5G - when good becomes really good

Next year it will be here: the much talked-about 5G. Finland will be one of the first countries to open fifth-generation mobile networks, and the first 5G devices will go on sale, first routers and then smartphones.

How does 5G compare to 4G, why has it been developed, and what will it bring? It’s important to note that 5G will not replace 4G for a long time yet, but rather gradually complement it. The gradual nature of technological evolution means that 4G will remain very much in the picture in the early 2020s. And why shouldn’t it, when 4G itself continues to evolve?

“The theoretical top speed for 4G is currently over one gigabit per second,” says DNA’s Jarkko Laari, Director, Radio Networks. “With good 4G, the user experience is already approaching that of a high-quality fixed connection, and with 5G it will naturally be even better.”

A future economic driver

However, we can expect even better. 5G is a major technological leap.

“In practice, data speeds will increase about ten-fold. Top speeds will reach up to several gigabits per second,” says DNA’s Ville Virtanen, Director, Core Networks.

This will enable the effective introduction of 5G’s new frequency bands. Connections will feel faster, as the network’s response time will, at best, fall to millisecond level – a fraction of the delay with 4G. The energy efficiency of connections will also improve. Transferring one bit will take less power with 5G than with 4G.

It’s vital to note that 5G has been designed as the driver of the future technological economy. It will dramatically revolutionise both society and everyday life – those much talked-about smart cities will finally become a reality.

An ultra-fast, ultra-low-latency mobile network is forecast to play an important role in making self-driving cars an everyday mode of transport. Support for latency-critical communications and remote-control applications will improve, and this will make critical applications, such as remote robotics, safe to use.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a significant 5G driver. That said, DNA’s 4G network does already enable extensive IoT implementations, as it supports NB-IoT technology. NB-IoT (Narrow Band Internet of Things) was originally part of the 4G standard, but has since become part of the 5G IoT concept. The NB-IoT’s main advantages include better coverage, affordable end devices, and low power consumption.

5G to spread gradually

The telecommunications umbrella organisation 3GPP approved and published the first version of the 5G standard in December 2017. However, it will take time for standard-compliant networks and end devices to become available. It will only be in about 2025 that we’ll see what impact 5G has had and what solutions have actually been based on it.

The first step will be taken next year, with the introduction of 5G networks that harness the 3.5 gigahertz band and traditional 4G frequencies. The next step will be 5G networks with higher radio frequencies. Their construction will begin in 2020 and usher in significantly faster speeds and greater transmission capacity. Even more frequencies will then follow. 5G will initially be introduced in cities, spreading to more sparsely populated areas in a few years’ time.
An assessment presented in South Korea provides good insight into how 5G will spread. It says that about 5 per cent of mobile users will be using 5G in 2020, 30 per cent the following year, and 90 per cent in 2026.

Ville Virtanen believes that corporate users in particular are interested in the more flexible architecture afforded by 5G network virtualisation. “In 5G architecture, we’ll be better able to take the different needs of various software applications and customer applications into account,” he says.