example, researchers are focusing on small cells to meet the much higher data capacity demands of 5G networks. As mobile carriers look to densify their networks, small cell research is leading the way toward a solution.
Small cells are low-powered radio access points that take the place of traditional wireless transmission systems or base stations. By making use of low-power and short-range transmissions in small geographic areas, small cells are particularly well suited for the rollout of high-frequency 5G. As such, small cells are likely to appear by the hundreds of thousands across the United States as cellular companies work to improve mobile communication for their subscribers. The faster small cell technology advances, the sooner consumers will have specific 5G devices connected to 5G-only Internet.
Security is also quickly becoming a major area of focus amid the push for a global 5G rollout. Earlier iterations of cellular technology were based primarily on hardware. When voice and text were routed to separate physical devices, each device managed its own network security. There was network security for voice calls, network security for short message system (SMS), and so forth.
5G moves away from this by making everything more software based. In theory, this makes things less secure, as there are now more ways to attack the network. Originally, 5G did have some security layers built in at the federal level. Under the Obama administration, legislation mandating clearly defined security at the network stage passed. However, the Trump administration is looking to replace these security layers with its own “national spectrum strategy.”
With uncertainty about existing safeguards, the cybersecurity protections available to citizens and governments amid 5G rollout is a matter of critical importance. This is creating a market for new cybersecurity research and solutions—solutions that will be key to safely and securely realizing the true value of 5G wireless technology going forward.
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